Times Staff Writer

NBC struck first with “Remington Steele,” pairing a veteran private investigator with a novice of the opposite sex for mystery, fun and romance. CBS came up with a successful variation in “Scarecrow and Mrs. King.” Now ABC is trying its hand at the formula with “Moonlighting,” a new series debuting Sunday at 9 p.m. (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42).

While not without flaws, the two-hour premiere contains enough laughs, style and action to suggest that ABC has a shot at success too, although the regular time slot for “Moonlighting” will be Tuesdays at 10 p.m., opposite “Remington Steele,” the very show that inspired it. (Glenn Caron, creator and executive producer of “Moonlighting,” used to work on the NBC series, and the director of “Moonlighting,” Robert Butler, co-created “Remington Steele.”)

The “Moonlighting” story has Cybill Shepherd as a former model who, through unusual circumstances and with great reluctance, gets involved in a private detective agency that her business advisers had bought for her as a tax shelter. Bruce Willis co-stars as the fun-loving, irreverent head of the firm.


The pilot suggests the madcap style of a 1940s romantic comedy, but Butler and his actors occasionally seem to be trying too hard for the effect. In addition, Shepherd’s character lacks the proper degree of polish and sophistication for maximum contrast with her rude introduction to the world of crime, and Willis, evidently patterning his character on the Bill Murray screen persona of a brash, fast-talking, pseudo-hip Cool Guy, comes off as too callous and shallow to be completely likable.

There is a nice chemistry between them, however, and Caron’s writing is sharp, so that with a bit of refining, “Moonlighting” may turn into a welcome, if familiar, bit of prime-time diversion.

Here are other weekend programs.

TODAY: In a repeat of a 1983 program that won the series a local Emmy Award, “Teen Talk” features young people discussing the death of a parent, 8 a.m. (9). . . .

“Presente” takes another look at conditions in Nicaragua, focusing on changes in health care since the revolution in 1979, 4 p.m. (28). . . .

“Headlines on Trial” debates the question of whether a woman’s sexual history should be admissible at a rape trial, 6:30 p.m. (4). . . .

In a special edition, “Saturday Night Live” presents its own film festival, featuring what the producers feel are the best film pieces the show has done over the last five years, 11:30 p.m. (4) (36) (39).

SUNDAY: Tom Kennedy hosts the 30th annual “Stop Arthritis Telethon” from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (5), with Abby Dalton, Larry Van Nuys, Jane Wyman, Charlotte Rae, Victoria Principal, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball and others. . . . Jacob Even, Israel’s consul general to the Western United States, will be interviewed on “News Conference 4 L.A.,” 9 a.m. (4).

Mathilde Krim of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York provides an overview on current information about AIDS on “Open Mind,” 9 a.m. (28).

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kenneth Dam, deputy secretary of state, will discuss Nicaragua on “Meet the Press,” 9:30 a.m. (4) (36) (39).

“This Week With David Brinkley” will be seen at 10:30 a.m. (7) (10).

“Tax Break ‘85,” the first of two specials designed to help viewers prepare their income tax reports, will air at 1:30 p.m. (15) and 2 p.m. (28).

John Huerta and Los Angeles City Councilman Ernani Bernardi debate the merits of Prop. 2, which would expand the council from 15 to 17 seats, on “Newsmakers,” 3 p.m. (2).

“Face the Nation” looks at the government’s crackdown on the Mafia, 3:30 p.m. (2) and 4:30 p.m. (8).

“Hunger and Hope: The Other Side of Africa,” a report on the drought in Africa, will be telecast at 4 p.m. (4).

A look at the styles for spring is included in “Fashion Report,” with hosts Cristina Ferrare and Pam Roberts, 6 p.m. (7).

“American Caesar,” a five-hour documentary about Douglas MacArthur, kicks off at 8 p.m. (11). Sunday’s three-hour installment is followed by a two-hour conclusion Monday at 8 p.m. (Howard Rosenberg reviews the program in Sunday’s Television Times).

Rodney Dangerfield stars in a comedy special, “Rodney Dangerfield Exposed,” with guests Morgan Fairchild, Harvey Korman, Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith, 8 p.m. (7) (3) (10) (42).

Linda Hamilton, Sally Kellerman, Geena Davis and James Franciscus star in “Secret Weapons,” a TV movie about the training of beautiful young American women as Soviet spies, 9 p.m. (4) (36) (39).