It is rumored that head of NBC’s Entertainment Division, Brandon Tartikoff, wrote a brainstorming memo that simply read “MTV cops”, and later presented the memo to series creator Anthony Yerkovich, formerly a writer and producer for Hill Street Blues. Yerkovich, however, indicates that he devised the concept after learning about asset forfeiture statutes that allow law enforcement agencies to confiscate the property of drug dealers for official use. The initial idea was for a movie about a pair of vice cops in Miami. Yerkovich then turned out a script for a two-hour pilot, titled “Gold Coast”, but later renamed, Miami Vice. Yerkovich was immediately drawn to South Florida as a setting for his new-style police show. Miami Vice was one of the first American network television programs to be broadcast in stereophonic sound.
In keeping with the show’s namesake, most episodes focus on combating drug trafficking and prostitution. Episodes more often than not end in a large gun battle, claiming the lives of several criminals before they can be apprehended. An undercurrent of cynicism and futility underlies the entire series; the detectives repeatedly reference the “whack-a-mole” nature of drug interdiction, with its parade of drug cartels to replace those that are brought to justice. Co-Executive producer Anthony Yerkovich explained:
Even when I was on Hill Street Blues, I was collecting information on Miami, I thought of it as a sort of a modern-day American Casablanca. It seemed to be an interesting socioeconomic tide pool: the incredible number of refugees from Central America and Cuba, the already extensive Cuban-American community, and on top of all that the drug trade. There is a fascinating amount of service industries that revolve around the drug trade money laundering, bail bondsmen, attorneys who service drug smugglers. Miami has become a sort of Barbary Coast of free enterprise gone berserk.
The choice of music and cinematography borrowed heavily from the emerging New Wave culture of the 1980s. As such, segments of each episode of Miami Vice resemble a protracted music video. As Lee H. Katzin, one of the show’s directors, remarked, “The show is written for an MTV audience, which is more interested in images, emotions and energy than plot and character and words.” These elements made the series into an instant hit, and in its first season saw an unprecedented 15 Emmy Award nominations. While the first few episodes contain elements of a standard police procedural, the producers soon abandoned them in favor of a more distinctive style. Of the many different production aspects of the show, “no earth tones” were allowed to be used. A director of Miami Vice, Bobby Roth, recalled:
There are certain colors you are not allowed to shoot, such as red and brown. If the script says ‘A Mercedes pulls up here,’ the car people will show you three or four different Mercedes. One will be white, one will be black, one will be silver. You will not get a red or brown one. Michael knows how things are going to look on camera.
Nick Nolte and Jeff Bridges were considered for the role of Sonny Crockett, but since it was not lucrative for film stars to venture into television at the time, other candidates were looked at. Larry Wilcox, of CHiPs, was also a candidate for the role of Crockett, but the producers felt that going from one police officer role to another was not going to be a good fit. After dozens of candidates and twice delayed pilot shooting, Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas were chosen as the vice cops. For Johnson, 35, NBC had particular doubts about his several earlier unsuccessful pilots he starred in. After two seasons, Johnson threatened to walk from the series. The network was ready to replace him with Mark Harmon who had recently departed St. Elsewhere, but Johnson relented and continued with the series until its end.
Many episodes of Miami Vice were filmed in the South Beach section of Miami Beach, an area which, at the time, was blighted by poverty and crime. Some street corners of South Beach were so run down that the production crew actually decided to repaint the exterior walls of some buildings before filming. The crew went to great lengths to find the correct settings and props. Bobby Roth recalled, “I found this house that was really perfect, but the color was sort of beige. The art department instantly painted the house gray for me. Even on feature films people try to deliver what is necessary but no more. At Miami Vice they start with what’s necessary and go beyond it.”
Miami Vice is to some degree credited with causing a wave of support for the preservation of Miami’s famous Art Deco architecture in the mid 1980s-to-early 1990s; quite a few of those buildings (among them many beachfront hotels) have been renovated since filming, making that part of South Beach one of South Florida’s most popular places for tourists and celebrities.
Other places commonly filmed in the series included scenes around Broward and Palm Beach counties.
