No TV series defined the 1980s quite like Miami Vice. Running five seasons on NBC, from 1984 to 1989, the show featured Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as Crockett and Tubbs, a pair of Miami-Dade detectives, often working undercover on drug cases.
The series was very much a piece of its time, and it had a great influence on the fashion and culture of the late 1980s. The characters favored pastel colors, white jackets over t-shirts, and other clothes from noted Italian designers. Miami Vice also popularized the “five o’ clock shadow” beard stubble look, and featured Miami detectives in sunglasses years before Horacio Crane pulled it off on CSI: Miami.
Years after Miami Vice went off the air, one of its executive producers, Michael Mann, directed a rebooted movie version, also called Miami Vice, which was released on July 28, 2006. The film, the result of a troubled production and bad word of mouth ahead of its release, was a modest box office hit, and has been defended by a small but passionate coterie of critics and other fans.
To commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the film and celebrate the series that inspired it, here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Miami Vice.
15. “The MTV Cops”
Miami Vice has an iconic, foundational myth: famed NBC entertainment executive Brandon Tartikoff, in a brainstorming meeting with series co-creator Anthony Yerkovich at some point in the early 1980s, wrote a brief phrase on a napkin: “MTV Cops.” Yerkovich read it, it formed the basis for the show, and the rest was history.
The story is consistent with the 1980s ethos of basing popular TV shows and movies on a “high concept.” But it’s not really quite that simple. Tartikoff, according to various accounts, really did write “MTV Cops” on a napkin. However, Yerkovich, a former Hill Street Blues producer, had already been at work on a lot of the concepts that would eventually become Miami Vice, including telling a story about a pair of Miami cops taking on the drug trade. That idea was also clearly in the ether of Hollywood at the time, with another Miami drug story, Brian De Palma’s Scarface, landing in 1983.
Tartikoff, the legendary executive who died of cancer in 1997, does deserve some credit for shepherding Miami Vice into existence, along with other series from NBC’s 1980s run of success. But “MTV Cops” was far from the actual genesis of the series.
14. The series was originally going to be a movie titled “Gold Coast”
Yerkovich, a longtime writer for the most noted prestige cop show in the earlier part of the decade, Hill Street Blues, originally conceived Miami Vice as a movie, which was called Gold Coast at the time. Having visited Miami and spent time with undercover Vice cops, Yerkovich described his original vision for the series in a 1985 interview with Time magazine, as “a modern-day American Casablanca,” taking into account the drug trade, large numbers of Cuban immigrants, and how they all came together at that time.
If you associate the creative side of Miami Vice primarily with Michael Mann, that’s because the director of Manhunter, The Last of the Mohicans and The Insider, while not a creator, took over showrunning duties during the first season.
13. The show had a creative team full of big names
The creative team of Miami Vice, in addition to Yerkovich and Mann, contained more than a few names you’ll recognize.Dick Wolf, also a veteran of Hill Street Blues, was producer of Miami Vice in season 3 and executive producer starting in Season 4, and he wrote 15 episodes of the series himself. Wolf would go on to create the Law & Order franchise, and later the Chicago Fire/Chicago PD franchise, all for NBC. John Milius, the famed screenwriter of Apocalypse Now and director of Red Dawn and Conan the Barbarian, wrote a well-known fourth season episode called “Viking Bikers From Hell.” Joel Surnow, who nine episodes of the series, went on to co-create 24, while Rob Cohen, who directed three episodes, went on to direct the original The Fast and the Furious movie. Abel Ferrera, who went on to make Bad Lieutenant, directed a pair of episodes in 1985.
12. Some big names were in the running to play Sonny Crockett
Don Johnson, who had struggled as a TV actor for many years, starring in multiple pilots that weren’t picked up, was cast in the lead role of Sonny Crockett and played it for all five seasons of the series. The actor, the father of 50 Shades of Grey actress Dakota Johnson, also starred on Nash Bridges and appeared on a season of Eastbound and Down.
However, prior to Johnson’s casting, several big-name actors were considered for the role, including Gary Cole, Jeff Bridges and Nick Nolte. The latter two declined, since both had relatively busy movie careers at the time (following Tron and 48 Hours, respectively), although Cole ended up guest-starring in a season 2 episode as a character named “Jackson Cane.” Cole said in an interview years later that “I just remember having a decent time in Miami for 10 days.” CHiPs star Larry Wilcox was also considered for the part.
Yerkovich must have liked the name “Sonny Crockett”; a completely different character of the same name, played by the late actor Dennis Burkley, appeared on four episodes of Hill Street Blues, a couple of years before the debut of Miami Vice.
11. The show was filmed mostly on location in South Florida
The network and producers originally planned to do most of the filming for Miami Vice in Los Angeles, with occasional location shoots in Miami. But ultimately, the decision was made to film the series on location in the Miami area, and the production stuck there for the entirety of its five year run.
