Over the course of five successful seasons on the air, Miami Vice became one of the most iconic TV shows of the 1980s. The series saw detectives Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs attempt to fight crime as part of Miami Police Department’s Vice unit – and often resorting to violence themselves. There was plenty of action and suspense involved, with a good dose of grittiness and over-the-top acting to boot.
Miami Vice also became hugely popular in both the US and the UK thanks to its amazing soundtrack, the unique men’s fashion on display and the exciting look and feel of the series. Here are some fascinating facts you never knew about Miami Vice.
20. Denzel Washington auditioned to play Tubbs
The role of Ricardo Tubbs was almost given to Denzel Washington, who was an up-and-coming TV star at the time. Although Washington showed a lot of promise, back in 1984 he was not the bankable Oscar-winning film star that he is today, and Philip Michael Thomas wound up being cast as Tubbs instead.
This minor career setback didn’t stop Washington, who by 1988 would land his first of ten Oscar nominations (two of which he won). By contrast, Philip Michael Thomas has largely faded into obscurity since Miami Vice, appearing in several made-for-TV movies and advertisements but failing to land any major film or TV roles.
19. One episode was so expensive it cost more than the annual budget of the real Miami Police Vice unit
The producers and studio were incredibly committed to making Miami Vice look as unique as possible. The upshot of this was that the show became one of the most costly produced at the time. One of the factors that helped drive up the budget included the commitment to shooting in Miami for that authentic vice city feel.
Thanks to this commitment to authenticity, one single episode of Miami Vice became so expensive to make that it actually cost more than the entire annual budget of the Miami Police Vice unit. The series was averaging costs of $1.3 million an episode at one point – a staggering amount of money to throw at a TV series in the 1980s.
18. Don Johnson nearly quit after the second season
Don Johnson had been making over $30,000 per episode during the show’s first two seasons – but as the show was a hit, Johnson felt he deserved even more money. While Universal offered to increase Johnson’s pay to $38,500 per episode, Johnson felt he deserved more still, pushing for $100,000 per episode and threatening to quit if the producers didn’t comply.
Executive producer Michael Mann stepped in and convinced Johnson to continue working on the series, offering him an undisclosed sum of money. However much it was, Johnson agreed to it and continued working on the series up until its conclusion in 1990.
17. The actors got on-the-job training with real police officers
A lot of effort went into prepping the cast for the show – including training with real-life police officers.To help the lead actors immerse themselves in their roles, Johnson and Thomas were given the opportunity to go on stakeouts with real members of the Miami Police Vice squad.
In fact, the technical advisors on the show were all people who were serving, or had served, in the real-life Miami Police Vice unit. Any members of the cast that handled firearms on set even had to pass the Florida Department of Law Enforcement firearms test before they were allowed near real weapons.
16. A ‘Miami Device’ tie-in shaver was released to give fans the Sonny Crockett look
Back in the 1980s, Johnson’s character Sonny Crockett was famed for his effortless style – but it took a lot of effort on Johnson’s part to perfectly maintain his stubble. To ensure that Crockett always had that distinctive two-day stubble, Johnson began shaving with a sideburn trimmer to maintain the look.
In the wake of the show’s popularity, one company actually created the ‘Miami Device,’ a shaving apparatus named after the series. The razor, which promised to give the user stubble just like Sonny Crockett’s, was released in 1986 and sold for $29.95. However, the Miami Device only spent a short amount of time on shelves before it was rebranded, then ultimately pulled.
15. The show’s soundtrack reached #1 on the Billboard Top 200
Miami Vice was well-known for its groundbreaking use of popular music. Once it became clear that the show was a success, record companies grew eager to get their artists featured on the show. Producers received $10,000 an episode for music rights, which allowed them to play The Rolling Stones, U2 and Eric Clapton among others.
This also made the show a vehicle for popularising new singles, with many record labels rubbing their hands together whenever one of their artists was featured on the series. The popularity of the show’s music even led to the release of three soundtrack albums: Miami Vice, Miami Vice II and Miami Vice III, all of which proved big sellers.
14. Thomas claims he was pleased that Johnson became the more popular actor
There are plenty of egos in the acting world, but apparently Thomas was never bothered about Johnson’s enormous popularity. Despite the fact that the press tried to stir up a feud between the two, Thomas and Johnson have always maintained that they got on really well. Thomas once stated: “I like Don a lot. We have a good time. I liked that Don was getting the publicity.”