See also: List of Miami Vice soundtracks
Don Johnson with Glenn Frey (right) in the episode “Smuggler’s Blues”, one of many cameo appearances made by musicians and celebrities throughout the series.
Miami Vice is noted for its innovative use of music, particularly countless pop and rock hits of the 1980s and the distinctive, synthesized instrumental music of Jan Hammer. While other television shows used made-for-TV music, Miami Vice would spend $10,000 or more per episode to buy the rights to original recordings. Getting a song played on Miami Vice was a boost to record labels and artists. In fact, some newspapers, such as USA Today, would let readers know the songs that would be featured that week. Among the many well-known bands and artists who contributed their music to the show were Roger Daltrey, El Debarge, Devo, Jackson Browne, Meat Loaf, Phil Collins, Bryan Adams, Tina Turner, Peter Gabriel, ZZ Top, The Tubes, Dire Straits, Depeche Mode, The Hooters, Iron Maiden, The Alan Parsons Project, Godley & Creme, Corey Hart, Glenn Frey, U2, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Foreigner, The Police, Red 7, Laura Branigan, Ted Nugent, Suicidal Tendencies, The Damned, and Billy Idol. Several artists even guest-starred in episodes, including Phil Collins, Miles Davis, The Power Station, Glenn Frey, Willie Nelson, Ted Nugent, Frank Zappa, The Fat Boys, and Sheena Easton. An iconic scene from Miami Vice involves Crockett and Tubbs driving through Miami at night to Phil Collins’ hit song “In the Air Tonight”.
Jan Hammer credits executive producer Michael Mann for allowing him great creative freedom in underscoring Miami Vice. The collaboration resulted in memorable instrumental pieces, including the show’s title theme, which climbed to the top of the U.S. Billboard charts in November 1985. The Miami Vice original soundtrack, featuring Jan Hammer’s #1 hit theme song and Glenn Frey’s “You Belong to the City” (a #2 hit), stayed on the top of the U. S. album chart for 11 weeks in 1985, making it the most successful TV soundtrack at the time. The Miami Vice Theme was so popular that is also garnered two Grammy awards in 1986. “Crockett’s Theme”, another recurring tune from the show, became a #1 hit in several European countries in 1987.
During the show’s run, three official soundtrack albums with original music from the episodes were released. Hammer has released several albums with music from the series; among them are Escape from Television (1987), Snapshots (1989) and, after countless requests from loyal fans, Miami Vice: The Complete Collection (2002).
Don Johnson epitomizing the dress style which became a hallmark of the series.
The clothes worn on Miami Vice had a significant influence on men’s fashion. They popularized, if not invented, the “T-shirt under Armani jacket”-style, and popularized Italian men’s fashion in the United States. Don Johnson’s typical lineup of Italian sport coat, T-shirt, white linen pants, and slip-on sockless loafers became a hit. Even Crockett’s perpetually unshaven appearance sparked a minor fashion trend, inspiring men to wear a small amount of beard stubble, also known as a five o’clock shadow (or “designer stubble”) at all times. On an average episode, Crockett and Tubbs wore five to eight outfits, appearing in shades of pink, blue, green, peach, fuchsia and the show’s other “approved” colors. Designers such as Vittorio Ricci, Gianni Versace, and Hugo Boss were consulted in keeping the male leads looking trendy. Costume designer Bambi Breakstone, who traveled to Milan, Paris, and London in search of new clothes, testified that, “The concept of the show is to be on top of all the latest fashion trends in Europe”. Jodi Tillen, the costume designer for the first season, along with Michael Mann set the style. The abundance of pastel colors on the show reflected Miami’s Art-deco architecture.
During its five-year run, consumer demand for unconstructed blazers, shiny fabric jackets, and lighter pastels increased. After Six formal wear even created a line of Miami Vice dinner jackets, Kenneth Cole introduced Crockett and Tubbs shoes, and Macy’s opened a Miami Vice section in its young men’s department. Crockett also boosted Ray Ban’s popularity by wearing a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarer (Model L2052, Mock Tortoise), which increased sales of Ray Ban’s to 720,000 units in 1984. In the spring of 1986, an electric razor became available called the Stubble Device, that allowed users to have a beard like Don Johnson’s character. Initially, it was named the Miami Device by Wahl Clipper Corp., but in the end the company wanted to avoid a trademark infringement lawsuit. Many of the styles popularized by the TV show, such as the t-shirt under pastel suits, no socks, rolled up sleeves, and Ray-Ban sunglasses, have today become the standard image of 1980s culture. The influence of Miami Vice’s fashions continued into the early 1990s, and to some extent still persists today.
