- This article is about the original 1980s TV series. For other uses, see Miami Vice (Disambiguation).
Miami Vice is a 1984 television series produced by Michael Mann for the NBC network. The show became noted for its heavy integration of pop music and visual effects to tell a story. The series starred Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as two Metro-Dade (now known as Miami-Dade) Vice detectives working undercover in Miami's drug and prostitution underworld. It ran for five seasons on NBC from September 1984 through June 1989. The USA Network subsequently broadcast one unaired episode in January 1990.
The entire series was released on DVD between February 8, 2005 and June 26, 2007. A movie adaptation, directed by Michael Mann and starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx in the lead roles, was released in July 2006 to mixed reviews. In August, 2017, NBC announced that a reboot of the series, to be executive produced by actor Vin Diesel, is in development, but broadcast is still TBD as of 2022
Origins of Miami Vice
The show was the brainchild of then-NBC program executive Brandon Tartikoff, who, according to legend, wrote a memo on a napkin simply stating "MTV Cops" (referencing the unprecedented success of the Music Television network). He presented the memo to Anthony Yerkovich, previously a writer and producer on another NBC police series, Hill Street Blues. Yerkovich says the idea grew when they learned of a recently passed law allowing law enforcement agencies to seize property and ill-gotten gains from the criminals they prosecuted and use it in departmental operations (this law is even referenced by name in the episode "Golden Triangle (Part II)"). Yerkovich created his script, initially called Gold Coast, about two Miami-based Vice cops working undercover to try and stem the influx of narcotics into the city. Later during the production the title was changed to Miami Vice, and the legendary series was born.
Unusually for an American TV series, the show was shot on location in Miami, despite threats to move the production from the city later in the show's run due to the high costs it entailed. The realism this location shooting brought about, with an emphasis on the art deco design prevalent in the buildings of the city, helped the show stand out from contemporary police series. High production values also helped embellish this unique visual style, with cinematography that rivalled that of many movies, atypical of other 1980s television series. Each episode cost around $1.3 million to make, some 30% more than most other police series at the time. The series was one of the first to be broadcast in stereophonic sound, new to TV in the 1980s, which brought out the music and sound effects in a way rarely seen at the time.
As Executive Producer, a title he would hold throughout the show's run, Michael Mann gave the production team one simple rule to adhere to -- "No Earth Tones!" The distinctive visual appearance of the series, particularly in its early seasons, was one of pastel colors, both for the actors and the scenes in which they operated. The use of designer clothes and sports cars for both the undercover detectives and the criminals they pursued gave the appearance of high wealth for everyone. During production, much of the South Beach area in which the show was set was blighted by dilapidated buildings, homeless people and crime; in order to achieve the shots and scenes they needed, the production team would paint over graffiti and fix up decaying structures.
In keeping with the subject matter implied by the show's title, the majority of episodes revolved around drug dealers and their distributors, prostitution rings, arms smugglers, counterfeiting, contraband electronics, and other similar crimes. Many episodes ended with spectacular gun battles, often resulting in the deaths of the primary antagonist(s) as well as many of their goons. The underlying theme of the series is the complete futility of the battle against drug cartels; often, the actual kingpin of the organisation would escape prosecution altogether, and even when the detectives did succeed in securing a lasting conviction, several new groups would be waiting to step into the void left by the departed criminals. Another constant issue the Vice cops had to deal with was the corruption present within the Metro-Dade police department and other governmental agencies (FBI/CIA/ATF/DEA) combating drugs in Florida, as drug dealers bribed low-level clerks and even high-ranking officials to help safeguard their positions of criminal power.
Early episodes had many of the elements of a standard police procedural, such as the explicit planning of busts, but as the series progressed these aspects were largely abandoned to allow for greater focus on the show's use of cool dialogue, crisp images and unexpected endings.