“I wanted the mystique. The bigger he got, the bigger we got,” he told People in 1985. While Johnson went on to star in Nash Bridges and receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Thomas has since quietly retired from showbusiness after his career failed following Miami Vice’s cancellation.
13. Dallas was partly responsible for Miami Vice being cancelled
Dallas was another classic 80s show, one which ultimately triggered the downfall of Miami Vice in 1990. When the cop drama came into its third season, the series was moved from 22:00 to 21:00 on a Friday night. This brought Miami Vice into direct competition with Dallas, which ultimately spelt bad news for Miami Vice.
The move was the nail in the coffin that helped the ratings to decline for the remainder of Vice’s two final seasons. In 1986, Dallas easily beat Miami Vice in their first head-to-head battle in the AC Nielson Co ratings. The tension between the two shows was so obvious that in 1987, TV Guide ran a story titled Dallas Drubs the Cops: Why Miami Vice Seems to be Slipping.
12. Producers wanted Larry Wilcox to play Crockett
In spite of his ability and willingness to work hard for his art on Miami Vice, Don Johnson was not a popular choice with NBC executives. Johnson had already starred in a grand total of four failed pilots up until that point and was not the bankable star that he is today. Instead of Johnson, producers considered Nick Nolte and Jeff Bridges.
They were particularly keen to sign Vietnam vet and actor Larry Wilcox on for the role. But what turned out to be a stroke of luck for Johnson turned out to be a devastating blow to Wilcox’s acting career. Wilcox wrote an entry on his fan website in 2011 calling his rejection “a cold blow and a manipulative blow the day before Christmas” which left him “upset and dejected.”
11. The show contributed an estimated $1 million per episode to Miami’s economy
The city of Miami was once thought of as a place for retirement and settling down – somewhere where very little happened. However, the tourist board has since said that Miami Vice had a positive impact on the city as people realised it was a “happening” city with lots to do. The show also takes partial credit for triggering mass support for the preservation of Miami’s famous Art Deco architecture.
While some civic leaders in Miami felt as though the show negatively impacted the city’s image, most could at least concede that Vice bolstered the city’s tourism industry. It’s estimated that the show’s popularity contributed a staggering $1 million per episode to the city’s economy.
10. Crockett’s Ferrari was actually a Corvette
The production team spared almost no expense when it came to kitting out Crockett for the show. Johnson was dressed in lavish fashion pieces from Armani and Versace – although the team did cut costs when it came to Crockett’s car. Famously, Crockett drove a Ferrari on the show, but the crew didn’t deem it necessary to splash out on a real Ferrari, instead giving him a modified 1980 Corvette, covered in plexiglass fittings to make it look as though it was a Ferrari.
Ferrari were unhappy that the popular show featured a fake Ferrari and even filed a lawsuit against the show’s creators. Enzo Ferrari and Michael Mann then reached an agreement – Ferrari was to send over a few real Testarossas, while the Corvette was to be blown up on screen.
9. Johnson clashed with Edward James Olmos on set
Edward James Olmos dazzled alongside Johnson in Miami Vice, starring as Martin ‘Marty’ Castillo in all five of the show’s seasons. Castillo and Crockett often found themselves at loggerheads throughout the series – just as Johnson and Olmos did in real life. Both men had very different acting styles. While Johnson was much more laidback, Olmos was obsessed with detail.
This clashing took its toll on the relationship between the two actors – but the pair still remained as professional as possible on set. Olmos channeled his frustration towards Johnson into his portrayal of Lt. Castillo to great effect – in some scenes, Castillo never even looks at Crockett.
8. The show’s pastel colour scheme was inspired by a trip to a paint store
Miami Vice stood out from other TV shows at the time largely because it looked so different given the consistent, unique pastel colour scheme. Executive producer Michael Mann was inspired to adhere to a soft colour palette after a trip to a paint store. “I was playing around with [colour chips] and I realised: three colors become thematic, two colors don’t,” Mann told the Los Angeles Times in 1987.
“[With] three colors, you can actually start telling a chromatic story. You can create a mood with three colors,” the producer explained. Earth tones were completely banned from the series, meaning colours such as deep reds and browns never appear anywhere on the show.