Main article: Firearms in Miami Vice
Miami Vice also popularized certain brands of firearms and accessories. After Johnson became dissatisfied with his gun holster, the Jackass Leather Company (later renamed Galco International) sent their president, Rick Gallagher, to personally fit Don Johnson with an “Original Jackass Rig,” later renamed the Galco “Miami Classic.”
The Bren Ten, manufactured by Dornaus & Dixon, was a stainless-steel handgun used by Don Johnson during Miami Vice’s first two seasons. Dornaus & Dixon went out of business in 1986 and Smith & Wesson was offered a contract to outfit Johnson’s character with a S&W Model 645 during season three.
The Ferrari Testarossa as seen in the series finale, “Freefall”.
Main article: Cars in Miami Vice
Two automobiles drew a lot of attention in Miami Vice; the Ferrari Daytona and Testarossa. During the first two seasons and two episodes of the third season, Detective Sonny Crockett drove a black 1972 Ferrari Daytona Spyder 365 GTS/4. Actually, the car was not a Ferrari, but a kit replica based on a 1980 Chevrolet Corvette C3 chassis. The car was fitted with Ferrari-shaped body panels by specialty car manufacturer McBurnie. Once the car gained notoriety, Enzo Ferrari filed a lawsuit demanding that McBurnie and others cease producing and selling Ferrari replicas, because they were taking his name and styling. As a result, the vehicle lasted until season 3, at which point it was blown to pieces in the season three premiere episode, “When Irish Eyes Are Crying”. The fake Ferraris were removed from the show, with Enzo Ferrari donating two brand new 1986 Testarossas as replacements.
The series’ crew also used a third Testarossa look-alike, which was the stunt car. Carl Roberts, who had worked on the Daytona kitcars, offered to build the stunt car. Roberts decided to use a 1972 De Tomaso Pantera, which had the same wheelbase as the Testarossa and thus was perfect for the body pieces. The vehicle was modified to withstand daily usage on-set, and continued to be driven until the series ended.
Crockett’s partner, Ricardo Tubbs, drives a 1964 Cadillac Coupe de Ville Convertible. Stan Switek drove a turquoise 1963 Ford Thunderbird. Gina Calabrese drove an 1971 Mercury Cougar XR-7 convertible. When Stan and Larry were undercover, they drove a Dodge Ram Van. Other notable vehicles that appeared in Miami Vice included, brands such as Lamborghini, AMG Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Maserati, Lotus, DeLorean, Porsche, and Corvettes. American muscle cars, such as the GTO, Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Plymouth GTX or a Plymouth Barracuda also made appearances.
Chris Craft Stinger 390 used during the first season of Miami Vice.
Throughout the series, Sonny Crockett lived on an Endeavour 42 sailboat named the St. Vitus’ Dance (priced at $120,000in 1986), while in the pilot episode, Crockett is seen on an Endeavor 40 sailboat. The allure of the sailboats was so much that the Endeavour 42 used for the 1986 season of Miami Vice was sold to a midwest couple, while the Endeavour 40, the pilot’s sailboat, was sold to a chartering service in Fort Lauderdale. At the same time, Endeavour was building a new 42 for the 1987 season of Miami Vice.
Crockett also pilots a 39 foot Chris Craft Stinger 390 in the first season, and a Wellcraft 38 Scarab KV for the remainder of the show. The Scarab 38 KV was a 28-hued, twin 440-hp boat that sold for $130,000 in 1986.
