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San Francisco Examiner

April 1, 1987, Wednesday


BYLINE: By Michael Dougan, Examiner Television Critic


Dave and Maddie are hardly the first co-stars of a contemporary series to crawl under the covers together. Like hula hoops and slam dancing, it's a certified trend. Sex happened on "Cheers." Connubial ecstasy struck "Remington Steele." Libidos were loosened on "Scarecrow and Mrs. King."

But never had the beast with two backs slipped onto our screen with such hype or such style. The conjugation of Dave (Bruce Willis) and Maddie (Cybill Shepherd) on "Moonlighting" Tuesday night was heralded for a week in 30-second spots featuring the likes of Dr. Ruth and Hugh Hefner. This is not just any pair of mixed-gender gumshoes. This is Dave and Maddie, television's undeclared couple of the year. The heat between these two has been crackling since Day One of this series two seasons back. As on a dry, ozone-laden summer night in Texas, we knew lightning would strike and fires would burn. It was all a matter of when.

When would they acknowledge the obvious and get nekkid? When would Maddie's posh pad echo with moans of pleasure? For executive producer Glenn Gordon Caron, the wicket was sticky. Once a television romance is consummated, the series loses its sexual tension. How long will post-coital glow keep viewers tuned in? What do you do for an encore?

Typically, producers look for subtle cues, quiet omens buried in circumstance or Nielsen numbers -- a dwindling viewership needs titillation, a plot line grows smoky and stale.

Or your star is pregnant. That calls for explanatory fireworks. Shepherd is not merely swelling in the belly, she's bearing twins. Try to hide that with fancy camera work.

Nobody at ABC is saying Dave and Maddie's Tuesday night tryst will be used to explain her indelicate condition. Just last week, Caron told a seminar at the Museum of Broadcasting in New York that no definite plot to encompass Shepherd's pregnancy has been devised. (Caron also revealed that Imogene Coca will join the cast next season as the mother of Agnes DiPesto, so they know this show ain't over.)

In Tuesday's episode, the concluding chapter of a three-part trilogy, Shepherd wrestled on the horns of a romantic dilemma born when old boyfriend Sam (Mark Harmon) came to play house again, eventually proposing marriage. In the end, after considerable histrionics and a couple of fist fights, she chose her detective agency partner, Dave, and Sam took a powder. The final scene had the pair hitting her satin sheets in as beautifully, and humorously choreographed a love scene as the medium can muster.

It represented a refreshing turn-about for television, obsessed with the "nurturing male" phenomenon of late. Sam was as nurturing as they come, unpossessive and reasonable to the core. Charming, too. Dave is an Oscarish slob who hides his feelings behind glib wisecracks. For those of us whose bedrooms have been declared National Beer Can Refuges, Maddie's selection offers hope.

This was also a prime case of making silk from a sow's ear. The episode was slated to air two weeks ago, but was delayed due to Shepherd's pregnancy and a ski injury on Willis' part. Rather than gnash their teeth, ABC honchos turned "Moonlighting's" misfortune into mileage, make a joke of it and let the audience in on the crisis.

What happens now? When, for that matter, will we see another fresh "Moonlighting" episode? Nobody knows. They're still shooting the next one.

Nor does it much matter, "Moonlighting," ABC's only prestige piece, has set its seasonal triumph in concrete. It's amazing what a little sex will do. Home Page


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