The Top 10 Will They or Won’t They TV Shows – A Closer Look

Television is filled with stories of “will they or won’t they” romance, so choosing the top 10 seems like it would be daunting.  Luckily, this isn’t a list about just a couple’s relationship. It’s covering will they or won’t they TV shows.   The difference between these two things are in part one of this article, which you can read here if you missed it.

The Top 10 “Will They or Won’t They” TV Shows – The Criteria

Since it’s easy to be swayed by a particular couple’s chemistry, I created criteria for ranking the shows where chemistry is just one of several areas to look at.  For one, the primary romance has to have logical follow-through with the relationship while maintaining plot and character credibility.  These are things that will they or won’t they TV shows (or even shows that only employ the “will they or won’t they” idea) can lose sight of.   This seems especially true when some behind-the-scenes issue or issues start stressing out the writers and producers.  Of the ten shows that are listed more than half have some behind-the-scenes drama going on that affects the show’s production – usually negatively – but not always.  It seems that while creativity and skill are factors in pulling one of these shows off, so is luck!  Below are the other points used when rating the shows for the list:

  1. The show had to have been on for at least three seasons. You can’t really tell much about the direction with only a couple of seasons to work with.
  2. How long is the “will they or won’t they” aspect dragged out? Shows that drag out the couple getting together beyond belief are immediately downgraded.
  3. How good – or bad – were the roadblocks? Were the stalls to the relationship believable?  In other words, did the plots make sense or did things not really add up?
  4. How was the couple’s chemistry? Let’s be honest, no matter how good the story, if the attraction isn’t palpable does anyone care what happens? No.
  5. The romance: first kiss, sweet gestures, emotional revels, passion, intimacy, and commitment.  Did these things happen?  Was there enough romance? Did you swoon at least once?  How were all of the milestone moments handled?
  6. How good was everything else? IE: Was the show well written? Do the plots outside of the relationship make sense and were they engaging?
  7. If the show has wrapped, how did it end? There should be a great finale with a solid happy ending.

The Top 10 Will They or Won’t They TV Shows – A Closer Look

With the above in mind, let’s take a closer look at this top 10 list!

10.  Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman on ABC: 1993-1997 

It starred Dean Cain as Clark Kent/Superman and Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane.

The series loosely followed the modern origin of Superman, established by writer John Byrne- where Clark Kent is the true personality and Superman a disguise. As the show’s title suggests, the series focused on the relationship and romance between Clark and Lois as much as the adventures of Clark’s alter-ego, Superman[3] (www.en.wikipedia.org).

The relationship with Lois and Clark was fun, sexy and at times steamy. Everything was going well… until some behind-the-scenes issues between D.C. comics and ABC  had them postpone their wedding – twice.  The first time involved Clark marrying Lois – only it wasn’t Lois.  It was a frog-eating clone – and then the real Lois got amnesia…  This was after the show made a huge deal over the two getting married!  Really, there’s nothing else to say after that.  That, is the worst roadblock, ever.   Eventually, they get married in season four – after yet another delay – but the damage was already done. The show got canceled after its fourth season.

09.  The Nanny 0n CBS: 1993-1999 

This is the only straight-up comedy on the list.  Fran Fine (Fran Drescher) – a working-class Jewish woman from Queens – certainly wasn’t living in a nunnery before becoming a nanny, nor was she remotely a vocalist.  Nevertheless, the setup for this show is basically The Sound of Music with Fran as Maria.  There were only three kids instead of the von Trapp seven and Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy) is a British widower who is a rich and successful Broadway producer instead of a naval captain.  The only thing he’s trying to escape is the shadow of Andrew Lloyd Webber!

Like the kids in the The Sound of Music, Sheffield’s three children have managed to get rid of a bunch of nannies, but Fran’s working class sensibilities and soft heart – which are so different from the nannies of the past – quickly gets these kids in line.  C.C. Babcock (Lauren Lane) is his business partner and has designs on him – just like the Baroness did in The Sound of Music.