Among the actors considered for the role of James "Sonny" Crockett were Gary Cole (who later appeared in the episode "Trust Fund Pirates"), Larry Wilcox (previously on CHiPs), Jeff Bridges and Nick Nolte (both of whom declined due to a desire to focus on their movie careers). After auditioning numerous actors, Mann and Yerkovich agreed on Don Johnson (despite protests from NBC executives, who were concerned by the fact that he had recently appeared in several failed pilots), with Philip Michael Thomas as Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs.
Gregory Sierra was brought in as the Vice Lieutenant Lou Rodriguez, although he was written out after just four episodes due to Sierra's displeasure with working in Miami; he was replaced by Edward James Olmos's Lieutenant Castillo, a role that many now cite as the actor's most memorable. Michael Talbott and John Diehl were cast as Stan Switek and Larry Zito, the squad's surveillance operatives who usually operated out of their "Bug Van", and initially served as comic relief to balance the often dark nature of the cases Crockett and Tubbs were involved with. Saundra Santiago and Olivia Brown completed the team as Gina Calabrese and Trudy Joplin respectively, female police officers who seemed to be used for little more than baiting egotistical male criminals early on, but later, as with Switek and Zito, became more serious characters integral to the show.
- See also: List of Guest Stars
Another noteworthy aspect of the show was its enormous repertoire of guest stars, including famous actors and actresses of the time, as well as many who were virtually unknown when they were cast but have subsequently moved on to become some of the most recognisable names in Hollywood. Guest stars included Joaquim de Almeida, Xander Berkeley, Helena Bonham Carter, Brian Dennehy, Charles S. Dutton, Laurence Fishburne, Pam Grier, Brion James, Penelope Ann Miller, Viggo Mortensen, John Leguizamo, Michael Madsen, Ian McShane, Liam Neeson, Terry O'Quinn, Bill Paxton, Ron Perlman, C.C.H. Pounder, Ving Rhames, Julia Roberts, Chris Rock, Wesley Snipes, Dean Stockwell, George Takei, Benicio del Toro, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro and Bruce Willis, to name but a few.
Many musicians also appeared on the show, whether it be performing as themselves or in an acting capacity. Those that appeared as actors included James Brown, Phil Collins, Miles Davis, Sheena Easton, Cleavant Derricks, Glenn Frey, Isaac Hayes, Willie Nelson, Ted Nugent and Frank Zappa, among others. Those that appeared as themselves performing music live included The Power Station, Jermaine Stewart, David Johansen, Suicidal Tendencies, and others.
- See also: Music
Miami Vice was one of the first shows to incorporate popular music into the episodes at appropriate moments. Universal reportedly paid out around $10,000 per episode for the rights to use songs by artists such as Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Depeche Mode, The Doors, Foreigner, Peter Gabriel, Billy Idol, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mike + The Mechanics, Todd Rundgren, Tina Turner, U2, and many others, including many underground acts. The show was also complimented by background music specially composed by Jan Hammer (seasons 1-4) and Tim Truman (season 5), instead of using the stock or made-for-TV music common in programmes of the time. Hammer's "Miami Vice Theme" was a hit all around the world.
MCA Records released three soundtrack albums from the series: Miami Vice in 1985 (which to this day is the last TV soundtrack to reach #1 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart), Miami Vice II, released in 1986, and Miami Vice III, released in 1988. These albums mostly consisted of popular songs featured in the series, but also included some compositions by Jan Hammer. Hammer has also released his own cues independently, first with his album Escape from Television in 1987 and again in 2002 with the much more comprehensive Miami Vice: The Complete Collection, featuring an extensive selection of his background music used in the series' first four seasons.
Frequently cited as the show's hallmark moment, in no small part due its innovative inclusion of music, is the "In the Air Tonight" sequence from the show's pilot, "Brother's Keeper", when Crockett and Tubbs drive through the Miami night to a drug deal accompanied by the Phil Collins song.
