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Interview with Author Scott Ryan on His Book Moonlighting: An Oral History

Moonlighting (1985–1989), created by Glenn Gordon Caron, was a show that was both ahead of its time yet absolutely perfect for it. If there’s one single show from the “greed is good” decade which can be labeled as “groundbreaking” then Moonlighting is that show. It was a breaker of conventions in every way. From week to week viewers didn’t know if they’d be treated to a black and white episode, a musical, or even a Shakespearean romp.

Moonlighting was original, rule-breaking and daringly unconventional, featuring two charismatic, sexy performers who certainly raised viewers’ temperatures when the show premiered in late winter 1985.

Moonlighting starred Cybill Shepherd as Madeline (“Maddie”) Hayes and Bruce Willis as David Addison, who together ran the Blue Moon detective agency. Shepherd was certainly no stranger to movie audiences primarily from her roles in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971) and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). Willis at the time, however, was virtually unknown to audiences. His most notable TV credit up to that point was in a single 1984 episode of Miami Vice. Who would have thought a former model turned bona-fide movie star and a former bartender turned bit-player would create enough heat onscreen to darn near melt TV sets across the country? Glenn Gordon Caron did. And of course he was right.

Much (and much more) has been written about the difficulties and on-set friction about Moonlighting. Much without any identifiable sources and most likely, most made up to sell gossip rags. The people actually making the show were too busy to be spilling tawdry factoids to the tabloids and when episodes were delayed it still offered them the chance to create something original. When Moonlighting ended in 1989, so too did the interest—at least as far as gossip papers were concerned. Yet Moonlighting wasn’t completely forgotten. Creators of other shows patterned its style in their later work (Paul Simms’ NewsRadio, Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night, Dan Harmon’s Community, all the way up to the recent Whiskey Cavalier). Even Kevin Smith has been elusive in his praise for Moonlighting and how it has inspired his writing.

Scott Ryan, author of The Last Days of Letterman, Thirtysomething at Thirty, and The Women of Amy Sherman-Palladino, has now written Moonlighting: An Oral History (Fayetteville Mafia Press), which features revealing interviews from nearly all forces involved in the creation of 66 incredible shows over the course of five years. Cast members, writers, directors and guest stars all recount their involvement in what is now considered to be one of the most innovative, pioneering TV shows in history. The kind of TV show which comes along once in a blue moon.

Jason: Hello Scott. So, the major question: why after all these years write a book about Moonlighting?

Scott Ryan: Well, I like to do things that nobody can watch and has no ability to reach a wide audience so I can remain poor and unknown (laughs). The thing about Moonlighting is somehow, it hasn’t made it to 2021. Twin Peaks obviously has where a lot of people still talk about it but Moonlighting isn’t, even though it really started the classic Golden Age of ’90s TV.

Jason: I was very young when Moonlighting aired and even though it was sort of adult oriented I was taken by the pace which really stuck out to me. TV shows at the time didn’t move like that. Were any of the participants involved with the show apprehensive about reliving that period of their lives?

Scott Ryan: No. I’ve done a lot of interviews now but the Moonlighting interviews were different than anything I’ve done. All I had to do was start and they vomited information to me. I really felt these people had been waiting 30 years for someone to ask them about Moonlighting. There was no apprehension, in contrast to my David Letterman book where it was all apprehension. With Moonlighting they talked the entire time so that made it a lot easier. I pretty much got everyone except Bruce Willis and even he wanted to do it. It’s just that he does a lot of filming overseas and things kept coming up even in a global lockdown. So we just couldn’t make it happen. But they all wanted to talk.

Jason: It feels like his contribution is missed but at the same time, it isn’t missed because there’s so much great stuff in there. But I’m sure he would have had a lot of great things to say.

Scott Ryan: Personally I like interviews with writers and directors more than actors because they know more. And I think that the stories that the writers and directors tell from Moonlighting are pretty revealing and very impressive.

Jillian Armstrong locks arms with David Addison as both speak to Maddie Hayes
Dana Delany guest stars on the Moonlighting episode “Knowing Her”. Photo Walt Disney Television.