The South Beach district — which was much more of a run-down area in the early 1980s than the glamour spot that it is today — was a frequent location used for filming, as well as various art deco hotels up and down Ocean Drive. Occasionally, the show would go to other parts of the Miami region, including Palm Beach County, for shoots.
Some interiors were filmed at Greenwich Studios in Miami. The website Miami Vice Locations has collected many of the show’s locations, as well as what has since become of them.
10. “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins was featured in the first episode
The series’ pilot famously featured a long montage sequence set to Phil Collins’ pop classic “In the Air Tonight,” pioneering a way of using popular music in television that’s still used to this day. Collins’ song, which actually came out in 1981, was his first hit single as a solo artist after leaving Genesis. Collins would go on to contribute other music to the series, including “Take Me Home,” and Collins appeared himself as an actor in Season 2.
“In the Air Tonight” was used once again in the fourth season episode “A Bullet For Crockett,” structured as a sort of homage to the song’s use in the pilot. A group called Nonpoint contributed a cover of “In the Air Tonight” to the 2006 Miami Vice movie. Of course, the cover doesn’t quite measure up, but then again, how could it?
9. Miami Vice was the first big-budget TV drama
NBC allowed a much larger budget for Miami Vice than for what was typical of television in the 1980s — and much of that was earmarked for musical rights, reported at the time as $10,000 per episode.
In addition to the extensive use of Phil Collins’ music, Miami Vice used songs from the likes of Glenn Frey, Tina Turner, Roxy Music, Jackson Browne, Sheena Easton (who starred in the series’ later seasons), and many more. A high-selling soundtrack album was released, across three volumes, plus a pair of best-of compilations; all of them featured a combination of the popular pop songs and Jan Hammer’s instrumental compositions. The first soundtrack album hit #1 on the Billboard album chart for several weeks across late 1985 and early 1986.
Of course, beyond music, the production also had to pay for all of those expensive cars and designer suits, even if they never did quite explain how police officers were able to afford such amenities.
8. Star Philip Michael Thomas coined the term “EGOT”
Philip Michael Thomas was also mostly unknown prior to his casting as Ricardo Tubbs, with his most prominent role coming in 1976’s Sparkle. After his work on Miami Vice, Thomas’ other claim to fame is that he coined the term “EGOT,” an acronym for the four major U.S. showbiz awards (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony). In an interview with the Associated Press while Miami Vice was airing, Thomas proclaimed that his goal was to win all four awards during the ensuing five years, and he even had the four letters engraved in a gold necklace.
Thomas, of course, never won any of those awards, nor was he even nominated for them. The EGOT necklace, and the term itself, was mostly forgotten until it was the focus of a 2009 episode of 30 Rock, when Tracy Morgan’s character comes across the necklace. Since then, it’s become an awards-season parlor game to point out which performers have earned the EGOT or are a step or two away from doing so. Robert Lopez, the composer of Frozen, is the most recent artist to pull off the feat.
7. The show was full of famous guest stars
Like most crime procedurals, Miami Vice had a lot of opportunities for one-off guest stars to play criminals, informants and other transient characters, as well as other characters who would appear for longer arcs.
Recurring guest stars included blaxploitation legend Pam Grier. Jimmy Smits, famously, played Crockett’s partner who dies in the first episode, with Mykelti Williamson also appearing in that episode as an informant.
Miami Vice was an early guest-starring opportunity for a variety of actors who would become more famous in the ensuing years. The list of future stars — Bruce Willis, Ed O’Neill, Julia Roberts, Ving Rhames, Liam Neeson, Ben Stiller, and Chris Rock — is virtually endless. There was also room on the guest star roster for athletes (Bill Russell, Roberto Duran), business moguls (Lee Iacocca), musicians (Willie Nelson, Little Richard, Miles Davis, Leonard Cohen, Frankie Valli and Gene Simmons) and even political types (Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy, who reinvented himself for a while as an actor in the 1980s).
6. Some actors played more than one character on the show
John Leguizamo, the comedian and actor who still works frequently today, appeared in the second and third seasons of Miami Vice as Orlando Calderone, the son of drug dealer big bad Esteban Calderone. He would appear in the fifth season of the series as a completely different character, Angelo Alvarez. The Colombian actor continues to take roles involving the drug trade, appearing last month as an undercover cop in The Infiltrator.
Stanley Tucci (pictured above) also played multiple parts on Miami Vice. In a third season episode, he played an adoptive father who is intimidated out of testifying against a lawyer. He went on to portray a mob boss in a fourth season episode. Somewhat improbably, Tucci ranks #17 all-time in career box office receipts for actors with over $3 billion, a figure due mostly to his appearances in multiple Hunger Games and Transformers films.
