Why “The Moonlighting Curse” is really a misnomer

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Most people are familiar with the golden rule of television, or “The Moonlighting Curse,” which is: once you let the two leads of your show sleep together, it’s all over. This is of course referring to Moonlighting, the popular 80’s detective show that launched the career of Bruce Willis and revived the stalling career of Cybill Shepard. Willis and Shepard played two private detective whose love/hate relationship generated the “will they or won’t they” tension that made the show intensely popular. Viewership steadily rose until the 3rd season, when the show peaked in the top 10. At the end of this season, however, the two characters finally consummated their relationship. Many people point to this as the thing that killed the show: without all that sexual tension and chemistry, why would viewers continue to tune in? And indeed, viewership dropped.

However, it wasn’t getting the two leads together that precipitated a ratings decline. In fact, the show was only canceled two years after that peak. The 4th season of the show only saw a slight drop in ratings, in reality. The show still was #12 overall. So what killed the show? The fact that after the writers got the two characters together they just dropped the ball is what killed it. The fourth season of the show saw Shepard becoming pregnant in real life, and as a result she and Willis rarely shared the screen, and the writers had to invent some contrived situation to keep the two leads apart. THAT is what killed the show, not the consummation of the relationship. It’s how the writers handle the aftermath that matters.

A perfect example is the show Castle, currently on ABC. That show, too, relied heavily on the “will they or won’t they” formula. And when the writers finally got the two characters together, they went for it. They didn’t try to recapture the formal sexual chemistry; they transformed the relationship and moved it forward, which is what viewers want to see and exactly where Moonlighting failed.

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2 thoughts on “Why “The Moonlighting Curse” is really a misnomer

  1. I think the same thing happened in The Office. All the attention seemed to be on Pam and Jim, after they finally got together it didn’t ruin the show. The show was ruined when they dumped Michael Scott and tried to turn Andy into a Michael Scott reboot. i think some writers just lose focus or get tired or get replaced and longer running shows suffer.

    1. I think you’re definitely correct. And in the case of The Office, that show is almost a decade old now. That’s way beyond the lifespan of a normal sitcom, and I imagine staff turnover and creative burnout are inevitable past a certain point.

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