As The Nanny was a sitcom it never got overly emotional or super hot, but from day one it was obvious Fran and Maxwell were meant to be.  It ran for six seasons.  After a series of mismatches on both sides and lots of comic scrapes in seasons five and six Fran and Maxwell do get together, get married, and have a kid.

08. Moonlighting on ABC: 1985-1989    

Even though it wasn’t the first of its type, this is probably the most famous – and infamous – “will they or won’t they” TV show ever.  The one-hour dramedy starred Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis as Maddie Hayes  &  David Addison and boasts some of the most fun and creative scenes ever done on television. Granted, many of those scenes owe much to films of the 1930’s and 40’s.

The show’s ratings started to decline after its third season.  The second to last episode of that season had Maddie and David share a wild night of passion.  What created the decline was a series of bad writing decisions caused in part by behind-the-scenes issues, but the timing of the ratings drop created the myth of the Moonlighting curse.

That myth is why so many shows drag out putting couples together and why doing so has become a scapegoat for when a show’s ratings start to decline.   Truthfully, the only sign of a possible “Moonlighting Curse” is that other will they or won’t they TV shows have had bouts of behind-the-scenes issues occur on their shows and those issues have led to the kind of bad choices Moonlighting made.  (See: Castle, Lois and Clark: the New Adventures of Superman, The X-Files, and Bones).

The series finale gives Moonlighting another one of its classic fourth wall-breaking stories.  After an announcement that the show has been canceled David and Maddie try to outrun the set being taken down.  They end up on a church set and walk down the aisle to sit on steps in front of the altar.  There Maddie tells David, “I can’t imagine not seeing you tomorrow.”  The chemistry in that scene is off the charts!  From there it’s a trip down memory lane that chronicles the best of Maddie and David’s relationship journey.  It’s bittersweet, but the sweetness part is perfect.

Because of its importance in shaping how “Will They or Won’t They” TV shows have been done since it aired,  the first in-depth article for shows on the list is on Moonlighting.  You can check that out here.

Next Up:  Number 7 – The X-Files

07.  The X-Files on Fox: 1993-2001

Entire books have been written about this iconic series and the recent reboot continuing the series got excellent ratings.  No one would question the statement that the first five seasons of the X-Files is brilliant television.  In fact, some might question why this is on the list of “will they or won’t they” TV shows.  After all, wasn’t it a show about the search for aliens and government conspiracies?  Yes, it was, but that wasn’t the show’s engine.  Take away the relationship dynamic between Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Agent Dana Scully M.D. (Gillian Anderson) and the entire show falls apart.

This is not speculation.  The scenario is exactly what happened when behind-the-scenes business issues and Duchovny feeling that, “there was not much else to do in terms of the character” led to him cutting back his appearances for season eight and not renewing his contract for the final season.  The ratings without him plummeted.

From a practical standpoint, Duchovny was right.  The mythology on the show was very compelling, but after the X-Files movie, Fight the Future, the only real area that hadn’t had in-depth exploration on the show was Mulder and Scully’s romantic connection.  Unfortunately, Chris Carter,  the show’s creator and showrunner always said he never wanted them together.  The show ended up trying to mostly write around the obvious instead of working to incorporate it.  Had Carter been more willing to open that door in season six and allow that new dynamic to truly enter into the world of conspiracies and aliens he could have had new equipment for the characters to play on while on the X-Files unique playground.

Instead, the show went to more stand alone episodes, and Carter literally blew up his conspiracy arc to start a new one in season seven. In an article ranking X-Files episodes New York Magazine’s Vulture.com, writer Ira Madison III has no problem repeatedly noting that the mythology was a wreck in season six and deteriorates from there.  My favorite zinger is his comment about the season seven premiere:

Seven seasons in, more convoluted-mythology episodes are the last thing you want to see – especially when they’re as overwrought as this one.

However, nothing beats the commentary by one of the shows regular directors, Kim Manners:

The whole storyline of the Syndicate and the bees and the aliens and the chips in the neck, they all seemed to just accidentally fall into place and create an intriguing, mysterious storyline that eventually got so mysterious and so intriguing that Chris had to blow it up, because he couldn’t deal with it anymore.”[103]

It’s interesting that in their turns at writing and directing an episode, – Duchovny in season six and Anderson in season seven – chose to explore the topic Carter was trying to ignore.  Duchovny’s take is subtle – best batting practice, ever.   The beginning of Anderson’s episode implies Mulder & Scully slept together but there’s no context of when this happened.  The actors clearly saw what was would be new and different to explore.