The costume design in Miami Vice was responsible for major fashion changes in the mid-1980s, as the show popularized, or even invented the "T-Shirt under Armani" look. Don Johnson's attire of unconstructed blazer, pastel-colored T-shirt, white linen pants, and loafers without socks caught on around the country, along with Johnson's "designer stubble". Phillip Michael Thomas, meanwhile, would usually wear silk suits from designers Gianni Versace and Hugo Boss.
By 1986 fashion trends were changing, and for season 3 the pastels that had epitomised the early episodes were largely replaced by harsh neon colours, including darker greens and blues, a move that again influenced the clothing choices made by the public but nonetheless upset many fans of the show. In response to these criticisms, pastels were reintroduced from season 4 onwards, though by the middle of season 5 Crockett could often be seen wearing the denim and leather that was becoming fashionable by that time. The fashion trends established towards the end of the show's five year run continued after its cancellation, and influenced clothing styles into the early 1990s.
Cars and Boats
Crockett's primary car in the first two seasons of the show was a black 1972 Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona, actually portrayed by a kit car based on a Chevrolet Corvette C3. When Enzo Ferrari threatened a lawsuit regarding the use of Ferrari replicas, the fake Daytona was blown up in season 3's "When Irish Eyes Are Crying" and replaced with a 1986 Testarossa (two were donated by Ferrari, initially black but repainted white before their introduction as Crockett's new car). Tubbs drove a blue 1964 Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible, Switek (when not in the Dodge Ram surveillance van) drove a turquoise 1961 Ford Thunderbird convertible, and Gina drove a 1971 Mercury Cougar convertible. Castillo usually made do with standard issue police sedans owing to his largely managerial role, but on the rare occasions when he operated undercover he would drive a lavish sportscar more befitting of a wealthy drug dealer, such as the Lamborghini Jalpa.
Besides the vehicles used by the main characters, many other lavish sports and muscle cars of the day appeared frequently on the show, including Aston Martins, Corvettes, DeLoreans, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Mercedes-Benzes, Mustangs, Plymouths, Pontiacs, Porsches and Rolls Royces, among others.
Crockett lived on a yacht, the St. Vitus Dance, portrayed by three different boats over the course of the series -- in the pilot, his home is a Cabo Rico 38 sailboat, in seasons 1-2, it is an Endeavour 40, and in seasons 3-5 it is an Endeavour 42. The St. Vitus rarely seemed to leave it's mooring at Miamarina, now known as Bayside Marketplace, although occasionally it was used by Crockett as an easy means of "disappearing" persons of interest to Miami's criminal underworld, such as witness Keith Mollis in "Line of Fire". When rapid transport over water was required, he used a modified SCARAB 38' KV speedboat for the majority of the series, after replacing the Stinger 390x he used in season 1.
Seasons 1 & 2
The episodes in the first two seasons were often light-hearted and more humorous than in later seasons, with supporting characters such as Izzy and Noogie providing comic relief (as well as street tips on the cases the main characters were investigating). Elvis, Crockett's pet alligator, provided his own "bite" into Crockett's boat life.
The first few episodes also covered Crockett's divorce from his wife Caroline and its effects on his son Billy, and the Vice cop's subsequent relationship with his co-worker Gina. At the same time, Tubbs was adjusting to life in Miami after so many years living in New York, and the whole team had to deal with the death of their Lieutenant and the arrival of his replacement, Martin Castillo, whose gruff attitude and character initially took them aback. Crockett and Tubbs had to battle (and eventually take down) the Calderone cartel, headed by the man responsible for the death of Tubbs' brother in New York.
Later, Crockett and Tubbs travelled to New York to eliminate the Revilla drug empire, responsible for the deaths of numerous DEA agents in Miami, and very nearly Gina as well. The Calderones also returned in the form of the deceased kingpin's son Orlando and daughter Angelina, the latter of whom had engaged in a brief relationship with Tubbs, resulting in the revelation that he had fathered a son. Tubbs, Jr. was later kidnapped by Orlando, along with his mother, as a means of insurance while the he made his escape from Miami, but during a botched rescue attempt both were presumed killed in a car bomb explosion, leaving Tubbs devastated.
