Video: Spring Sparring Partners

Mismatched couples provide the spark for TV's "third season"

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One might be a gruff old gent with a streak of eccentricity and a taste for adventure, while the other is younger, more level-headed and a bit uptight. Or if one is an overenthusiastic amateur, the other is a world-weary pro with a hard veneer of cynicism. They seem to bicker constantly, these mismatched TV couples, yet they share a grudging respect and affection--sometimes even a wedding ring. They can be found all over the prime-time dial these days, their names often linked by racy ampersands: Simon & Simon, Hardcastle & McCormick, Kate & Allie, Cagney & Lacey, MacGruder & Loud.

TV was once filled with happy families and harmonious relationships. But ever since Archie Bunker squared off against Meathead in Norman Lear's All in the Family, tongue-in-cheek antagonism has become the engine that drives most TV sitcoms--and, in the past few seasons, a spate of lighthearted adventure shows as well. The contours of these rocky relationships have become so familiar that the cliche alarm goes off every time a new one appears. Yet with the right mix of skilled performers, the old formula can yield a pleasing chemistry. Witness three new series debuting during the networks' third season.

Third season? Indeed. This month and next, as the 1984-85 ratings battle winds to a close and the networks start looking toward the fall, at least eleven prime-time series are being introduced for limited runs of six or more episodes. More than half of them come from ABC, which dropped to last place this season behind the newly rejuvenated NBC, and thus has the most holes to fill. Newcomers that do well in their spring tryouts are likely to reappear in the lineup next fall; for TV's latest sparring partners, these short-term engagements could be the start of long and profitable relationships.

The dueling duo in ABC's Moonlighting start out with a typically cute meet. Maddie Hayes is a successful TV model who is forced to sell off some business assets after her financial advisers abscond with all her cash. One of those assets, she discovers, is a detective agency run by David Addison, a TV- obsessed private eye with boundless self-confidence but few clients. She tries to help him drum up business, but they are rarely on the same wavelength. "This is always how I imagined it would be with a partner," he enthuses. "Two people working shoulder to shoulder, seeing eye to eye . . ." "Eating hand to mouth," she ripostes.

Close your eyes and you can picture that wisecrack coming from Carole Lombard or Rosalind Russell in a '30s screwball comedy. Moonlighting re-creates the madcap mood of those films with the help of two ingratiating stars. Cybill Shepherd as Maddie not only looks wonderful but proves to be an assured and ; appealing light comedian. As her partner in crime solving, Bruce Willis is more than her match. With his thick-necked macho charm, Willis brings a Bill Murray-esque tone of put-on to the witty patter. The show's dialogue is possibly the fastest on TV, the stories are briskly paced and unobtrusive, and Shepherd gets lots of loving close-ups. Moonlighting is a snazzy entry that deserves a full-time job on ABC next fall.

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