Before Anderson’s late-season seven episode was the stand-alone cross-over episode “Millennium.”   It served as both an X-Files episode and a crossover series finale for the Chris Carter show, Millennium.  At the end of the episode Carter finally has Mulder and Scully have a someone chaste first kiss on New Year’s Eve.   Then at the very end of season seven Scully pops up pregnant.  This isn’t proof of sex though.  In season eight the show runs a vague back-dated story that Mulder agreed to be the sperm donor for Scully’s attempt at artificial insemination.   This seems to have added to Duchovny’s boredom. In a 2001 talk-show interview Duchovny, with his special brand of biting sarcasm said he was leaving the show after season eight because there were “too many damn aliens.” Furthermore, he had no idea if Mulder was the father of Scully’s baby since according to the show’s canon there had been, “no hanky-panky.”  Now, we know there was more going on that contributed to him leaving, but it does seem like Carter’s feelings about Mulder & Scully’s relationship added to Duchovny’s sense that there wasn’t anything else for his character to do.

When Duchovny stepped back from the show in season eight ratings suffered, but when the show tried to continue without Mulder in season nine they completely tanked.  The ninth season ratings were so bad that Fox paid Duchovny two million dollars to come back and film the two-part series finale.  In it, Mulder and Scully are basically presented as having had an ongoing relationship for years before he disappeared, and there’s a huge kiss – without a bee in sight to interrupt.  That aspect of the finale was the good part. The conspiracy stuff…not so much, but at least it wasn’t the other way around.

06.  Castle  on ABC: 2007-2016 

What killed Castle?  It seems to have been a victim of the true Moonlighting curse.  The Hollywood Reporter noted both financial and personal behind-the-scenes issues had been plaguing Castle for a while.  Most know that at the beginning of filming season six in 2013 Fillion was lobbying for a four-day work week.   In this GMMR interview with show creator Andrew Marlowe he says the decisions around the character of detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) for the season six finale started being looked at “a third to halfway” through season six.

The things that happen in the season finale represented an abrupt change in the show’s direction - and a major break in Beckett’s character arc.  It wasn’t quite as bad as marrying someone you just met on a train – but it was up there. Then there was the whole stalling of the wedding.  Similarly to the creator and showrunner for Moonlighting, Marlowe stepped down as showrunner soon after that bad move.  He then completely left the show for season eight.  Apparently, Castle was moving in a direction he didn’t want to go.  The similarities between what brought these two shows down are creepy!

The crash and burn of Castle just happened in May, so it’s still a bit painful to contemplate.  It’s sad because even with the glitches in season six and a frankly problematic season seven, had the show ended there, Castle would be higher up the list. Unfortunately, for a show that had all the earmarks of being the one to finally trounce the myth of the Moonlighting curse with a near perfect first five seasons, the eighth season of Castle was a total disaster.  On top of that, the series finale was a deep disappointment, saved only by a tacked-on thirty-second montage that gave Castle the happy ending it deserved.  Being that the season seven finale also works as a series finale, if you haven’t watched the show, I’d stop with season seven.  All you need to know about season eight is that thirty-second epilogue – and you can find it on YouTube.

Rather than go over the show’s destruction, let’s talk about why the show still makes number six on the list. For one, the chemistry between Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion as Detective Kate Beckett and writer Richard Castle was great for the first five seasons, good for the next two, and when it was allowed to be seen in season eight it was good enough.  That chemistry was put to good use by the excellent character and story development via Beckett’s mythology.  Castle may owe a bit to the The X-Files in how it uses the mythology, but because it wasn’t trying to suppress the obvious attraction and relationship that was developing between Castle and Beckett it surpasses The X-Files on the list.