Jason: Was there a story from anyone you talked to or detail that surprised you the most when you heard it?

Scott Ryan: “Surprise” is an interesting word. I like to know how things are made. That’s my thing. For instance trying to figure out why Season 4 of Moonlighting even exists. That to me was the most surprising thing in finding out and I’ve wondered this since 1988. I know the series aired on Lifetime in the early ’90s and I was a little more critical of the show then. I was becoming the “critical Scott” that everyone in the Twin Peaks world just knows and loves, he says with sarcasm (laughs). And so discovering how that season was made, I was fascinated.

Jason: I haven’t watched that since it originally aired yet I remember the airing of the episodes was rather choppy and you didn’t know what was coming up and there were times where audiences were asking, ‘is this show even coming back and if it does who will or won’t be in it?’ It’s fantastic it’s all finally out there now.

Scott Ryan: In some ways I felt like I was a detective in The Wire and there was a time where I had all the episodes laid out because the actual filming of it and how they pieced it together really gets complicated. In 1987 Bruce Willis is off making Die Hard and Cybill is pregnant and on bed rest. Glenn is writing and directing. Actually, I don’t think he wrote it, he might have just directed it as he was working on the movie Clean and Sober with Michael Keaton. So the pieces of putting that together, where everyone was figuring out when it was filmed, I don’t know if readers are going to care but for me, that was exciting.

Jason: Were most of these interviews conducted during the pandemic? I know your book was two years in the making. Do you think that helped with the individuals you spoke to in being so open?

Scott Ryan: I would say most of them were not conducted during the pandemic. The Cybill Shepherd interviews might have been the only ones. We talked a lot. I think it helped because she was trapped at home and while we talked she said she was struggling because it was the first time since she was 16-years-old she wasn’t working. I think because she was stuck at home is why I honestly got the interviews and then we became friends which was cool.

Jason: I’d say being able to call Cybill Shepherd a friend is very, very cool, Scott (both of us laugh). She seems like she’d be absolutely delightful and has accumulated more knowledge of the film and TV history than IMDb. I own the Moonlighting soundtrack CD and she’s as musically gifted as she is doing comedy.

Scott Ryan: We discovered we have similar interest in music. I really like the American Songbook Rogers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter genre. All those songs from the ’40s before the Beatles.  That’s my jam. And that’s what Cybill likes so we talked about songs and songwriters and lyrics, and she would sing. One time I played the piano over the phone and we sang together. It was an amazing experience. She’s a badass. She’s a feminist icon in my opinion.

Jason: So the making of the show was often a brutal time for just about everyone yet they came out the end almost thankful for having gone through the ordeal. It’s like a war they were proud of fighting.

Scott Ryan: I knew it was going to take a lot for everyone to go through. Director Alan Arkush directed the most episodes of Moonlighting. He also directed Fame and Ally McBeal. When we discussed up to Season 3 over FaceTime I could see him and his hands were up and he was laughing and smiling the whole time, just great story after great story. And then he said, let’s take a break and talk in two hours. So we come back two hours later, we start talking about Season 4 and he’s not laughing anymore, all that energy is gone. You could see the honest to goodness pain that he was going through to talk about what they did, and it was that way with everyone.

Jason: It’s really remarkable how ABC took a chance on something so out of the box at the time, In early 1985. Today, you might see something like it on Showtime or HBO. What do you think networks learned, if anything from Moonlighting?

Scott Ryan: Well, I’m not a corporate fan so what do I think they learned? For those who don’t know, ABC owned and broadcast Moonlighting. Now if you say that today no one cares. Netflix owns all their shows. HBO owns all their shows, it’s no big deal. But in 1985 not only was it a big deal, it was technically illegal. Basically what they learned is they could own this show and have it not be good. They owned it but they were paying to make it great. They made a black and white episode (“The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice”) which cost them a ton of money, The Shakespeare episode (“Atomic Shakespeare”) cost them money with sets, costumes and a big cast. They were making so much money because they owned it and they were broadcasting it and it was popular. And then I think they realized, ‘Oh we could do this with a crappy show, and still make all this money and not have to spend any money to pay someone like Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd to be on television.’ So in my opinion, that’s what they learned.