Giancarlo Esposito, another actor who would go on to play a drug kingpin on Breaking Bad, actually played three different Miami Vice roles: A drug dealer in a first season episode, a hitman in a different first season episode, and yet another drug dealer in the second season. And Ving Rhames appeared multiple times too, first as a homeless man in season 1 and as a gun runner in season four.
5. Don Shula, coach of the Miami Dolphins in the 1980s, had never heard of the show.
It’s one of professional football’s most amusing anecdotes, and it sounds like it might even be true. At some point in the 1980s, a meeting of Miami Dons took place between Miami Vice star Don Johnson and Don Shula, the legendary NFL coach who had led the Miami Dolphins throughout the decade.
According to an account by Terry Larimer of the Allentown Morning Call, it went like this. Johnson went to a Miami Dolphins practice one day and was introduced to Shula. “Coach, I’d like you to meet Don Johnson of Miami Vice,” the introduction went. “Glad to meetcha,” Shula said to Johnson. “You guys do a real good job.”
Yes, Shula thought that Johnson was an actual cop on Miami’s vice squad. The story is usually told to demonstrate that Shula’s singular focus on the game of football was so unshakable that he wasn’t even aware of a mega-popular television show that was set and filmed in his same city. Shula, though, would eventually broaden his sights; after retirement, he opened a chain of high-end steakhouses, the kind glamorous enough that Crockett and Tubbs just might have dined at every now and then.
4. Miami Vice has had two separate comic book adaptations
Years after it went off the air, Miami Vice was adapted for a pair of comic book series. These came about after NBC Universal teamed up with Lion Forge Comics to adapt several of it old television properties into comic books.
Miami Vice #1, written by Jonothan London, and illustrated by Geanes Holland and Carl Reed, was released in early 2014 and was set in between the first and second seasons of the Miami Vice TV series. This was followed by Miami Vice Remix #1, also under the auspices of Lion Forge Comics, which arrived in March 2015 and featured a story by Joe Casey, art by Jim Mahfood and colors by Justin Stewart. The latter series got a bit further away from the established continuity of the TV show, including Crockett and Tubbs going up against the undead.
3. The Miami Vice movie was Jamie Foxx’s idea
If you thought Michael Mann spent two decades trying to get a movie adaptation of his former TV series off the ground, well, that’s not quite how it went down. Jamie Foxx, who had played Drew “Bundini” Brown in Mann’s 2001 Muhammad Ali biopic Ali, reportedly gave Mann the idea to adapt Miami Vice during a party for that movie.
The film eventually came together at Universal, with Colin Farrell set as Crockett and Foxx as Tubbs. Justin Theroux, Ciarán Hinds and Gong Li also came along for the ride as members of the supporting cast. Mann wrote and directed; Yerkovich received a “based on” credit.
The Miami Vice movie was not a period piece, and therefore omitted a lot of the 1980s vintage things with which the TV series was most associated, most notably the pastel clothes and the era-specific pop music. It did, however, include lots of on-location filming in Miami.
2. The movie has a mixed reputation
The reputation of the Miami Vice film has fluctuated over time. It had a notoriously troubled production, even without taking into account the time it lost due to Hurricane Katrina and two other major hurricanes that took place while it filmed in the summer and fall of 2005. Negative reports about the film showed up in the press repeatedly during the shoot, including various accounts of troublemaking by one or both of the film’s co-stars.
The movie arrived to mixed-to-negative reviews and currently holds a 47 percent positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. However, a vocal minority of critics defended the film, including the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, and contrarian pro-Miami Vice think pieces are a common occurrence on movie websites, especially on the film’s anniversaries.
The Miami Vice movie was released in July 2006, and earned $63.4 million at the domestic box office, including a $25.7 million opening weekend. But it did better overseas, with a worldwide number of $163.7 million.
1. A reboot has been occasionally rumored, but hasn’t come to pass
Every so often there are rumors of a Miami Vice reboot. The last round came in late 2014, with a Latino Review report that Universal was looking at reviving Miami Vice for a new movie and was seeking out writers — presumably without Michael Mann’s involvement. But there was never another word about any such project after that.
In February, a website called Culture of One World spoke of “rumors” of a Miami Vice reboot, but was pegged merely to an appearance at the Miami International Boat Show by series cast member Olivia Brown, along with a vintage boat from the series, as the Boat Show was using a Miami Vice theme.
There’s no reason to believe that a revival of Miami Vice is in the works at any network or studio. But under the right circumstances it could conceivably work, possibly as another TV show. The key, thought? Do it in full period detail- with the ‘80s clothes and music. Kind of like liquor pitchmen Bacardi and Cola:
Did we leave out any of your favorite Miami Vice factoids? How onboard would you be with a reboot? Let us know in the comments section.
All of the Miami Vice original series is available for streaming on Hulu. The Miami Vice movie is available on DVD and Blu-ray disc.