Hart to Hart... to Remington... to Moonlighting

Surprise, I'm back before I thought I would be! And with a brand new obsession to boot: '80s television. I can practically hear your confusion, but let me explain. I've been trying to catch up on good TV shows, but instead of gobbling up the latest Netflix craze, I like to relax and watch shows my parents used to love, such as The Rockford Files and Mission: Impossible (both available on Netflix and probably YouTube). Over a year ago, my parents got to talking about Moonlighting and they fervently recommended it to me: "Michaela, you'd love it. It's just your kind of thing." I found the first and second season cheaply on Amazon and whoa, were my parents right. But I'll get to Moonlighting later...

Fast forward to a month ago. I was channel-surfing and suddenly realized that Hart to Hart was airing on the Hallmark Mystery channel, a channel I didn't even know we had. I had heard about this show before, so I immediately began recording every episode. One night my dad found me watching it and went "I liked Robert Wagner better on It Takes a Thief." Well, naturally I had to look up that show and purchase its first season as soon as I read the words "1960's spy series." Then Amazon, my dear trusted friend, suggested the show Remington Steele. I had heard about Remington because it bears a strong resemblance to Moonlighting, so I figured while I was stocking up on TV shows, why not add Remington to the pile? All of this is my long-winded way of saying how I became in love with three '80s shows. Can you tell I've missed my blog?

I'm sure you're wondering just what the hell this has to do with classic movies? I'll tell you--Hart to Hart, Remington Steele, and Moonlighting owe a lot to the classics, and they lovingly embrace them in various stolen plots, one-liners, costumes...you name it. These shows instantly won me over because they paid homage again and again to Old Hollywood and they weren't ashamed of it. So, as my thanks to them, I want to introduce you all to the Harts, Remington and Laura, and David and Maddie.

Hart to Hart, 1979-1984
"This is my boss: Jonathan Hart, a self-made millionaire. He's quite a guy. This is Mrs. H; she's gorgeous! She's one lady who knows how to take care of herself. By the way, my name is Max. I take care of both them--which ain't easy, 'cause when they met, it was murder."

Let's start chronologically. Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers are Jonathan and Jennifer Hart, a wealthy couple that get wrapped in murder and mystery all the time. Everywhere the Harts go, crime follows, which makes the show seem surreal at times. Because of their wealth, they'll become targets for con men or they'll be vacationing somewhere ritzy and a guy they just met will be killed. It's almost comical--whenever the Harts interact with someone, you immediately become worried that they're going to die. Sometimes their own friends turn out to be the criminals! What makes it even funnier is that the police never chastise the couple for disturbing crime scenes or actively trying to solve the crime themselves; they always thank the Harts and carry on.

I'll be the first to admit that Hart to Hart can be cheesy. I mean, just look at them going incognito. Jonathan and Jennifer aren't above making a bad pun either, and the music is pure 1980's, especially the theme song. Not to mention Jonathon's comical action-packed sequences. He's constantly doing somersaults and shooting at the bad guys and jumping on cars and throwing explosives away from Jennifer. It makes me wish that Jennifer would do more. That's not to say that she's stationary, but it's clearly Jonathan who gets to be the big hero. It becomes too hyper-masculine.

Wagner and Powers have great chemistry, though. It's nice to see a strong married couple working together and enjoying each other. I feel like these days a show isn't "complete" without a dysfunctional couple, which I just can't agree with. (Listen to this old lady.) The Harts are obviously the core of the show, and they're obviously evoking Nick and Nora Charles. They even have a dog, although he's named Freeway. The Harts also have a loyal servant, or "houseman," named Max. Played by the impossibly gravel-voiced Lionel Stander, Max is gruff, but a total sweetheart. He's an interesting contrast to the glamorous Harts, yet he never feels out of place.

Hart to Hart was created by Sidney Sheldon, whom you may recognize as the screenwriter for Easter Parade, Annie Get Your Gun, The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer (which he won an Oscar for), and countless other films and novels. Aaron Spelling co-produced the show too. Cary Grant was the original choice for Jonathan, but the then-75-year-old wasn't interested. I would have loved to have seen Cary in a weekly TV series and I always thought he looked great in his later years, but I just can't picture him on this show. Once Wagner was cast, the network tried to get Natalie Wood to star with her husband, but that fell through too. I love Stefanie Powers as Jennifer, so no complaints here.