Pertrucio attempts to marry Katerina against her will by gagging her and tying her up
Scene from the “Atomic Shakespeare” episode of Moonlighting. Photo: Walt Disney Television

Jason: Yet audiences responded when it wasn’t a Bruce and :Cybill episode and the declining ratings reflected that.

Scott Ryan: Right. They still made money off a lower rated show. They weren’t getting the Emmy love that it was getting during the first couple years. But I think that network executives, they don’t get why we, the audience love television. For them it’s money.

Jason: You touch upon it in the book but why is the show not on any streaming services? Besides DVDs there aren’t any HD but version to be found, which is odd considering Bruce’s major star power.

Scott Ryan: Of course there’s a bigger star power and that is money. It costs for music. When Moonlighting aired there was no home video, there was certainly no streaming and nobody even thought that was a possibility. Moonlighting is filled with amazing songs from Jimi Hendrix, The Ronettes, The Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson, and Billy Joel. So Disney owns Moonilghting and they don’t pay for it. They were trying to get Glenn to redo the music and he won’t. He did tell me that he’s working on getting it to stream. It should be on Disney+. It is a show that people I think would watch and because there’s only 66 episodes they could binge it pretty quickly.

Jason: I really believe audiences would absolutely devour the show and praise it if they were given the chance to see it.

Scott Ryan: Even the DVDs are out of print. To buy the DVDs are like $100 a season.

Jason: I think my library has one or two seasons, maybe three. But trying to watch a DVD on a 4K TV is just awful.

Scott Ryan: I actually asked Glenn if he ever does a Blu-ray version to let me be involved and he kind of laughed at it but I was serious because I would love to help them and make sure that everything gets out because on the DVDs there’s things that they cut. Moonlighting was the first show to do things before the credits. Now all shows do that especially sitcoms, there’s a bit before the credits. Moonlighting was the first one to do that. And a lot of those did not make it to DVD. They just started with the credits. We all loved when Moonlighting broke the fourth wall.

Jason: Do you think David Addison is as close to the real Bruce Willis as we’re likely to ever see?

Scott Ryan: According to everyone I talked to, yes. Almost everyone said there was a very small distinction between David Addison and Bruce Willis. Now who knows who he is today? That was a long time ago. But at the time they really felt that’s pretty much who Bruce was and I loved David Addison. That’s another thing about streaming: I’m sure there’d be people in today’s culture that would want to cancel David Addison and be upset with him. But if you spend time with that character, you realize those sexist comments are deflecting from the true character of David Addison.

Jason: And Bruce was so hard working and brought so much to the character and the sense of humor.

Scott Ryan: When we were working on the setting up the interviews, I was able to get my Letterman book to Bruce and I never heard anything about it but I think Bruce will love that book because he’s in it. But also because he obviously was a huge Letterman fan being one of the guests who appeared the most amount of times.

Jason: And he was so loyal to Dave. I know he didn’t do any of the other late night talk shows. I always respected that about him. So one ‘wow’ moment for me in the book and it comes pretty near the end, was Allyce Beasley’s comment that to this day she hasn’t been in a room with either Cybill or Bruce since the series ended in 1989.

Scott Ryan: Well, I will say that Allyce is so sweet and kind and another reviewer singled her out and said that she was “bitter” and then I felt bad because that means I didn’t do a good enough job of showing the lighter side of Allyce. She told a lot of jokes, but in print, I was afraid people would misinterpret them. It’s hard to get sarcasm out as I’m sure the readers of this very interview might  miss some of my jokes. I mean, it happens to people who are sarcastic, but she also is angry with Bruce and Cybil because they did pretty much torpedo the show and that was her livelihood, as well. So it was balancing that. But I don’t think a get-together is ever going to happen.

Herbert Viola and Agnes Dipesto stand on an airfield runway at night dressed in 1940's attire
Scene from “Here’s Living With You, Kid”, the Maddy and David-less Casablanca episode of Moonlighting. Photo: Walt Disney Television

Jason: For the record I appreciated everything she said and for me her genuine honesty is the heart of the book. Do you feel this is the definitive account of Moonlighting?

