Breaking “The Moonlighting Effect” Mold
Who knew that a show that ended its run almost 21 years ago would have such a far-reaching impact on the television we watch today. Sure, there have been ground-breaking shows and episodes, but who could believe the bad decisions made by the ABC network’s television show Moonlighting would be affecting the TV couples we route for today?
The coined phrase is “The Moonlight Effect.” Moonlighting, which aired from March, 1985 until May 1989, starred future action hero Bruce Willis, playing detective David Addison, and Cybil Shepard, who played Maddie Hayes, an actress who lost all her money and her remaining asset was the Blue Moon Detective Agency run by Addison. Through the course of the four years of the show, the writers pushed and pulled the two leads in a romantic entanglement that both enticed and frustrated the audience.
The show began a serious decline after the two leads, Maddie and David, consummated their heated and romantic tension filled relationship in the 14th episode of season three. Using this as a manacle as to why a show’s main couple can’t find happy bliss, Moonlighting has been the rallying cry for television shows from then on to keep their couples apart. The main reason, writer’s state, is that the sexual tension is what fuels the audience’s interest, and after that, there is nothing left.
I have watched in continued frustration as writers and producers of some of my favorite shows have used this “The Moonlighting Effect” as a crutch to keeping their couples apart and their shows afloat. I contend “The Moonlight Effect” doesn’t have to exist if the writers are willing to roll up their sleeves and get down and dirty, and WRITE!!
Why does a show, a couple, have to be over just because they profess their feelings, and wait for it – consummate those feelings? Is the television audience so backwards that they can’t enjoy a happy and committed couple who have moved beyond the troubles of a new relationship, and now must face the ups and downs of a couple just trying to make a relationship work?
I contend this can be done, if television writers, producers and network executives have the bravery to follow through with it.
I want to throw out a perfect example of a television show that dared the impossible, put road-blocks up for their two romantic leads that didn’t include a triangle relationship and eventually put their couple together and the fans cheered them for doing it. The show was Farscape. The science fiction show aired from 1999-2002, with a miniseries named Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars airing in 2004 on the then named SciF Network, and was produced by The Jim Henson Company and created by Rockne S. O’Bannon.
Farscape was about a scientist named John Crichton who was flung into a distant universe, after a failed experiment in his space module, and found himself in the Unchartered Territories. He met many strange creatures, but his future would lie with a young Peacekeeper soldier named Aeryn Sun. The first season was all about acclimation for John and getting to know his surroundings. The Farscape writers wove a strong story that included parables about friendship, family and love. The audience watched with hopeful exuberance as John and Aeryn found their way to each other. There wasn’t the cliché of a third party, man or woman, to try and split them up. No, their struggles were always the wars they battled within themselves. Every missed opportunity, every lost chance to express their love was felt by the audience.
Farscape took “The Moonlight Effect” mold and crashed it into a million pieces when they allowed John and Aeryn to have sex in the 16th episode of season one, A Human Reaction. It wasn’t roses and happy endings after their coupling. In fact, it caused even more confusion, but through it all, John and Aeryn remained steadfast in their commitment to each other, even if their romantic feelings were still in flux.
Farscape, and John and Aeryn, proves that a couple can be put together and still engage the audience if the writers are willing to do their job and keep it fresh.
I find it frustrating to see shows like Fox’s Bones, who after five years, are still stringing its audience along with the relationship between its male and female lead Bones and Booth. A show just starting out has to have the push and pull of a relationship, but when you jerk your audience to the point of utter frustration, then the interest is still lost. I was an avid watcher of Bones for four seasons, but this season, after hearing the creator Hart Hanson joke in interviews that he may never put Bones and Booth together, I took the show off my DVR. I was done.
It is a delicate balance. Keeping a fickle audience interested in not only the show but also investing time and energy in backing the show’s main romantic focus.
I had my doubts when the ABC show Castle began its third season this year. Preseason talk included new romantic interests for the two leads Richard Castle and Kate Beckett, with no clear-cut time line of putting these two together anytime in the future.
However, after seeing the first few new episodes of the season, and wading through Beckett and Castle’s love interests, I have to say creator Andrew Marlowe is doing something right. I am behind a future pairing of Beckett and Castle, and just like me the people they work with and even Castle’s mother, can see there is something there. Castle and Beckett also feel the romantic pull, but both tread these feelings with cautious hesitation.
I am enjoying the intelligent banter between Castle and Beckett and the spot on acting by Stana Katic (Beckett) and Nathan Fillion (Castle ). If this isn’t the tightest and most insightful writing of two possible romantic leads on television today, then it is pretty close.
“The Moonlighting Effect” is stifling the growth of television into intelligent and insightful characters and the way a couple is portrayed. So, what is a television audience to do? The best course is to hit them where it hurts the most. Drop the shows that won’t let go of a 20-year-old mistake and back shows that are taking the risks.
Shows like NBC’s Chuck that after almost losing the reign on their romantic leads of Chuck and Sarah, reeled them in and gave their audience a HUGE pay-off. In the final episodes of season three and into season four, Chuck fans have seen a committed couple that is battling the ups and downs of understanding what makes a relationship work. And guess what? It is working. After struggling for three seasons to not only get full seasons of the show on the air, and even getting picked up for a new season, Chuck got a 24-episode fourth season, the creators are appealing to the audience and doing something right.
Perhaps “The Moonlighting Effect” is getting a cure. The television audience can only hope that this is just the beginning of strong and committed couples flooding our airwaves, and showing the network executives that the audience is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
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