On one of my news sites there’s a sidebar with “what’s hot” links. A while back, I happened to click on a link that had this year’s “top television disasters.” which was mostly interesting, except for one thing. The reviewer just had to trot out the “Moonlighting myth.” What is that? It’s a myth based on a television show from the late ’80’s. The basic myth says that if you happen to put your two leads together romantically, the show will die soon thereafter.
The story goes that the incredibly popular show (starring Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd) tanked in the ratings shortly after their two lead characters, who had been flirting a lot, finally consummated their passion. It became a “truism” that putting your lead characters together kills your show. The result has been that show producers since then have been avoiding that like the plague. So if you ever wonder why the hell the lead characters on your favorite show are doing that song-and-dance and never quite managing to get together, the Moonlighting myth is why.
Why is it a myth? Because that’s not what killed the show. The first big problem was the fact that the two actors didn’t really like each other. Then, right after they had them get together, Cybill Shepherd became pregnant, which meant that all the “romance” in the show had be put on hold for the following season because of that. Add in writer/producer difficulties, and that both stars wanted out because they wanted to move into films, and you have a recipe for a show that’s going to tank. In other words, it was a show that was going to die because of numerous other problems, but that they’d put the two leads together romantically made a convenient scapegoat.
Ever since then, it’s become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Shows have their leads do a dance around each other, stoking the “will they or won’t they?” tension as much as possible – with occasional “teaser” episodes. Until, of course, the show starts to slide down the ratings. Then they’ll put them together as a desperation ploy to try to boost the ratings. It fails, because by this time no one cares anymore. The show keeps sliding down the ratings, and is canceled, thus allowing the producers to once again invoke the Moonlighting myth. If only they hadn’t put their leads together, the show would still be on, neatly absolving them of acknowledging the show was on its way out the door anyway.
It’s why I get irritated whenever I see a critic using that. It tells me that they haven’t bothered to examine the basic facts behind a myth, and it really doesn’t do much for my willingness to listen to their opinion. It irritates me when I see producers using it as well. What they’re really saying is “we have no idea of what to do if we put them together.” It means they’d be out of their comfort zone.