Scott Ryan: To the best of my knowledge it’s the only account of Moonlighting. I don’t think there’s another one and no one has gotten the access with the participants that I was lucky enough to get. And that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with Glenn Gordon Caron and Jay Daniel, who opened the door to all of these people. Once you get the executive producer’s blessing then people are willing to talk to you. So I can’t imagine anyone else ever doing a book about Moonlighting after this and no one did one before. So it’s pretty cool to be the only one out there with one.

Jason: In saying that, you were able to come in fresh as were the people involved with the show.

Scott Ryan: We come from the world of Twin Peaks where there are a billion books about the show so it was kind of weird to go fresh into this. And I even quote Curtis Armstrong, who played Herbert Viola, he wrote an autobiography, and in his book, he said to this date there has not been a serious account of what happened on that series. So I, in this book, in the footnotes wrote to him ‘sorry that I ruined your book.’ Now he’s got to reprint it (laughs). But I think I think he’ll be fine with it. He’s forgiven me.

Jason: Because he’s so prominently featured he offered so many insights about his time on the show and from what went on and his feelings about it. I really loved his contribution.

Scott Ryan: He was really surprising to me because you might know him as Booger from Revenge of the Nerds or any of his sitcom appearances and I really expected a bombastic guy and that was exactly wrong. He was so soft spoken, so thoughtful and really took this seriously and I loved speaking with him. It was really cool.

Jason: You could tell those two, Allyce and Curtis, would welcome the chance to get into a room together.

Scott Ryan: They’re good friends in real life and I think they’ve seen each other many times. In fact, it was Curtis who helped me get Allyce. By the time I had interviewed Curtis I hadn’t heard from her. And he said, ‘you can’t do a Moonlighting book without Miss DiPesto.’  And then she responded and now we text a lot. She’s very sweet and we’re supposed to have coffee when I come to New York next time so that’ll be great.

Jason: I can’t wait to see that Instagram post. Here’s a question not related to the show so much as a general one—on the topic of reboots and reunion shows. As a rule I pretty much hate them. Unless there’s a purpose such as Twin Peaks because it was a continuing story. The recent Friends reunion I thought was quite unnecessary. So I guess we already know the answer to this, but do you think they’ll ever be a Moonlighting reboot or reunion?

Scott Ryan: There will never be a Moonlighting reboot or reunion. There’s just no way that’s going to ever happen—and there shouldn’t be. The last episode is phenomenal. I know a lot of people don’t think that and even people that I interviewed couldn’t remember it and and hadn’t seen it. But it’s a very Moonlighting ending. And I think that Maddie Hayes and David Addison are such ’80s figures. They’re so important to the ’80s. David Addison is the typical ’80s man and Maddie Hayes is that ’80s woman that is sick of being put in the back and is fighting her way to be up front. How could someone reboot that today because either you’d set it in the ’80s, and then everything would be comical. If you made it today how could you really have a female character and a male character talk about sex all the time and not have everyone freak out? They would say ‘he’s belittling her as a woman’ or ‘she’s a horrible woman for saying those things. She’s his boss, she can’t make those sexual comments.’  We have no sense of humor right now.

Jason: There have been a lot of Moonlighting inspired series that have all come and gone since 1989. In Canada we have a show called Private Eyes about two characters (Jason Priestley and Cindy Sampson) who run a detective agency in Toronto. It’s very popular here in Canada. It’s one of our highest rated shows. It’s odd that people forget Moonlighting while it inspired other shows.

Scott Ryan: One of the things I talk about in the book is I have a theory that it has inspired every single show. So how about that for being highfalutin’? And the way that it did is there isn’t a show that doesn’t have a will-they-won’t-they and then push it off until you want to vomit scenario. I liked Downton Abbey a lot but by the time Mary and Matthew got together I didn’t care anymore. And I felt the same way about Friends and Bones. TV is afraid to do it because of Moonlighting. It’s funny because Glenn said it was never his intention for Dave and Maddie to not get together. He wanted them together. And then they did. And then people were upset by it, but I think it makes more sense for a couple to get together and then deal with those ramifications.