Beckett is who she is in part due to a tragic event in her past, much as Mulder was on The X-Files and it’s the unraveling of the mystery and conspiracy around Johanna Beckett’s murder that brings Castle and Beckett closer and closer together – as it did for Mulder and Scully.   The witty repartee and banter between Castle and Beckett goes back to those classic movies from the 1930’s and 40’s that the 1980’s “will they or won’t they” TV shows all borrowed from.  (It’s a bit like citing a copy of a copy to say that shows like Castle or Bones are borrowing from Moonlighting.…)

Finally, up until that season six finale, Castle got the relationship steps right, and made the roadblocks that occurred believable.  While their getting together did get a little muddled in the middle of season four it never got off-track and the episode, “Always” is the single best episode ever about a “will they or won’t they” couple getting together.   Furthermore, it did happen in season four.  While the next seasons weren’t perfect, season five proved that the idea of a Moonlighting curse was false.

Castle and Beckett were solidly together for the next two seasons.  Those seasons had them get engaged and planning a wedding. During this time the viewership and show ranking went up!   This trounces the idea that characters getting together romantically will kill a show’s ratings.  Instead, Castle has proven the opposite: after the wedding was stalled at the end of season six (blown up to start a new mythology….) the ratings and ranking quickly dropped.  By the end of the last the show had lost over 3 million live-broadcast viewers – after six seasons of a steady increase in viewers.

The only consolation about how Castle has ended is the hope it will serve as a reminder to networks of what not to do with these kinds of shows.  For instance, if you spend a season planning a wedding – there should be a wedding.  That’s just basic follow through.  Heavily building up expectations but not fulfilling them breaks the audience’s trust and interest.  Another not to do writing choice is breaking up a couple with the idea of, “recreating the chemistry.”  Finally, throwing in new and illogical mythology, or raising a wrapped up storyline from the dead, does not, “revitalize” a TV series.  It kills it.

05.  Bones on Fox: 2005 – 2017 

Bones is ending on Fox this fall with a 12 episode “Farewell” season – which goes to show that the producers and network have learned something: fans matter.  After the mess of season six and some issues with the shortened season seven Bones showrunner Hart Hanson admits in a GMMR interview that he didn’t always know how much.

I learned something. The Killing. I would have bet after that fuss about the end of the [first season], so much anger and [noise], I would have thought that the tune-in at the beginning of the next season would be very high because people were so passionate about it. But no. They were actually mad enough where they were something like 40% down [in the ratings]. So you cannot stick your thumb in the audience’s eye. [Bones executive producer] Stephen [Nathan] said, “They’re actually dumping [The Killing]” and I said, “I don’t think so. I think they’ll come back and watch.” And they did not.

This is partly why Bones is listed at number five, because I’m trusting Hanson won’t do anything ridiculous like break up their leads for inexplicable reasons or try to kill any of their main characters off.  That would very much be “sticking his thumb in the audience’s eye.  That would not be the memory he’d want to leave the fans with.

Bones has a great cast, and the leads, Emily Deschanel as Dr. Temperance Brennan and David Boreanaz as special agent Seeley Booth have a unique chemistry that features not only sizzle but an underlying sweetness.  That sweetness comes out in the way the alpha male personality of Booth is able to see through to Brennan’s heart – despite her lack of the usual social graces.

Kudos must especially be given to Deschanel for her portrayal of Dr. Brennan.   It helps that the character arc for Brennan through the first 98 episodes is so well-written.  In the first few seasons, Hanson acknowledges Brennan was written as if she could be a woman with Asperger’s Syndrome.   With her brilliance and juxtapositioned against her social awkwardness, bluntness, and a lack of awareness of many pop culture givens, Deschanel made Brennan not just believable, but likable. This was not an easy feat.

However, when thinking about this show’s longevity – it will be ending with twelve seasons – think about The Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Bones is a show that was built-in pieces – and the many delays in airing have actually worked in its favor.  When viewed as a whole there are definitely some major missteps.  I’ll only mention one here – but it’s the big one.  In season six the introduction of a character named Hannah could have sent the show to cancellation land.   This choice of storyline mimicked the bad writing that brought down Moonlighting.  Fans and critics alike royally panned the story.  Luckily, someone at Fox stepped in and the storyline was cut short.

