Moonlighting: When David and Maddie Do It

Maddie and David do it in MoonlightingIt’s a little over 19 years since THE episode of Moonlighting aired in the US. Over 60 million people watched as bickering detectives Maddie and David finally did it.

I saw it as a teenager and was entranced by it. This was hot stuff – passionate, almost angry sex between two people who finally admitted they cared about each other. On April 1 I finally watched the episode again… and I’m still entranced. It’s hot, it’s urgent, it’s gorgeous. The show still has the power to move me. I’ve gone all gooey and doe-eyed with the romance of it all. Hell, I’m even feeling mushy about Bruce Willis. Well, he had a lot more hair back then.

Moonlighting is still the benchmark for “unresolved sexual tension” (UST) in a television program. For two years the writers found all sorts of ways to ramp up the drama and hint at a plethora of unspoken desires. The chemistry between Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis was perfect. Between all the shouting matches, their character’s need for each other was palpable – and delicious to watch.


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The show has become the classic textbook case of what can go wrong when you do finally get your main characters together. Things went downhill after the end of the third season, although it didn’t help that Cybill was pregnant and episodes were delayed by various problems. The writers started grasping at straws, marrying Maddie off to some obscure guy she met on a train.

Still, the “Big Bang” episode remains a television highlight, and frequently appears in “Top 10” lists of great romantic moments.

The other textbook case of UST is The X-Files. Apparently one of the reasons why Mulder and Scully didn’t ever get together was because Chris Carter vowed not to let a “Moonlighting” happen to his show. I think he should have given in because The X Files ended up overstaying it’s welcome – the show was stretched out far too long and the fans never got to enjoy the emotional payoff of seeing their two fave characters together. Sure, Scully got pregnant and we found out Mulder was the dad, but there was no fabulous moment when they confessed all and fell into bed together. The near-kiss in 1998’s X Files Movie should have been the real thing. Hell, they should have done something when she was naked and covered in green alien goo.

Interestingly, Moonlighting’s Glenn Gordon Caron’s first example of on-screen UST was on the detective show Remington Steele. Laura and Remington did all the right things to build up the heat, but the show’s creators never allowed the couple to properly get together. Consequently, fans became tired of the constant rehashing of plot and the show’s ratings dropped.

Other examples of Unresolved Sexual Tension on TV:
The Nanny: Mr Sheffield and Fran flirted for five seasons before they finally got married – after which the show promptly ended.
Lois and Clark: Plenty of tension between Superman and Lois – until he proposed and she found out his secret identity.
Cheers: Sam and Diane’s long running romance is considered a prime example of the UST phenomenon. The show remained successful even after they became a couple.
Friends: The ongoing drama of Ross and Rachel had UST… as did the surprise romance of Chandler and Monica.
I Dream of Jeannie: Understated, yes, but it was the 60s after all. Tony and Jeannie moved from Master and Servant to husband and wife.

There’s some great screenshots from the “Big Bang” scene here.