You can watch full episodes of Hart to Hart on YouTube, or you might want to check your TV channels. The first episode can be found here.


Remington Steele, 1982-1987
"Try this for a deep, dark secret: the great detective Remington Steele? He doesn't exist--I invented him. I always loved excitement, so I studied and apprenticed and put my name on an office. But absolutely nobody knocked down my door. A female private investigator seemed so...feminine. So I invented a superior, a decidedly masculine superior, and suddenly there were cases around the block. It was working like a charm, until the day he walked in, with his blue eyes and mysterious past. And before I knew it, he assumed Remington Steele's identity! Now I do all the work and he takes the bows. It's a dangerous way to live, but as long as people buy it, I can get the job done. We never mix business with pleasure--well, almost never. I don't even know his real name!"

You may recognize that man as James Bond, or rather Pierce Brosnan. Yes, this was the show that launched that beautiful man into stardom. Brosnan was actually offered the part of Bond at the end of the series' fourth season, when they were temporarily cancelled. He accepted but then had to decline because the network gave them a short final season and his contract with them had priority; Brosnan was replaced by Timothy Dalton and wouldn't play 007 until the '90s. Remington Steele is many things: hilarious, smart, pro-feminist, romantic... It all starts with Laura Holt's (Stephanie Zimbalist) narration at the beginning of the first episode (see above), which explains the whole premise. Brosnan pretends he's Remington for the rest of the series, never giving us or Laura his real name. The fun part of the series, though, is that Laura gets to be in charge. She's an established and very smart detective, while he's...not. He can create a fake story or pick a lock, but when it comes to solving cases, he's constantly looking to Laura to help him out. She hardly ever gets the credit she deserves because people give it to Steele. It's sexist, and the show recognizes it, as do the characters.

Brosnan and Zimbalist are absolutely magic together. There's a constant sexual tension between them, and they tease the audience like crazy. One episode, they'll share a passionate kiss. The next episode, it isn't mentioned. The show's co-creator, Robert Butler, said they purposely pulled the couple together and apart because it gave the show a fun spark. But a romance is not the only thing that makes these two interesting. Remington is the prime source of comedy--Brosnan admits that he borrowed from Cary Grant to make the suave, witty Steele what he is. My favorite part, though, is Steele is a total film geek. Every single episode, he references a movie, whether it pertains to a case or something someone says. He even tries to solve crimes by using methods he sees in films, such as the infamous dinner party William Powell gives in The Thin Man. Steele even has framed posters in his chic apartment. Is that a man after my own heart or what?

Laura is amazing, too. Remington Steele was a forerunner in that it showed an independent career woman who was single and basically not stereotypical. She loves her job, and she's really, really good at it. She gets to do everything Jonathan Hart does, and she'll wear a fedora while doing it. That hat, by the way, was Zimbalist's idea; she thought it would be great to have Laura wear Bogart's signature hat and she was right. Laura admits she has feelings for Steele, but it doesn't become her main focus. She's kind of a fantastic role model.

In the first season, the detective agency didn't just have Laura and Steele, but two other people: Murphy Michaels (James Read), who was a detective like Laura, and Bernice Foxe (Janet DeMay), who was the receptionist. I loved both of them and was sorry to see them go after just one season. Apparently, the show's creators thought that there were too many characters, so they combined Murphy and Bernice into Mildred Krebs, played by Doris Roberts, whom you may know as Ray Romano's mom on Everybody Loves Raymond. Murphy was fun because he didn't like or trust Steele, and he also had a huge crush on Laura, creating a nice tension between he and Steele. Poor Bernice was always called "Ms. Wolfe" by Steele--he never got her name right.

Remington Steele can be found on YouTube. The first episode is here. Did I mention that the show's theme music was composed by the wonderful Henry Mancini as well?