7. Johnson wasn’t always a fan of Crockett’s style, thought his clothes looked like “pyjamas”
Crockett’s pastel outfits are nothing short of iconic – but it took a while for Johnson to see their appeal. Johnson had envisaged Crockett as a sort of “cowboy,” dressed in lots of denim, V-neck sweaters and cowboy boots. He was uneasy and uncertain about Mann’s vision for him as a sort of “beach bum” dressed in baby pinks and blues.
Johnson eventually relented – and thank goodness he did. As Graham Norton asserted on his talk show in 2007, Crockett’s style “invented the 80s.” Johnson agreed, but admitted that he wasn’t convinced when he first saw his costumes and even thought they looked like “pyjamas.”
6. The show’s pilot features Gianni Versace’s mansionCredit: chensiyuan via Wikipedia Commons
You might not have spared a second thought for the run-down apartment building in the show’s pilot episode. This dilapidated building, however, went on to become high fashion designer Gianni Versace’s Miami mansion. Don Johnson went on to be a frequent visitor to the Versace mansion as he became firm friends with the celebrated designer.
However, tragedy struck a few years after Versace moved into the lavish Miami Beach pad. On July 15 1997, Versace was shot and killed on the steps outside of the mansion on his way back from a walk along Ocean Drive. Interestingly, Greg Kral, a real-life Miami police officer who sometimes appeared as an extra on Miami Vice, went on to investigate the murder.
5. Although Crockett served in Vietnam, Johnson was turned away by the Marine Corps because of his drugs history
Crockett famously served two tours in Vietnam. However, although Johnson was of age in the 70s, he was not drafted and sent out to ‘Nam. Although Johnson tried to volunteer and was more than willing to serve, the Marine Corps turned him away, because Johnson had been convicted of possessing illegal substances in the past.
In the show, Crockett is first posted to Vietnam at the age of 20 and later witnesses the fall of Saigon during his second tour in 1975. As a result of his service, Crockett is predisposed to sympathise with fellow Vietnam veterans and always approaches their cases with dignity and respect.
4. Producers wanted to shoot the series in LA
Back in the 1980s, it was pretty unusual for a TV show to actually be shot on location. Initially, the plan was for Miami Vice to be shot in Los Angeles, which producers intended to pass off as downtown Miami. This is actually what the producers of CSI: Miami did when production began on that series two decades later.
However, NBC supported the Miami Vice team in their move to shoot the show on location in Miami itself. They ended up doing all of the filming for the show in Florida – something that was pretty unprecedented at the time. Even interior scenes were shot in Florida, at Greenwich Studios in North Miami. Post-production was the only part of the process that took place in LA.
3. Production was halted in 1983 because of the Miami riots
Some aspects of Miami Vice reflected real-life issues – as they did in season three, when the show referred to the ongoing conflict in Nicaragua. On one occasion, real-life events impacted the show so much that production had to be halted. In the show’s early days, shooting had to stop when the Miami riots of 1983 kicked off.
Johnson recalled the incident with Rolling Stone in 2014: “We were shooting the pilot in a house down in Liberty City/Overtown. And the Miami riots broke out. We had to shut down production because they were afraid for our lives,” he recalled. The 1983 riots resulted in over $100 million in property damages and 18 deaths.
2. Thomas’ EGOT necklace had a special meaning
Leading man Philip Michael Thomas is rarely seen without his gold EGOT necklace on Miami Vice. Back in a 1985 People profile, Thomas explained that EGOT stood for “energy, growth, opportunity, and talent.” However, the acronym had a double meaning, also standing for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony – the most coveted awards in show business.
In an interview with Thrillist in 2019 Thomas confirmed that he was the first person to coin the phrase EGOT. Unfortunately, Thomas was never even nominated for any of these awards – although he was nominated for a Golden Globe. To this day, only 15 people have got an ‘EGOT,’ including Andrew Lloyd Webber and Audrey Hepburn.
1. The series was originally going to be a movie called Gold Coast
Screenwriter Anthony Yerkovich came up with the idea for Miami Vice while working on the famous cop show Hill Street Blues. Yerkovich initially envisaged Miami Vice as a movie – and its working title was Gold Coast. Speaking in a 1985 interview with Time magazine, Yerkovich stated that he originally envisioned Miami Vice as “a modern-day American Casablanca.”
Michael Mann took over Yerkovich’s idea and transformed it into something pretty different, reshaping it into a TV series and renaming it Miami Vice. Yerkovich went on to receive credit for his support and creative work on the 2006 Miami Vice movie.