Miami Vice is an American television crime drama series created by Anthony Yerkovich and executive produced by Michael Mann for NBC. The series starred Don Johnson as James “Sonny” Crockett and Philip Michael Thomas as Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs, two Metro-Dade Police Department detectives working undercover in Miami. The series ran for five seasons on NBC from 1984 to 1989. The USA Network began airing reruns in 1988, and broadcast an originally unaired episode during its syndication run of the series on January 25, 1990.
Unlike standard police procedurals, the show drew heavily upon 1980s New Wave culture and music. The show became noted for its integration of music and visual effects. It has been called one of the “Top 50 TV Shows”. People magazine stated that Miami Vice was the “first show to look really new and different since color TV was invented”.
Michael Mann directed a film adaptation of the series, which was released July 28, 2006.
Vin Diesel and Chris Morgan are working on a TV series reboot that could be part of the NBC 2018–19 TV season
Legend has it that the head of NBC’s Entertainment Division, Brandon Tartikoff, wrote a brainstorming memo that simply read “MTV cops”, and later presented it 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 allowed 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.
In keeping with the show’s namesake, most episodes focused on combating drug trafficking and prostitution. Episodes often ended in an intense gun battle, claiming the lives of several criminals before they could be apprehended. An undercurrent of cynicism and futility underlies the entire series. The detectives repeatedly reference the “Whac-A-Mole” nature of drug interdiction, with its parade of drug cartels quickly replacing those that are apprehended.
Co-executive producer 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 socio-economic 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 Miami Vice would sometimes use music-based stanzas, a technique later featured in Baywatch. 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 fifteen Emmy Award nominations. While the first few episodes contained elements of a standard police procedural, the producers soon abandoned them in favor of a more distinctive style. Influenced by an Art Deco revival, no “earth tones” were allowed to be used in the production by executive producer Michael Mann.
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.
Miami Vice was one of the first American network television programs to be broadcast in stereophonic sound. It was mixed in 4 channel stereo for its entire run.
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 considered. Mickey Rourke was also considered for the role, but he turned down the offer. 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 would not be a good fit. After dozens of candidates and a twice-delayed pilot shooting, Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas were chosen as the vice cops. For Johnson, who was by then 34 years old, NBC had particular doubts about the several earlier unsuccessful pilots in which he had starred. After two seasons, Johnson threatened to walk from the series as part of a highly publicized contract dispute. The network was ready to replace him with Mark Harmon, who had recently departed St. Elsewhere, but the network and Johnson were able to resolve their differences and he continued with the series until its end. Jimmy Smits played Eddie Rivera, Crockett’s partner in the pilot episode.
Before production started, the idea was to do all or most of the exterior filming in Los Angeles, and pass it off to viewers as urban Miami—an approach put into practice two decades later during the filming of CSI: Miami. But instead, nearly all filming, both exterior and interior, was done in Miami and Florida. 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, with its demographic so deteriorated that there “simply weren’t many people on the street. Ocean Drive’s hotels were filled with elderly, mostly Jewish retirees, many of them frail, subsisting on meager Social Security payments. … They were filming all over Miami Beach. … They could film in the middle of the street. There was literally nobody there. There were no cars parked in the street”. In early episodes in particular, local elderly residents were frequently cast as extras.
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; and 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.
Interior scenes were initially supposed to be filmed at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, but to simplify cross-country logistics, the decision was made to use the facilities of Greenwich Studios in North Miami instead, and only carry out post-production in L.A. In a few scenes particularly in earlier episodes, Greenwich Studios’ rear loading dock is repeatedly portrayed as the back room of the Gold Coast Shipping building, where the offices of the vice squad are located.
Miami Vice is noted for its innovative use of stereo broadcast 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 each week. Among the many well-known bands and artists who contributed their music to the show were Roger Daltrey, El Debarge, Devo, Sinéad O’Connor, Russ Ballard, Black Uhuru, Jackson Browne, Kate Bush, Meat Loaf, Phil Collins, Bryan Adams, Tina Turner, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, ZZ Top, The Tubes, Dire Straits, Depeche Mode, The Hooters, Iron Maiden, The Alan Parsons Project, The Ward Brothers, Godley & Creme, Corey Hart, Glenn Frey, U2, Underworld, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Propaganda, Foreigner, The Police, Red 7, Ted Nugent, Suicidal Tendencies, The Damned and Billy Idol. Several artists even guest-starred in episodes, including Phil Collins, Miles Davis, Power Station, Glenn Frey, Suicidal Tendencies, Willie Nelson, Nugent, Frank Zappa, The Fat Boys, Sheena Easton, Gloria Estefan, and Gene Simmons. An iconic scene from the Miami Vice oeuvre involves Crockett and Tubbs driving through Miami at night to Phil Collins’ song “In the Air Tonight”.