As a result of the attention the Scarab 38 KV garnered on Miami Vice, Wellcraft received “an onslaught of orders”, increasing sales by 21 percent in one year. In appreciation, Wellcraft gave Don Johnson an exact duplicate of the boat. Afterward, Johnson was frequently seen arriving to work in it. Altogether, one hundred copies of the boat (dubbed the “Scarab 38KV Miami Vice Edition”) were built by Wellcraft. The Miami Vice graphics and color scheme, which included turquoise, aqua, and orchid, could have been ordered on any other Scarab from 20-38 feet.
Don Johnson also designed the Scarab Excel 43 ft, Don Johnson Signature Series (DJSS), and raced a similar one. The Don Johnson Signature Series was powered by twin 650-hp Lamborghini V-12’s, which caused some problem to the design of the boat due to their size. Overall the boat cost $300,000 with each engine amounting to between $60$70,000. The thrill of boat racing eventually led Johnson to start his own Offshore powerboat racing team, called Team USA. Joining him were Hollywood stars including Kurt Russell and Chuck Norris. Johnson won the Offshore World Cup in 1988 and continued racing into the 1990s.
Main article: List of Miami Vice episodes
Episode scripts were loosely based on actual crimes that occurred in Miami over the years. (Example: “Out Where the Buses Don’t Run”, 1985.) The series also took a look at political issues such as the Northern Ireland conflict, the drug war in South America (e.g. “Prodigal Son”), several episodes drawn on the Miami River Cops scandal (a real police corruption ring that involved narcotic thefts, drug dealing and murders), as well as several episodes of Cuban exile guerrillas and drug trafficking, and U.S. support of anti-communist generals and dictators in Southeast Asia and South America.
Personal issues also arose: Crockett is separated from his wife Caroline (Belinda Montgomery) in the pilot and divorced in the fourth episode, and later his second wife Caitlin Davies (Sheena Easton) is killed by one of his enemies. In the three episodes “Mirror Image,” “Hostile Takeover” and “Redemption in Blood,” a concussion caused by an explosion caused Crockett to believe he was his undercover alter ego Sonny Burnett, a drug dealer. Tubbs had a running, partly personal vendetta with the Calderone family, a member of which had ordered the death of his brother Rafael, a New York City police detective.
In the first seasons the tone was often very light, especially when comical characters such as police informants Noogie Lamont ( Charlie Barnett) and Izzy Moreno(Martin Ferrero) appeared. Later the content was usually dark and cynical, with Crockett and Tubbs fighting corruption. Typically, the darker episodes had no denouement, each episode ending abruptly immediately after a climax involving violence and death, often giving the episodes, especially in later seasons, a despairing and sometimes nihilistic feel, despite the trademark glamour and conspicuous wealth. Given its idiosyncratic “dark” feel and touch, Miami Vice is frequently cited as an example of made-for-TV Neo-noir. Michael Mann, who served as executive producer for the majority of the show’s five-year run, is often credited with being one of the most influential Neo-noir directors.
“Don Johnson is keen to move on and take up the film career that is knocking at his door and to begin a new career as a producer of films and television, while Mann is keen to return to movies. Philip Michael Thomas the egotistical but likeable young actor wants to explore other TV and movie roles, while Edward James Olmos, after his tour de force performance in Stand and Deliver is in hot demand for movies. And NBC, the network that runs Miami Vice in the U.S., says that with slowing ratings, and newer hip cop shows like Wiseguy & 21 Jump Street, it is time to call it quits down in Miami and move on.”
he Sunday Mail
The show’s popularity began to sag at the beginning of third season (19861987). The show was placed on the same time slot as CBS’ Dallas, hurting both shows.
The original writers for the series left by the fourth season. There was a love affair between Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and Caitlin Davies (Sheena Easton), and a plot with Crockett getting amnesia (in which he mistakes himself for his drug dealer alter ego, and becomes a hitman). Jan Hammer departed from the series at the end of the fourth season and was replaced by Tim Truman.
Michael Mann handed the role of executive producer to Dick Wolf prior to the third season (1986-1987). Wolf had the show focus on contemporary issues like the problems in Northern Ireland, and capital punishment. Michael Mann left to work on his new television series, Crime Story. The fifth season (19881989) took the show on a more serious tone, with storylines becoming dark and gritty enough so that even some of the most loyal fans were left scratching their heads. As the fifth season began, Olivia