For the second half of the season Fox moved the show behind the then-successful American Idol.   This gave Bones a lead-in to bump up its ratings. Even then the ratings started trending downward until after the “The Bikini in the Soup” – which is when Hannah is officially vanquished from the show (seriesmonitor.com).  The American Idol move makes Bones season six technically the highest rated season, despite most seeing it at the show’s lowest point storywise.

A double dose of luck was that Deschanel, who’d gotten married that summer got pregnant and inspired showrunner Hanson to do something he hadn’t been planning to at that point.  He put Booth and Brennan together by incorporating her pregnancy to the story.  Originally he going to have them be apart for longer.  This was Hanson’s plan for season seven prior to learning Deschanel was pregnant:

…a reflection upon the idea that just because you sleep together doesn’t mean you’re with each other.

– Hart Hanson (TheTVAddict.com)

Because of the pregnancy, his plans changed.  He decided the baby would make them immediately a couple – without having to be romantic about it.

Did Hanson get them together well?  No, not really.  It will likely always be a sore point for fans that there is no real payoff for the years of waiting for Booth and Brennan to get together.  For some it also made it seem like Booth had learned nothing from the first time he accidentally got a woman pregnant.

Nevertheless, getting Booth and Brennan together got the show out of a story disaster and allowed the relationship to move forward. Because of the delay between the season six finale and a much shortened season seven fans had time to get over the Hannah issue and their disappointment with how Booth and Brennan got together.   After season seven Hanson had his epiphany about the fact that a disappointed and infuriated audience isn’t a goal to strive for.   Bones went on to keep the couple together – even when they were split apart by villains.  When there is an actual marital separation it’s after they’ve been together for some time – and for a reason that is plausible and fit with Booth’s history.  It’s also an emotionally heavy storyline that long-time viewers could invest in –  and a short arc.

For the most part, the couple has continued to solve murders together.  On the domestic front Booth and Brennan storylines have shown the couple having to work through their various differences in all areas as they tackle life and child-rearing together. They also eventually have a great wedding.  The show has always done a good job in using the supporting cast, but in the postseason six world, it really became a strong ensemble.  Thank goodness for those long hiatuses!

Next Up: The Final 4!

04. Chuck on NBC: 2007-2012

What makes Chuck especially unique is that it’s a “will they or won’t they” TV show for the geek and gamer crowd.  The premise is very much the fantasy life of geek guys everywhere! Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) is a lovable geek that was kicked out of Stanford (because he was framed for cheating) is now a guy working at the “Buy More” computer/appliance store.  One day a special computer called “The Intersect”  downloaded into his brain turning him into a super spy resource for the CIA!

How is that premise a “Will They or Won’t They” TV show?  The first episode sets up how Chuck doesn’t have a romantic relationship and his sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) is very worried about him.  In comes the blonde and beautiful Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski).  She’s a CIA agent extraordinaire and becomes one of Chuck’s handlers.  From the moment they meet everyone knows it’s about them! Sure, there are tons of bad guys, lots of physical fighting,  crazy spy adventures, and hilarious bromance with Chuck’s best friend Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez) – but every episode gets driven forward by the Chuck and Sarah relationship, and their individual baggage.

Despite the show having to deal with never knowing how many episodes would be ordered for seasons three and four – which plays havoc with creating a story arc - Chuck gets a lot of things right.  One of my favorite things was in season two.  The show created a storyline that revealed the relationship between Chuck and Sarah was an asset to their work – and had the director of the National Security Agency,  General Diane Beckman (Bonita Friedericy) acknowledge this.

Season three is a really good arc, despite the anvil of Hannah (Kristin Kreuk) that drops in for a few episodes. (Really, characters named Hannah should be banned from these type of shows….). The initial roadblock around Chuck wanting to become a legitimate spy – and Sarah’s concerns about it – was a logical and believable choice.  Chuck and Sarah get together in the last third of season three and their intimate scenes are emotional, fun – and hot! At the end of season four they get married and start a freelance spy agency – but Morgan ends up uploading the Intersect to his brain.  This was almost the series finale – and it would have been a good one.  However, the show got a final 13 episode order to wrap up the series and they make the most of it!