Jan Hammer credits executive producer Michael Mann with allowing him great creative freedom in scoring Miami Vice. The collaboration resulted in memorable instrumental pieces, including the show’s title theme, which climbed to the top of the Billboard charts in November 1985. The Miami Vice original soundtrack, featuring the theme song and Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues” and “You Belong to the City” (a No. 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 theme song was so popular that it also garnered two Grammy Awards in 1986. It was also voted No. 1 theme song of all time by TV Guide readers. “Crockett’s Theme”, another recurring tune from the show, became a No. 1 hit in several European countries in 1987.
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 attire of Italian sport coat, T-shirt, white linen pants, and slip-on sockless loafers became a hit. Crockett initially wore an 18k Rolex Day-Date “President” model in the first season, until Ebel won the contract for the remaining seasons. Similarly, Crockett’s perpetually unshaven appearance sparked a minor fashion trend, inspiring men to wear designer stubble at all times. In 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, said 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 unstructured 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 Model L2052, Ray-Ban Wayfarers, which increased sales of Ray Bans 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. It was initially named the “Miami Device” by Wahl, 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.
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.
Several firearms never before seen on TV were featured prominently for the first time in the show, including the Glock 17 pistol. In addition, firearms not yet well known to the public, including the Steyr AUG and the Desert Eagle, were showcased to a wide audience on this show. Even heavy guns came to use, as Zito is seen maneuvering an M60 machine gun from a roof top in the episode “Lombard”.
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 (pair of) black 1972 Ferrari Daytona Spyder 365 GTS/4, kit replica built on a pair of Chevrolet Corvette C3 chassis. The car was fitted with Ferrari-shaped body panels by specialty car manufacturer McBurnie Coachcraft.
Once the car gained notoriety, Ferrari Automobili filed suit demanding that McBurnie and any others cease and desist producing and selling Ferrari replicas, and infringing upon the Ferrari name and styling. As a result, the Daytona lasted until season 2, at which point it was ‘blown-up’ in the season three premiere episode, “When Irish Eyes Are Crying”. Neither kit car was actually destroyed, as the production company simply blew up an empty body shell for both cost and safety reasons. The fake Ferraris were removed from the show, with Ferrari donating two brand new 1986 Testarossas as replacements. The Ferrari Daytona is the subject of a huge continuity goof on the show, when it suddenly reappears in “El Viejo”, six episodes after its destruction, without explanation. Originally “El Viejo” was set to be the third-season premiere, but studio executives found the Daytona’s destruction would serve as a more dramatic opening to the season. Don Johnson’s contract-holdout at the start of the season also played a part, delaying filming to the point where “El Viejo” could not be finished in time for the season premiere.
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 was also seen driving a black 1978 Porsche 911 SC Targa in a flashback to 1980 in the Season 3 episode “Forgive Us Our Debts.”
- Don Johnson as Detective James “Sonny” Crockett: An undercover detective of the Metro-Dade Police Department. A former University of Florida Gators football star, he sustained a knee fracture which put an end to his sports career. He was subsequently drafted by the US Army, and served in the 1st Cavalry Division and in the Special Forces. He served two tours in Vietnam – or as he calls it, the “Southeast Asia Conference”. In 1975 he became a Metro-Dade uniformed patrol officer and later an undercover detective of the vice unit. Crockett’s alias is Sonny Burnett, a drug runner and middleman. His vehicles include a Ferrari Daytona Spyder (later a Ferrari Testarossa), a “Scarab” offshore power-boat, and a sailboat on which he lives with his pet alligator Elvis (also a veteran of the Florida Gators). The name “Sonny Crockett” had previously been used for a criminal played by actor Dennis Burkley on Hill Street Blues in 1983, where creator Anthony Yerkovich was a writer. Coincidentally, Gregory Sierra who later played Crockett’s boss on “Vice” appeared in the same episodes.
- Philip Michael Thomas as Detective Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs: A former New York police detective who travels to Miami as part of a personal vendetta against Calderone, the man who murdered his brother Rafael. After temporarily teaming up with Crockett, Tubbs follows his friend’s advice and transfers to “a career in Southern law enforcement”, fearing that after his serious violations of NYPD codes of conduct in the pilot episode, he would not be able to resume his job in New York. He joins the Miami department and becomes Crockett’s permanent partner. He often poses as Rico Cooper, a wealthy buyer from out of town.
- Edward James Olmos as Lieutenant Martin “Marty” Castillo: He replaces the slain Rodriguez as head of the OCB. A very taciturn man, Castillo lives a reclusive life outside of work. He was formerly a DEA commanding officer in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia during the late 1970s. During his time as a DEA commanding officer, he opposed the CIA in endorsing the trafficking of heroin to finance their overseas operations. Some of Castillo’s habits, such as his desk always being free of paperwork and his request that anyone entering his office should knock first, were suggested by Edward James Olmos during filming.
- Saundra Santiago as Detective Regina “Gina” Navarro Calabrese: A fearless female detective, who after Crockett’s divorce, held a brief romance with him. Even after their relationship did not progress, they still have a strong friendship.