Moonlighting, 1985-1989
I can't lie, Moonlighting is my favorite out of this bunch; it's definitely in my top 5 all-time favorite TV shows. In many ways, it's similar to Remington, probably stemming from the popularity of Remington and the fact that one of Remington's original writers and producers, Glenn Gordon Caron, went on to create Moonlighting. Both series concentrate on weekly mysteries and the high romantic tension between its leads, and once again, movie references abound. But that's basically where the similarities stop. Moonlighting is a little weirder, a little edgier. The production values are better too. That's not to say that Remington looks bad, but Moonlighting was one of the most expensive shows produced in its time. So much went into the production that episodes would have to be postponed from airtime because they weren't finished yet. Whenever an episode was delayed, a piece was taped for the beginning of the episode apologizing in a very tongue-in-cheek way, as "David" and "Maddie" would break the fourth wall and speak right to the audience; it's pretty great.

Speaking of David and Maddie, you probably noticed in the photo above who played these two, Bruce Willis and Cybill Sheperd. Sheperd was already well-known for The Last Picture Show, The Heartbreak Kid, and Taxi Driver, but for Willis, this would be his breakout role. And boy, does he impress you. After watching this show, I will always see him as David Addison. David is immature, hilarious, a little crude, and surprisingly sexy. He pushes Maddie's buttons all the time and it is constantly amusing. His moments of vulnerability are just marvelous, too. Cybill is fantastic as well. Maddie is a former model who winds up owning the Blue Moon Detective Agency, which employs David. She gets exasperated a lot, but don't think she can't hold her own. When Sheperd was pitched the idea for the show, she immediately compared its tone to a Howard Hawks screwball comedy. Creator Caron and producer Jay Daniel didn't know what she was talking about (what?!), so she suggested they watch a few before shooting the pilot. It's easy to notice the influence--the overlapping dialogue is insane, and the double entendres are quick and clever. A funny tidbit: since the dialogue was so fast and overlapped a lot, sometimes they still had time left over in episodes. Once again, they would tape "fourth-wall" segments to start the episodes and fill out the allotted time.

Also employed at Blue Moon is receptionist Agnes DiPesto. Agnes is the true oddball of the show, but in such a lovable way. She always answers the agency's phone with a rhyme, and she tries to be as cheery as she can be, which is usually dampered by David and Maddie fighting. Willis and Sheperd started fighting off the screen as well; both wanted jobs outside of the show, but Moonlighting took up a lot of time. One episode took 12-14 days to shoot instead of the regular 7 days, and the scripts were twice as long as other one-hour shows. The
series's seasons were always shorter than the standard 22 because of this--the first season is only 6 episodes! To take some of the pressure off, Caron gave Agnes some of her own stand-alone episodes, with the two leads only occasionally popping up. Ms. DiPesto also got her own love interest in season 3 in the form of Herbert Viola, played by Curtis Armstrong. They're such an eccentric couple, and they mark an intriguing foil to David and Maddie.


As I've mentioned before, the series loved production values. It also loved stepping out of the box in terms of episode ideas. Moonlighting was famous for crafting episodes like "Atomic Shakespeare," which was a re-imagining of The Taming of the Shrew set in its original period and spoken in iambic pentameter. Another ridiculously expensive episode, and my personal fave, is "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice." I don't want to write too much about it because I plan on writing a separate post on just that episode (it's that amazing), but it's essentially the show's take on film noir, complete in black-and-white and everything. Another episode, "Big Man on Mulberry Street," had David dreaming himself into a dance sequence that depicted his struggle between an ex of his and Maddie. The sequence was directed by Stanley Donen! It's just incredible what this series did. They also had Eva Marie Saint as Maddie's mother--how's that for casting? Moonlighting (and Hart to Hart and Remington) had lots of classic stars appear in episodes, whether they were big names like Dorothy Lamour or supporting people like Joan Shawlee.

Many people blame Moonlighting's end on the consummation of Maddie and David's relationship at the end of the third season; they say that the tension that gave the show its electricity fizzled out. I think that's a little unfair, and I also say that high production costs were more to blame. The show couldn't keep making episodes like they had been, plus Willis and Sheperd were anxious to move on. You can see episodes of Moonlighting on YouTube, with the first episode here. It was an almost two-hour-long premiere, so be sure you don't click on a video that's less than that.

Thanks for indulging me in my little obsession. I was so pleasantly surprised when I saw these shows and I hope you'll give them a chance. I'm constantly able to pick out Old Hollywood influences watching them, and they're so much fun to spend an afternoon with. (Afternoon...evening...days...weeks... I have a problem.) Enjoy, and please let me know what you think if you decide to give any of them a try!

 

With love,
Michaela

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