(last edited December 6, 2010)

Miami Vice

Miami Vice is an American television series produced by Michael Mann for NBC. The show became noted for its heavy integration and use of music and visual effects to tell a story. The series starred Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas as two Metro-Dade Police detectives working undercover in Miami. It ran for five seasons on NBC from 19841989. The USA Network would later broadcast an 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. It is recognized as one of the most influential television series of all time. People Magazine stated that Miami Vice "was the first show to look really new and different since color TV was invented."

  1. Conception
  2. Production
  3. Locations
  4. Episodes
  5. Cancellation
  6. Main characters
    1. Recurring characters
  7. Criticism


The 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. Yerkovitch indicated 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.


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-to-late 1980s; 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.


Episode scripts were loosely based on actual crimes that occurred in Miami over the years.(Example: "Out Where the Buses Don't Run", 1985.) During its course, the series also took a look at controversial political issues like 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, U.S. support of anti-communist generals and dictators in Southeast Asia and South America, regardless of their human rights records.

Personal issues also arose: Crockett divorced from his wife Caroline (Belinda Montgomery) early in the series, and later his second wife Caitlin Davies (Sheena Easton) was 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 Noogie (Charlie Barnett) and Izzy (Martin Ferrero) appeared. Later on, the content was almost always quite dark and cynical, with Crockett and Tubbs also having to fight corruption. Typically, the darker episodes had no denouement, each episode ending abruptly immediately after a climax that almost always involved 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.


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, which resulted in hurting both shows.

Michael Mann's decision to give the show a darker, grittier look, feel and touch a definite change from the often lighthearted tone of the first two seasons that involved darker, non-pastel wardrobes for the protagonists. Loyal fans were miffed at the series' new look[citation needed] and began to turn away, which led to the reintroduction of pastels for the fourth season (19871988).

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. Tim Truman became his successor, but to many fans, it meant a farewell to yet another idiosyncratic element of the show's style. And thus production costs per episode increased, popularity and revenue plummeted.

Michael Mann handed the role of executive producer to Dick Wolf prior to the beginning of the third season (1986-1987). Wolf had the show focus on real-life issues like the problems in Northern Ireland. Michael Mann left to focus working 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 Brown recalled, "The show was trying to reinvent itself." Dick Wolf recalls in an interview for E! True Hollywood Story, after the fifth season, it was all just "...kind of over", and that the show had simply "run its course".

Main characters

  • Don Johnson as Detective James "Sonny" Crockett: A Sergeant of the Metro-Dade Police Department and an undercover detective. A former University of Florida Gators football star, he sustained an injury which put an end to his sports career. He was subsequently drafted by the U.S Army, and served 2 tours in Vietnam or, as he calls it, the "Southeast Asia Conference". In 1974, he became a Metro-Dade uniformed patrol officer, and later an undercover detective of the Vice Unit. Crockett's alias is Sonny Burnett, an 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 Elvis, his pet alligator.

  • 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. After temporarily teaming up with Crockett, Tubbs follows his friend's advice and "transfers to a career in Southern law enforcement". 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 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 agent in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. During his time as an agent, he opposed the CIA in endorsing the trafficking of heroin to finance their overseas operations.

  • Saundra Santiago as Detective 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 "Big Booty" Joplin: Gina's patrol partner. Though tough, Trudy 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 an 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.

  • 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 drug 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 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.

Recurring characters

  • Martin Ferrero 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.

  • Charlie Barnett 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.
Following their marriage, Caitlin is killed by one of Crockett's former nemeses.

  • Pam Grier as Valerie Gordon: A New York Police Department Officer and on-and-off love interest of Tubbs.

  • Belinda Montgomery as Caroline Crockett/Ballard?: Crockett's former wife who moves to Georgia to remarry and raise her and Sonny's child, Billy.


Critics have objected to the shows usage of violence by dressing it with pretty photography. Others note that the coherent stories and are full of drawn characters that have been junked in favor of the visual aspects and music. Civic leaders in Miami have also objected to the show's airing of the city's crime problems all across America. Most civic leaders however have been quieted due to the shows estimated contribution of $1 million per episode to the city's economy and boosting tourism to Miami.

At the 1985 Emmy Awards Miami Vice was nominated for 15 Emmy Awards, including "Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series", "Outstanding Film Editing", "Outstanding Achievement for Music Composition for a series (dramatic underscore)", and "Outstanding Directing". At the end of the night, Miami Vice only won four Emmys. The following day, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner could only conclude that the conservative Emmy voters (at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences) simply refused to recognize an innovative new series that celebrated hedonism, violence, sex, and drugs. Read more about it in critical essay writing and descriptive essay writing online.

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Edited December 6, 2010 (diff)