- Olivia Brown as Detective Trudy Joplin: Gina’s patrol partner. Though tough, she sometimes struggles to face consequences of her job, such as when she shot and killed a man. Later in the series she has an encounter with a UFO and an alien portrayed by James Brown.
- Michael Talbott as Detective Stanley “Stan” Switek: A fellow police detective and good friend to Larry. Although a good policeman, later on in the series he falls prey to a gambling addiction. He is also a big fan of Elvis Presley.
- John Diehl (1984–1987) as Detective Lawrence “Larry” Zito: A detective and Switek’s surveillance partner. He was killed in the line of duty when a drug dealer gave him a fatal overdose. Diehl enjoyed being on Vice but wanted to leave the show, opting for a more creative opportunity in theater.
- Gregory Sierra (1984) as Lieutenant Louis “Lou” Rodriguez: A police lieutenant who serves as commander of the Vice Unit. He is killed in the fourth episode by an assassin hired to kill Crockett.
- Charlie Barnett (1984–1987) as Nugart Neville “Noogie” Lamont: A friend of Izzy’s and informant for Crockett and Tubbs.
- Sheena Easton (1987–1988) as Caitlin Davies-Crockett: A pop singer who is assigned a police bodyguard, Crockett, for her testimony in a racketeering case. While protecting Caitlin, Sonny falls in love with her and they get married. Months after their marriage, Caitlin is killed by one of Crockett’s former nemeses. Sonny later learns she was seven weeks pregnant, causing him further emotional turmoil.
- Martin Ferrero (1984–1989) as Isidore “Izzy” Moreno: A petty criminal and fast talker, Izzy is always known for getting into quick money schemes and giving Crockett and Tubbs the latest information from the street.
- Pam Grier (1985, 1989) as Valerie Gordon: A New York Police Department Officer and on-and-off love interest of Tubbs.
- Belinda Montgomery (1984–1989) as Caroline Crockett/Ballard: Crockett’s former wife who moves to Ocala, Florida to remarry and raise their child, Billy. Caroline was having a baby with her second husband in her last appearance.
Miami Vice was a groundbreaking police program of the 1980s. It had a notable impact on the decade’s popular fashions and set the tone for the evolution of police drama. Series such as Homicide: Life on the Street, NYPD Blue, and the Law & Order franchise, though being markedly different in style and theme from Miami Vice, followed its lead in breaking the genre’s mold; Dick Wolf, creator and executive producer of the Law & Order franchise, was a writer and later executive producer of Miami Vice. Parodies and pastiches of it have continued decades after it aired, such as Moonbeam City (2015).
The show has been so influential that the style of Miami Vice has often been borrowed or alluded to by much of contemporary pop culture in order to indicate or emphasize the 1980s decade. Its influence as a popular culture icon was and is still seen decades after appearing. Examples of this includes the episode “The One With All The Thanksgivings” from the American sitcom Friends. Flashback scenes from the 1980s in this episode shows the characters Ross and Chandler in pastel colored suits with rolled up sleeves like that of Sonny Crockett. Another example would be the film Boogie Nights, which takes place in the 1970s. The movie progresses into the 1980s and closes with Mark Wahlberg wearing a white linen jacket, sleeves rolled up, and a bright pink shirt tucked into white linen pants. This informs the audience the year is now somewhere in the mid-1980s due to the massive popularity of Miami Vice from 1984–1986.
The video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, published by Rockstar Games in 2002, is heavily inspired by Miami Vice in multiple ways. It is set in a stylized 1980s Miami inspired fictional city named “Vice City”. One of the main characters, Lance Vance, was actually voiced by Philip Michael Thomas. Two undercover police officers appear in a police sports car within the game when the player obtains a three-star wanted level. The two officers, one white and one black, resemble the two leading characters of Miami Vice. In the prequel, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, there are two officers in the multiplayer mode named Cracker and Butts, a parody of Crockett and Tubbs; these characters share the same role as the undercover cops in Vice City.
Many of the fashion styles and trends popularized by the TV show, such as fast cars and speed boats, unshaven beard stubble, a T-shirt under pastel suits, no socks, rolled up sleeves, boat shoes and Ray Ban sunglasses symbolize the stereotypical image of 1980s fashion and culture.
The show also had a lasting impact on Miami itself. It drew a large amount of media attention to the beginning revitalization of the South Beach and Art Deco District areas of Miami Beach, as well as other portions of Greater Miami, and increased tourism and investment. Even 30 years after Miami Vice first aired, it was still responsible for its share of tourist visits to the city. The fact that Crockett and Tubbs were Dade County officers and not City of Miami police represented the growing notion of metro government in Miami. In 1997, a county referendum changed the name from Dade County to Miami-Dade County. This allowed people to relate the county government to recognized notions and images of Miami, many of which were first popularized by Miami Vice. The Dade County Sheriff’s Office now became the Miami-Dade Police Department.