The series finale was a solid episode, although not everyone was thrilled by the finale ending.  Some found it dismaying that Sarah might not remember her past with Chuck.  It’s a little vague at the end if she does or not.  Still, Chuck and Sarah are together at the end.  There’s a kiss and a sense that this married couple will be staying that way – whether she remembers everything or not.  Everyone else that we care about is also well accounted for.   The finale has a complex, but bittersweet happily ever after that flows well with the overall series story and characters.  That makes it a pretty good series ending.

…And The Top Three “Will They or Won’t They” TV Shows Are…

03. Ed on NBC: 2000-2004

This is a show I did not watch live – and the guilt will be hard to let go of because it’s a great show and a really unique way to handle a will they or won’t they TV show! Here’s a summary:

Ed Stevens, a hotshot New York lawyer who, on the same day he is fired from his job (for drafting a contract with a misplaced comma that ended up costing his firm $1.6 million), comes home to discover his wife having an affair with a mailman that she claimed she met at a Starbucks. Dejected, Ed decides to return to his hometown of the fictional Stuckeyville, Ohio to spend some time. Upon his arrival, he is reunited with friends that he has missed, as well as Carol Vessey, a woman he had a crush on in high school.  Determined to win her heart, Ed decides to stay, buying a rundown bowling alley and setting up a new law firm in the process, earning him the undesired nickname “The Bowling-Alley Lawyer”….

The cast of Ed was one fabulous ensemble, but, for this short blurb, I’ll stick with the couple.  Before becoming the two-time Emmy winner for ABC’s Modern Family,  Julie Bowen played Ed’s love interest Carol Vessey.  Ed Stevens is played by the awesome Tom Cavanagh – who’s currently on The Flash as Dr. Harrison Wells / Reverse-Flash.

Because Ed isn’t a murder-mystery procedural it has a very different feel to it than anything else on here. For one, the town of Stuckeyville is as much a character as they are.  Even though Ed and Carol are the show’s core element – it’s wrapped up in the life of the town.  Because Ed and Carol don’t work together they aren’t joined at the hip throughout the show.  As such the relationships Carol and Ed have with the other main characters are fully developed, and even the supporting cast has some powerful arcs.  For instance, the one involving the high school student Mark Vanacor (Michael R. Genadry) and his battle with obesity is really ahead of its time.  In the last ten years there’s been a national focus on the issue, but Ed had this storyline back in 2003.

Another non-romantic component of the show comes from Ed’s small-town cases.  They aren’t about rape and murder like most shows with procedural elements.  They do still deal with big topics, though, ones that we’re still grappling with today.  Some topic examples are the issue of athletics and academics, when is a good Samaritan liable for the results of his or her actions, and online bullying.  Overall the quirky small-town stories make Ed feel like a cross between the movie Pleasantville and a forerunner of a critically acclaimed NBC show called Parenthood….

Yet, despite Ed being an unconventional drama, there is no getting around the fact of the show’s premise and how in infuses everything.  Ed Stevens came back to Stuckeyville to get the girl.  So what if she’s been dating their former high school English teacher for the past seven years?   After a series of grand gestures and a couple of major kisses, Carol’s relationship with “the boyfriend” Nick Stanton (Gregory Harrison) ends.  That doesn’t lead to her and Ed getting together though.  At the end of episode six, she tells Ed, “We’re not ready for each other” – which rings true.  From then it’s a matter of them getting ready.

When watching Ed there’s never an episode that someone doesn’t come back to the idea that these two people are destined to be together.  Life is what it is, and Stuckeyville is filled with stories, but Ed wouldn’t be in Stuckeyville if it weren’t for Carol.  As a viewer the number one question running through most of the show is this: when will these two figure it out?

Even when Carol and Ed are with other people, you know there is no way they will end up with them.  Those people are the annoying rebound relationships we have to deal with watching, even as Ed and Carol let their connection grow.  Not that it’s all hearts and flowers in forging their official romance.  The scene in the episode “Trapped” where Carole tells Ed she thinks he’s in love with a fantasy of her and doesn’t see who she is now is painfully real and raw.

