Question: I never get enough of stars fighting on shows. Didn't Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd fight a lot on Moonlighting? Lindsay F., Deadwood, S.D.
Televisionary: Did they ever with each other, and with series creator Glenn Gordon Caron, who was ousted from his own show before its last season. In terms of whose fault it was, though, it's tough to tell. The interesting thing is that while many a finger pointed at Shepherd and she had her defenders, it must be noted she also happened to be the one most willing to go on the record about the problems.
After Caron sold the idea for the show a smart, romantic-detective comedy that made heavy use of the dynamic from the classic His Girl Friday to ABC and convinced Shepherd to sign on, he and the network brought in actor after actor to test for the role of wiseacre David Addison. Finally he found Willis, an unknown New York stage actor. When the two tested together, it was said, sparks flew.
Early on, though, it became clear the sparks wouldn't always be the good kind. "The relationship between us as actors is like a marriage. That means there are times when we really hate each other's guts," Shepherd said in late 1985. "We've had some difficult periods, but we've managed to survive them and have always gotten back to the fact that we have a lot of affection for each other."
Only Shepherd and Willis know if that was true then or not, but by all accounts affection was a rare commodity on the set from the get-go, and even rarer as time went by, even as the series' ratings climbed. Less than two years later, the actress spoke of out-and-out battles, in particular "a screaming match" that pitted her against Caron "because we're both very volatile, you know, and I felt no one was listening."
Her chief complaint was that the show had become The Taming of the Shrew, with Shepherd's Maddie going all shrew, all the time. "Sexist, unflattering, stupid things" in the scripts "every script had a screaming Maddie for a while" meant she was "not a very malleable person under those circumstances," said Shepherd. And how. She told the producers her days shouldn't be longer than 12 hours, which complicated things when the series was already behind schedule. It didn't help that shooting was often held up while Caron and the writers polished scripts, but the blame centered on the temperamental actress. "I can tell you that in the fall she was responsible for 80 percent of our production problems," an unnamed insider said in 1987.
Shepherd fought with Willis. Shepherd fought with Caron. By the 1986-87 season, Caron and his producers decided to give her a limo in an attempt to make her happier. But complications over modifying the car Caron later termed it a "mega-misunderstanding" killed that goodwill gesture. The fights over the scripts continued, leading Caron to tell others he was living the worst fall of his life. "I've become the enemy," he said. When a Shepherd pregnancy and a Willis skiing injury caused missed time for both, the situation worsened.
When Shepherd showed up at an April 1988 meeting with Caron to talk about the show's direction, it wasn't long before the yelling started again. "It was like a volcanic eruption," Caron's assistant, who was sitting outside, said of the dustup. "I said, 'I don't have to stay here and listen to this,' " Shepherd recalled, and she didn't she walked out. The two sides traded charges over whose fault the show's problems were. ("We got into this bad place, and then it became intolerable, because he was weirded out and I was weirded out and it was just a nothing-you-can-do-to-make-it-right situation," Shepherd recalled.) And by the time the cast and crew got together to shoot Season 4, ABC had dumped Caron.
So then Willis and Shepherd were the only two left to do the fighting, and by all accounts, they did. "I think it's very complicated," cast mate Allyce Beasley said at the time. "It's not that Cybill was a bad girl or Bruce was a bad boy.... It's like Rashomon. Everybody's got their own version."
At one point after the ugly April meeting, Shepherd's people and the network wanted her to reconnect with Caron. "They wanted me to beg him to come back and do the show," she said. "Why should I beg this person who's been rude to me?" She didn't. And he didn't, although he continued to write for the series. And that was pretty much it for the show, which lost its way amid all the turmoil and was gone in May 1989. As TV Guide pointed out, chemistry in front of the camera was responsible for the show's success, but chemistry behind the camera doomed it. And it sounds like there was plenty of blame to go around.