The Vice department also regularly had to compete with internal corruption interfering with cases and blocking their attempts to tackle major criminals. Other real-life situations touched upon early in the show included the plight of the homeless, the South American drug war and civil rights in Central America, but overall their depiction was not as hard-hitting as in later seasons. Scenes of mid-1980s party excess, both in clubs and at the residences of wealthy drug dealers, were a common sight in the first two seasons. The integration of pop music was also at its highest, with the second season containing more music than any other season of the show with over 90 songs used, including 14 in the second season opener, "The Prodigal Son".
Seasons 3 & 4 (The Dick Wolf Years)
Before the third season began, Don Johnson threatened to leave the series in a salary dispute that was only resolved when Michael Mann threatened to replace Johnson with Mark Harmon, who had recently departed the medical drama St. Elsewhere. The delay nearly cost Vice an appearance by legendary country singer Willie Nelson and resulted in a notable continuity goof regarding Crockett's Ferrari Daytona.
Dick Wolf took over as line producer; while Mann was still credited as executive producer, he had little to do with the show at this point as he was overseeing his other TV project, Crime Story, and directing his third feature film Manhunter (notable as it contains a large number of Miami Vice actors and actresses). As a result of the new management, the appearance and tone of the show drastically changed. Side characters such as Noogie Lamont and Crockett's pet alligator Elvis were either slowly phased out or removed entirely. Also gone were the pastel colors and laid-back storylines, in favor of darker colors and plots "ripped from the headlines" -- based on contemporary events such as the Northern Ireland conflict, the Iran-Contra affair, illegal adoptions, AIDS and political infidelity. John Diehl's character, Larry Zito, was killed off midway through the third season in a two-part episode.
The elimination of the show's trademark pastels, as well as its rescheduling to 9:00pm on Friday nights, thereby putting it in direct competition with CBS' top-rated show, Dallas, began to drive fans away from the series and seriously hurt its audience ratings. Pastel colors were reintroduced in season 4, but by then a writing staff desperate to recapture the successful tone of the earlier seasons led to several stories that veered wildly into attempts at science-fiction and comedy, with episodes such as "The Big Thaw" and "Missing Hours" regularly being rated as the worst of the entire series and a serious detriment to the otherwise high quality of the programme. At the same time, many other episodes began taking dark turns, resulting in more violent conclusions than in the past and giving the season a decidedly uneven feel. By this time, Dick Wolf had moved to the position of co-executive producer, although he still made significant contributions to the show's stories.
Another move made to improve sagging ratings was the introduction of Sheena Easton as Crockett's pop singer wife, Caitlin. The idea proved successful, but Easton's character was killed off in the season's penultimate episode, "Deliver Us from Evil". A cliffhanger finale in which amnesia caused Crockett to become his drug-dealing alter-ego Sonny Burnett proved divisive, with some fans finding the plot too far-fetched to be believable, while others appreciated Don Johnson's portrayal of a villain.
The final season saw the resolution of the Sonny Burnett cliffhanger and the return of Crockett to the Metro-Dade Vice department, although the consequences of his actions would haunt him for the rest of the season. Wolf left the series to create his own police drama, Law & Order, leaving Mann as the sole executive producer, although his position remained largely ceremonial, despite the fact that Crime Story had been cancelled at the end of the 1988 season. Jan Hammer also left the series before its final season, and the background music changed to Tim Truman's more gritty, rock-orientated sound, a stark contrast to the smooth synth vibes that had come to be associated with the series. Despite his departure, Hammer's intro theme remained for the remainder of the show's run.
The show began to "push the envelope" with its language, violence, and subjects normally considered taboo on television at the time, with episodes containing homosexual relationships and child molestation. Some of the supporting characters from earlier seasons returned, often to provide closure to their stories, including Al Lombard and Valerie Gordon. Clothing for the cast changed to match the new fashions of the time, with increasing amounts of denim and leather. There were few episodes where the entire regular cast appeared as a result of their seeking other opportunities due to the impending cancellation of the series. Even the partnership of Crockett and Tubbs was split up in many episodes, with Switek often serving as a stand-in partner.