When these two do get together,  it’s emotional and sweet.  Ed’s marriage proposal to Carol has to be my all-time favorite!  In season four we get to see them living together and dealing with things like Ed’s ex-wife (Lea Thompson) and dealing with a dream job for Carol that would mean moving to New York.

The last ten minutes of the series finale is their wedding – and after they lose the circus (it’s a long story) they totally nailed that too.  Because this was such an ensemble, another season or two could have definitely worked.  I’ll always wonder about Carol’s writing….and can you imagine a baby shower at the bowling alley – that would be hilarious!

I’d like to say you can find Ed on Netflix or Hulu, but you won’t.  You can’t even buy a DVD. However, you can find episodes – stripped of most of the music – on YouTube.

02. Scarecrow and Mrs. King on CBS: 1983-1987 

Lee Stetson (Bruce Boxleitner) is a U.S. spy whose codename is, “Scarecrow.”  That’s about as far away from James Bond as you can get!  Nevertheless, the pilot of the show sets up Scarecrow as a dashing American spy, complete with a little black book.  It so happens that while out on a mission he ends up handing off a package to Mrs. Amanda King (Kate Jackson) – a divorced mother of two.  His life as a spy and hers as a suburban mom will never be the same again!

Scarecrow and Mrs. King is full of international crises with life and death scenarios that Amanda has a way of getting in the middle of. That the Russians were mentioned often isn’t surprising, but it’s amazing how much Lee brings up something or another in Istanbul…remember, this is 1983-1987. Amanda’s, “oh my gosh” demeanor at various points will offer up frustration and amusement to the always looking for intrigue Lee Stetson. However, she also has a common sense wisdom and practicality that comes in handy and occasionally saves his butt!

When rewatching some of the series (Full confession: I may vaguely remember a magazine poster of Lee and Amanda on my bedroom wall when I was in elementary school….) it occurred to me that the dynamic between Booth and Brennan on Bones is similar to that of Amanda and Lee.  Amanda can seem oblivious to some things while managing to point out things that the cynical spy may miss.  Meanwhile, Lee becomes exasperated with her often, even as he becomes more concerned, protective, and entertained by her.

Of course, on Bones, Dr. Temperance Brennan already has a legitimate reason for hanging out with an FBI Agent.   On Scarecrow and Mrs. King they handle that problem by giving her a job in their office and eventually start training her to be an agent as well.  All of that adds to the whole “living a double life” scenario that runs through the show.  There’s a lot of Lee and Amanda sneaking around at her house.  Neither her kids nor her mother Dotty (Beverly Garland) has any idea their mom’s working as – and later, romantically involved with – a spy!

In the romance department, there’s undercover kissing in season one, and the intimacy of the relationship builds nicely.  They’re clearly falling for each other in season three and get married in season four.  That season had to become the last one because Jackson was diagnosed with breast cancer in the middle of filming it.  This sad circumstance naturally changed some of the season’s story.  At the time no one outside of the production knew she was in treatment, but Amanda was kidnapped during her honeymoon to cut down her screen time and the show wrapped.   For a final look at this show’s romance, you can check out this fan-made music video tribute

Next Up: The number 1 will they or won’t they TV show of all time!

01. Remington Steele  on NBC: 1982-1987

After going through all these shows, at the end of the day, nothing beats the original!  Like Scarecrow and Mrs. King, it’s surprising how well Remington Steele holds up!  Despite the technology gap and occasionally glaring fashion signposts the stories and dialogue are still fun and the case twists are excellent.

The most important thing to know about Remington Steele is that it’s the show that created the romance dramedy genre.    Every hour-length show on here owes a debt to Remington Steele.  That love of 1930’s and 1940’s screwball comedies and how it’s used on “will they or won’t they” TV shows stems from this show.   What’s ironic is that the very thing that made the show remarkable and iconic was an afterthought!  According to The Thrilling Detective website the twist for Remington Steele was originally just that the real detective was actually a woman:

…in the original concept, Remington Steele wasn’t even going to exist. Only after NBC insisted on a male lead did creators Michael Gleason and Robert Butler make him flesh.