Jason:  Are networks afraid of shows like Moonlighting? It seems that after Lost networks were afraid to take a chance on anything daring.

Scott Ryan:, Moonlighting was daring because Glenn Gordon Caron was a visionary and he was young and he didn’t know what it was doing. He says in this book, ‘if I knew now what I was given then I wouldn’t have had the nerve to do it.’ He wouldn’t have known how hard it was going to be. I’m actually developing a show right now and I’ve been in meetings with different people who have more experience than me and connections and when I try to say something that is different it really throws them off. They really don’t want what is different. They want the same thing. The difference in Moonlighting is there was nobody to come in and stop them from doing it because they were running the company and the show. And that’s why all these daring things came out.

Jason: What is Moonlighting’s legacy?

Scott Ryan: I think the legacy is ‘stop at all costs to keep characters from getting together’ and that’s the wrong legacy. I’m hoping what this book will show is that it was about being brave, about taking chances and about doing something different every week. To me the true legacy where you can honestly see Moonlighting is in the show Atlanta. With that show you never know what you’re going to get. I think Community is another show where you turn it on, you don’t know what you’re going to see see that night and that’s what Moonlighting was all about.  Yes, it’s a detective series but they might break out into song and dance and it might be in black and white. And so that to me is it’s legacy.

Jason: What excites you on TV today?

Scott Ryan: The Good Fight on CBS access. It’s the only show that took on the Trump era. Those episodes are so good. Those creators (Michelle and Robert King, Phil Alden Robinson) do a great job. I love Fargo although this season wasn’t as good as the other seasons, but I still love it. I kind of like Ted Lasso quite a bit. There’s not a lot for me because I don’t watch superhero stuff so that eliminates so much of what I can watch. I do watch The Connors on ABC because they’re reflecting our society by wearing masks on the show and struggling with house payments and I want to see things that are actually our lives right now not shows where it’s ‘oh, I can’t pay my house payment? Let me put on my cape and fly and then I can.’

Jason: I don’t like superhero shows either. I have to watch Ted Lasso because I think Bill Lawrence’s first show Spin City was one of the best sitcoms of the ’90s and I’ve written on here how I can’t understand why it never shows up on any of those official TV comedy best-of lists. I really like what Kay Cannon is doing with shows such as Girlboss which I really liked and was disappointed there wasn’t another season. Her dialogue has that rapid-fire delivery that is slightly reminiscent of Moonlighting. Not to get ahead of ourselves but with the Moonlighting book now available can you tell us what you’re working on next?

Scott Ryan: My next book is called Fire Walk With Me: Your Laura Disappeared and it will come out in 2022 to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Fire Walk With Me and I’m super excited about it. It’s actually my first Twin Peaks book and FWWM has always been my favorite part of Twin Peaks. I’ve got some great interviews for it.

Jason: I can’t wait wait to read that one. Is there anything else you’d like to add in conclusion?

Scott Ryan: I just want to congratulate 25 Years Later on what they’ve become. I’m so proud of what Andrew has done. He’s always been great to us at Blue Rose Magazine. I just love the community that we all created together and it’s great to be here and talk about Moonlighting and all that good stuff.

Jason: Thanks so much. I hope the book is a big success for you.

Scott Ryan: The success is that Glenn Gordon Caron sent me an email and he said he loves the book and he can’t believe it exists and it exceeded his expectations. I’ll take that to my grave. That right there is all the success I need.

Moonlighting: An Oral History by Scott Ryan is available now on Amazon and Fayetteville Mafia Press

Written by Jason Sheppard

Entertainment reporter living at the end of very cold Canada. Proud owner of a diploma in journalism and just about every CD by John Williams ever released. Favorite directors are Spielberg, Scorsese, Kubrick, Tarantino, Fellini, Lynch and Fincher. Twin Peaks, Sopranos and Six Feet Under are the greatest TV dramas ever crafted and I love 90s sitcoms such as Spin City, Sports Night, Newsradio, Seinfeld and even that one with Deadpool working in the pizza place. Click linkies below to follow me.

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