The overall tone became very nihilistic (a feeling accentuated by Truman's bleak score), with the humorous elements that had once been a significant part of the show all but gone; the fifth season is regularly set apart by fans of the series for its tangibly different atmosphere, with opinions on this difference varying. Plots and characters became more serious, with Switek in particular losing his previously comedic personality, instead developing a gambling addiction that would plague him throughout the season. Crockett and Tubbs began to feel the hopeless futility of their jobs, fighting increased corruption, political pressure, and government intervention, and their disgust with such issues finally culminates in their quitting the force in the series finale, "Freefall".
The series' pilot episode aired in September 1984, on a Sunday night. The show moved to Fridays at 10:00pm (known as the Friday Night Death Slot because most viewers were not at home at that time), where it remained for the first two seasons. Miami Vice's ratings were fair during season 1 until the summer reruns, when people who may have been watching the show's competition caught the series for the first time; the reruns consistently reached the Top 10. Season 2's ratings were the best of the series, ending at #9. Season 3 saw the series moved to the 9:00 time slot (where it remained until near the end of season 4), directly competing with CBS' mega-hit Dallas, and while both shows' ratings were affected, Miami Vice was hit the worst, falling out of the Top 10. By Season 5, viewers were turning to police shows like 21 Jump Street and Wiseguy, which featured a younger, more modern cast.
The continued high production costs on Vice, coupled with low ratings, resulted in NBC pulling the plug in 1989, with "Freefall" as the series finale. However, NBC still held four completed episodes that had not aired. Three of these "lost" episodes were broadcast in June, 1989, by which time reruns of the show had moved to Wednesdays at 10:00. A fourth unaired episode, "Too Much, Too Late", was declared inappropriate for broadcast by NBC and not aired on the network. The series' final NBC broadcast was on Wednesday, July 26, 1989.
The show entered syndication on October 3, 1988, when USA Network began airing repeats of the first four seasons while the fifth season of the series was still on the air. After the show's conclusion, USA began airing repeats of the fifth season in the fall of 1989 and winter of 1990, eventually airing the previously unbroadcast episode "Too Much, Too Late" in January 1990. In the years since, the series has appeared on the cable networks FX, TNN/Spike, TV Land, Sleuth/Cloo, Centric, Esquire Channel, El Rey Network, COZI Network, and the Starz Encore Action Channel. Currently, the series is not airing on any US cable channel.
Since moving to syndication, Vice has rarely been edited except for time, though when airing on TNN/Spike, TV Land, Sleuth/Cloo, and the Esquire Channel, episodes have aired in their original broadcast length. However, "Rites of Passage" and "By Hooker by Crook" featured love scenes that were censored as they were deemed too explicit to show on television (this censorship actually originated in NBC's repeat airings of the episodes, and has subsequently featured in all showings and releases of the series).
The Centric channel has also occasionally censored Vice for its language, excising stronger words and phrases such as "bastard", "bitch", "faggot", and "son-of-a-bitch" (including in captioning, which displays any removed words as [BLEEP]). This censorship has proved inconsistent, however; the word "bastard" was not edited in the episodes "Golden Triangle (Part II)" and "When Irish Eyes Are Crying", but was removed in the episodes "Contempt of Court" and "Like a Hurricane". No other network (including NBC) has ever edited the show for language during their broadcasts.
- See also: DVD Releases
After much anticipation, Miami Vice was released on DVD between 2005 and 2009. Several featurettes, "The Vibe of Vice", "Building the Perfect Vice", "The Style Of Vice", "The Music of Vice" and "Miami After Vice", were also included on the DVDs, although owing to the age of the show these documentaries are brief and somewhat superficial (particularly when compared to the extensive behind-the-scenes materials usually presented with modern television series). In 2016, Mill Creek Entertainment obtained the rights to Miami Vice and re-released the series, beginning with seasons 1-2, later the complete series, in Dolby 5.1 Surround sound, and all original music intact. In October 2016 the series was released in Blu-Ray for the first time.
