Once upon a time, in an era known as the 80s, a fresh-faced actor named Bruce Willis played a private detective alongside Cybill Shepherd on the TV show, Moonlighting. Lasting for five seasons, it would go on to create one of the most cited and worst followed excuses on television: the Moonlighting curse. Two decades have passed since its cancellation, yet the show has managed to find a second life in the interviews of actors and showrunners alike, who continually namedrop it as a viable reason for ignoring the chemistry between their leading men and ladies. The argument stands that making your stars a couple is a show killer, because that’s why Moonlighting got the ax. Never mind all of the backstage drama that was taking place on that set—clearly it got canceled because they bowed down to fans’ desire to see the crime-fighting partners together.
Moral of the Story: if you want your show to last, avoid declarations of love. Include lots of break-ups. Stall, stall, and more stall (see The Big Bang Theory, Scrubs, etc.)
Unfortunately, some shows seem to have taken this advice to heart. In an attempt to circumvent Moonlighting’s fate, happy, stable relationships have become the bane to TV’s existence. Their replacement—unresolved romantic tension—has transformed into a crutch for maintaining viewer interest. Courtships intended to captivate get dragged on past reason, actually hurting their shows by preventing them from moving past “will they or won’t they” tropes. If you’ve watched an episode of Castle lately, you know what I mean. The once delightful mystery drama about a dashing novelist and his NYPD cop muse waited until season seven to have them tie the knot. Considering it was clear from the pilot they were soul mates, that’s too much time, and after the canceled wedding day fiasco that was the show’s season six finale, season seven was really too late. The show’s final shreds of realism were already gone.
Unrequited love stories aren’t the problem. Neither are bumpy road sagas (look at how Ben and Leslie learned to balance feelings and career ambitions on Parks and Recreation, or how Axel struggled with destiny dictating his love life on the New Zealand import, Almighty Johnsons). It’s the stories that don’t recognize the need for characters to take the next step in their relationships, or ignore the need out of fear of change, that cause a show to fall apart. And while these complaints aren’t new and have been voiced before, television is finally responding with a slowly increasing willingness to experiment with their love timetables. Superstitions over the Moonlighting curse have far from disappeared but—thanks to a few pregnancy twist compromises—are beginning to lose their potency.