Dave Karger
April 05, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST

Talk about foreplay. From Moonlighting‘s debut in 1985, the flirtation between private investigators Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) and David Addison (Bruce Willis) sizzled through two seasons of innuendo-filled banter. Even after Maddie and David consummated the 1985-86 season with a passionate buss in a parking garage, viewers were not satisfied. For months, they sent off scores of missives to the show pleading for the couple to, as Addison liked to say, ”get horizontal.” (In one self-referential, out-of-character segment, Willis joked, ”Keep those cards and letters coming, folks.”) At long last it seemed they’d get their wish, when ads for the March 31, 1987, episode promised, ”No more between the lines. Tonight’s between the sheets.” The installment’s not-so-nebulous title: ”The Big Bang.”

All that frustration culminated in a bang, all right. Maddie and David threw their professional relationship aside, along with their clothes, when an argument escalated into name-calling before morphing into a bout of passion so steamy it might have sent shy secretary Agnes Dipesto headlong into the Blue Moon Detective Agency ladies’ room.

But the aftereffects of the whirlwind interlude weren’t so sexy. Soon after the coupling episode drew in an estimated 60 million viewers (outpacing the Academy Awards, broadcast the same week), Moonlighting fizzled. Shepherd’s pregnancy, already a hindrance during ”The Big Bang” (love scenes had to be filmed standing up with the bed propped against a wall and the camera turned sideways — so much for getting horizontal), was a growing problem; shooting was also hampered by Willis’ burgeoning movie career. Ratings dipped as new episodes debuted less frequently and reports surfaced of feuds between the two leads.

After two lackluster additional seasons, Moonlighting finally called it quits in 1989. All involved continue to thrive professionally — Willis and Shepherd tackle Moonlighting-esque characters on film and TV, respectively; series creator Glenn Gordon Caron is directing the upcoming Jennifer Aniston film Picture Perfect. Still, Moonlighting‘s post-coupling hard knocks remain a disappointment for fans. ”There was a wonderful story to be told about two people who had crossed the line, made love, and realized that it wasn’t going to work,” sighs Caron. ”Had things been different, it might have been an interesting thing to do. But it was a hell of a high-wire act for a while.”

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