Before the series' appearance on DVD, several other home video releases of the show were made on the VHS format, although such releases were far from complete and occasionally featured alterations to the music used in episodes. The VHS releases are now (obviously) out of print, although copies can still be found for sale on eBay and other such websites, and they include:
- Miami Vice: The Movie -- actually the feature-length pilot episode "Brother's Keeper".
- Miami Vice II: The Prodigal Son -- the feature-length episode of the same name.
- Miami Vice: The Collectors Edition -- a selection of season 1-4 episodes.
Additionally, several The Best of the 80s: Miami Vice DVDs were released in 2011, designed as a "taster" for the complete DVD sets. They feature a selection of season 1-5 episodes.
Miami Vice is also available for streaming online from various free and paid websites. The following site(s) currently offer the show for viewing (with all original music intact), although not all sources offer the show in its entirety, and some impose mandatory commercial breaks:
- Currently, The Roku Channel offers streaming of Miami Vice with the following episodes not available:
- Brother's Keeper (Part I)
- Sons and Lovers
Over the course of its five-year run, Miami Vice won four Emmy Awards, three Grammy Awards, two People's Choice Awards and two Golden Globe Awards, and was nominated for many more (at the 1985 Emmy Ceremony alone, it received 15 award nominations, a record at that time).
Not all response to the series was positive, however. Several detractors objected to the show's high levels of violence (for the time), and also pointed out how this violence was dressed up with pretty photography. Others felt that the series spent too much of its budget on its visual aspects, thereby leaving little to invest in character development or coherent stories. Various professionals also voiced their criticisms of the show; police departments objected to the misleading, unrealistically glamorous depiction of Vice officers, and civic leaders in Miami were upset by the show's portrayal of the city as rife with prostitution, organised crime and drugs. However, the latter group of critics was largely silenced when the production team began repairing and restoring buildings in the city in order to capture the shots they needed, a process that sparked interest in the city's many Art Deco-style buildings, boosted tourism, and kicked off a renovation effort that continues to this day.
The show's relatively low number of award wins when compared to the number of nominations it received has been attributed by some to the fact that traditionally conservative award ceremony voters refused to recognize a series that celebrated hedonism, violence, sex, and drugs.
- See also: Influence of Miami Vice
Miami Vice's influence on popular culture has been far-reaching and the show is today considered to be one of the most influential television series ever made. Arguably its most defining and innovative feature, and probably the most heavily duplicated aspect of the show, was its frequent inclusion of music as an integral part of a scene. This technique is now commonplace in modern television series, with appropriate songs being used to emphasise important scenes for dramatic effect and/or highlight the time period in which the show is set. Numerous law dramas and films have been modeled after the show's concept, including Burn Notice, which is also set in Miami, and have imitated Vice in some of its promos.
The show's influence extends far beyond that of television and film; the heavy use of pastel clothes had a direct effect on the fashions of the time, and sales of Ray-Ban Wayfarers enjoyed a huge boost after their appearance as Sonny Crockett's sunglasses of choice on the show. Even sales of the Bren Ten pistol skyrocketed following its prominent appearance in the first two seasons, so much so that Dornaus & Dixon were unable to meet the demand and eventually went bankrupt.
The show has been so influential that the general style of Miami Vice has often been used by today's pop culture as a means of indicating or emphasizing the 1980s decade, and its influence as a popular culture icon can still be seen, over 35 years after it first appeared on the screen.
In August, 2017, NBC announced that a "reboot" of the series (based on the original and not a "re-imagining") is in development, originally set for broadcast in 2020, but no updates since. Actor Vin Diesel, along with Shana Waterman (24: Live Another Day), Chris Morgan (The Fast and the Furious), and Ainsley Davies make up the production team, and Peter McManus (The Mist) is providing the script.