Well, that decision was the right call – for the wrong reasons.  Thank goodness over at CBS Cagney and Lacey was launched, so the idea that a female-driven detective series would never work was forever squashed!   In that same vein, it’s a little sad to realize that the premise of Remington Steele is one that could still work today.  Stephanie Zimbalist plays Laura Holt, a private investigator who decides to make up a male name for her detective agency because no one wants to hire a female private eye.  It’s been going well for her – until a con man claiming to be the real Remington Steele (Pierce Brosnan) shows up.

Why Remington Steele is the Best of the “Will They or Won’t They” TV Shows

One of the things I absolutely love about Remington Steele is that there is never the pretense that these two people aren’t into each other.  All of the other “Will They or Won’t They” TV Shows start out with one or both characters denying their obvious attraction even exists!  In episode two Laura tells “Mr. Steele” that while she’d love to “hop in the sack” with him, so long as they have to work together it’s better that they don’t.  She also tells her friend/secretary that half the reason he sticks around and is willing to be “Mr. Steele” is that she’s probably the only one that’s resisted him.  Therefore, even though Laura really wants to jump his bones, she says it’s better for that particular line to not be crossed.

On top of that business reason, Remington has no history he can share with Laura – not even a real name. This makes Laura personally uncomfortable.  How can you commit to a more serious relationship when you know nothing about them – and you met them when they were trying to rob your client?

Both of these roadblocks actually make sense.  At the same time…with that chemistry, it would be insane that she could completely resist?  Early on Remington admits to his maitre d’ restaurant pal that Laura may be the woman who could make him want to stop chasing anyone else, so it’s game on! The show made first and second base (maybe even third…) fair game.  Kissing starts in episode three, and the sizzle never stops!  Yet, because of the previously mentioned roadblocks they never actually end up in bed until the final season.

It’s not just the roadblocks that make the sexual brakes viable – it’s also the general style of the show.  That 1930’s – 1940’s film vibe help sell the love story – and of all the shows, Remington Steele has the most direct connection to those films.  It’s in the opening monologue Laura does in season one, the fast-talking pace in stylized feel in so many of the scenes, and every episode has Mr. Steele referencing old movies to create parallels that help solve cases.  Since in those films no one actually goes to bed with anyone the fact that Laura and Remington don’t consummate the relationship until the end of series works.

The show also works because there’s a lot of chemistry between the leads – with lots of heated glances, kissing and making out all through the series!  Laura and Remington start stealing kisses in season one and as the show progresses some of those lip-locks have a very sexual steaminess to them that is far removed from the 1930’s – but it’s very PG-13.  Zimbalist’s big brown eyes start smoldering whenever she’s looking into Brosnan’s sexy baby blues – or other ass..sets.  Those looks are definitely filled with R-rated intentions! Remington Steele had the best of both worlds.  It’s not Shondaland sexy, but it certainly is James Bond hot!

 

One final note: like Bruce Willis was in Moonlighting, Bronson was an unknown actor prior to being cast in the show.  It’s Brosnan’s time as Remington Steele that launched his career turn as James Bond in 1994.  At the same time, his success on Remington Steele actually kept him from becoming 007 in 1987!

In 1987, NBC cancelled Remington Steele and Brosnan was offered the role as James Bond, but the publicity revived Remington Steele. His contract with the Remington Steele producers required him to resume his role and he regretfully declined the Bond role.  The producers instead hired Timothy Dalton (wiki/Pierce_Brosnan).

The Wrap Up

Going over these will they or won’t they TV shows was a lot of fun!  I thought some of the older ones would seem completely dated, but aside from some of the fashion issues – especially in Scarecrow and Mrs. King and Moonlighting – they weren’t.  Remington Steele, because they went for a very classic styled look, manages to avoid it even more.  It goes to show that good writing is timeless!

Now, I’m sure there are new shows that might someday replace some shows on this list.  If you’ve got any suggestions, or think I’ve missed one of your favorites, drop me a line in the comments.


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