Few shows capture (and then dictate) the zeitgeist of the times quite like Miami Vice did. From the pastel designer clothes to the synthesizer-drenched musical score to the art-deco minimalism of the sets, Miami Vice defined all that was chic in the mid-1980’s.
The show began its life as a two-word notation scribbled down by NBC’s then head of programming, Brandon Tartikoff. This note, which read “MTV cops,” was fleshed out into a full pilot script by Hill Street Blues producer Anthony Yerkovich. Veteran TV and film director Michael Mann directed the two-hour pilot episode and would function as executive producer on the subsequent series.
The debut episode began as New York detective Ricardo Tubbs came down to Miami investigate the death of his brother. He was teamed with Sonny Crockett, a veteran Miami detective. A true lone wolf, Crockett was reluctant to work with others but quickly discovered that he and Tubbs made an effective team. After solving the case, Tubbs decided to stick around and join the Miami police force.
Right from the beginning, Miami Vice was built around Crockett and Tubbs, but the supporting cast had a handful of important faces. Their commanding officer was the brooding Lieutenant Castillo, and their co-workers included Gina and Trudy, a female officer duo that often worked undercover. Stan and Larry were vice cops who added humor to a frequently straight-faced show.
The cast featured a new guest star or two every week, and the choices made for these supporting roles were always unusual—everyone from Lee Iacocca to G. Gordon Liddy. Musical performers in dramatic, non-musical roles were also a consistent presence: Phil Collins, Ted Nugent, Little Richard, the Fat Boys and Glenn Frey were among the many musicians who benefited from the hip TV cache that a role on Miami Vice offered.
The hallmarks of the show were its attention to visual and musical detail. The city of Miami practically functioned as a character, one that sometimes seemed as important as the two leads, and thus the locations for each episode’s shoot were chosen with great care. Sleek, European designs were emphasized, and earth tones were avoided, creating an ultra-modern feel. There was also a strong European influence in the clothing worn by the leads, and their habit of not wearing socks or belts became a fashion fad.
The chic feel created in the visuals was cemented by the driving musical score, written by jazz-fusion keyboardist Jan Hammer. Synthesizers played a heavy role in the music, creating a convincing electronic pulse that effectively underscored the action. Hammer’s score was alternated on the soundtrack with a broad selection of then-current popular songs. The producers often paid up to $50,000 per episode to acquire the rights to the necessary songs, but this was deemed a necessary expense to create that MTV feel so desired by programming head Tartikoff.
Miami Vice ruled its Friday-nights-at-10 time slot until it was moved up an hour in 1986 to compete with Dallas on rival network CBS. This move, combined with an attempt to change the show’s look, caused a serious ratings slip. The powers-that-be decided to stop production after the fifth season, preferring to sell the show into syndication to pay back its always-hefty price tag. Reruns began almost immediately on the USA cable network, and Michael Mann turn his attention back to his film directing career, moving on to successes like Last of the Mohicans and Heat.
Whether we still have those linen blazers hanging in our closets or not, we remember sleek sexiness defined, 80’s style, and one of TV’s most beloved and well-dressed cop duos.
An ill-judged big screen outing arrived in 2006 with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx in the leads. Nothing wrong with the movie as a whole but it wasn’t the TV series.
USA / NBC – Universal TV / 108×50 minute episodes 3×100 minute episodes / Broadcast 16 September 1984 – 26 July 1989
Creators and Executive Producers: Anthony Yerkovich, Michael Mann / Theme Music: Jan Hammer
Don Johnson as Sonny Crockett
Philip Michael Thomas as Ricardo Tubbs
Edward James Olmos as Martin Castillo
Saundra Santiago as Gina Calabrese
Olivia Brown as Trudy Joplin
Michael Talbott as Stan Switek
John Diehl as Larry Zito
Martin Ferrero as Izzy Moreno
Sheena Easton as Caitlin Davies-Crockett
Tony Azito as Manolo
Charlie Barnett as Noogie Lamont (1984-87)
R. Emmett Fitzsimmons as Perkins (1984-89)
Pam Grier as Valerie Gordon (1985)
Belinda Montgomery as Caroline Crockett (1984-89)