Miami Vice

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents




Miami Vice earned its nickname of "MTV cops" through its liberal use of popular rock songs and a pulsating, synthesized music track created by Jan Hammer. Segments of it closely resembled music videos--as quickly edited images, without dialogue, were often accompanied by contemporary hits such as Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It?" As with music-oriented films such as Flashdance (1983) and Footloose (1984), Miami Vice was a program that could not have existed before MTV began popularizing the music video in 1981.

Originally aired from 1984 to 1989, Miami Vice incorporated both current music and musicians (e.g., Phil Collins, Ted Nugent, Glenn Frey, Sheena Easton), dressed its undercover police officers in stylish fashions, and imbued every frame with an aura of moral decay. It succeeded in making previous police programs, such as Dragnet, look stodgy and old-fashioned.

In Miami Vice, the city of Miami was virtually a character in its own right. Each week's episode began with a catalogue of Miami iconography: sun-baked beach houses, Cuban-American festivals, women in bikinis, and postmodern, pastel-colored cityscapes. Executive producer Michael Mann insisted that significant portions of the program be shot in Miami, which helped to give Miami Vice its distinctive look. In this tropical environment, two vice detectives combated drug traffickers, broke up prostitution and gambling rings, solved vice-related murders, and cruised the city's underground in expensive automobiles.

Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas played the program's protagonists: James "Sonny" Crockett and Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs, respectively. They were supported by Edward James Olmos as their tough, taciturn lieutenant, and Michael Talbott, John Diehl, Saundra Santiago, and Olivia Brown as their colleagues on the squad. The program's narratives circulated among these characters, but Crockett was at its center and Johnson received the lion's share of the press about Miami Vice.

Miami Vice was less about the solving of mysteries then it was a contemporary morality play. Indeed, Crockett and Tubbs were often inept detectives--mistakenly arresting the wrong person for a crime. Instead of Columbo-like problem-solving, the program stressed the detectives' ethical dilemmas. Each week these temptable men were situated in a world of temptations. They were conversant in the language of the underworld, skilled in its practices, and prepared to use both for their own ends. It wouldn't take much for them to cross the thin line between their actions and those of the drug lords and gangsters. One such ethical dilemma frequently posed on the show was the issue of vigilante justice. Were the detectives pursuing the evil-doers out of commitment to law and order, or to exact personal revenge? Often it was very hard to distinguish the law breakers from the law enforcers. Indeed, one Miami Vice season ended with Crockett actually becoming a bona fide gangster--his ties to law enforcement neatly severed by a case of amnesia.

The Miami Vice world's moral ambiguity linked it to the hard-boiled detective stories of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and characters such as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe; and the film noir genre of the theatrical cinema. Television, with its demand for a repeatable narrative format, could not match the arch fatalism of these antecedents (a protagonist could not die at the end of a episode, as they often do in hard-boiled fiction), but Miami Vice adapted the cynical tone and world-weary attitude of hard-boiled fiction to 1980s television. Moreover, one of the most striking aspects of Miami Vice was its visual style, which borrowed heavily from the film noir.

As Film Comment critic Richard T. Jameson commented, "It's hard to forbear saying, every five minutes or so, 'I can't believe this was shot for television!'" Miami Vice was one of the most visually stylized programs of the 1980s and it drew its stylistic inspiration from the cinema's film noir. It incorporated unconventional camera angles, high contrast lighting, stark black-and-white sets, and striking deep focus to generate unusually dynamic, imbalanced, noir compositions that could have been lifted from Double Indemnity (1944) or Touch of Evil (1958). Miami Vice looked quite unlike anything else on television at the time.

Miami Vice (along with Hill Street Blues and Cagney & Lacey) was one of the ground breaking police programs of the 1980s. Its influence can be tracked in the moral ambiguity of NYPD Blue and the visual experimentation of Homicide. Moreover, its incorporation of music video components has become a standard component of youth-oriented television and cinema.

-Jeremy Butler


Detective James "Sonny" Crockett............. Don Johnson  

Detective Ricardo Tubbs.............. Philip Michael Thomas

Lieutenant Martin Castillo......................... Edward James Olmos

Detective Gina Navarro Calabrese ................Saundra Santiago  

Detective Trudy Joplin................................. Olivia Brown  

Detective Stan Switek............................ Michael Talbott

Detective Larry Zito (1984-1987) .....................John Diehl

Izzy Moreno............................................. Martin Ferrero

Caitlin Davies (1987-1988) ......................Sheena Easton


Michael Mann, Anthony Yerkovich, Mel Swope


108 Episodes

3 2-Hour Episodes


September 1984   Sunday 9:00-11:00

September 1984-May 1986   Friday 10:00-11:00

June 1986-March 1988   Friday 9:00-10:00

April 1988-January 1989   Friday 10:00-11:00

February 1989-May 1989   Friday 9:00-10:00

June 1989-July 1989   Wednesday 10:00-11:00


Butler, Jeremy G. "Miami Vice: The Legacy of Film Noir." Journal of Popular Film and Television. (Washington, D.C.), Fall, 1985.

Grodal, Torben Kragh. "Potency of Melancholia: Miami Vice and the Postmodern Fading of Symbolic Action." The Dolphin: Publications of the English Department, University of Aarhus (Aarhus, Denmark), 1989.

Inciardi, James A., and Juliet L. Dee. "From the Keystone Cops to Miami Vice: Images of Policing in American Popular Culture." Journal of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), Fall 1987.

King, Scott Benjamin. "Sonny's Virtues: The Gender Negotiations of Miami Vice." Screen (Glasgow, Scotland.), Autumn 1990.

Ross, Andrew. "Masculinity and Miami Vice: Selling In." The Oxford Literary Review (Oxford), 1986.

Rutsky, R. L. "Visible Sins, Vicarious Pleasures: Style and Vice in Miami Vice." SubStance: A Review of Theory and Literary Criticism (Santa Barbara, California), 1988.

Schwichtenberg, Cathy. "Sensual Surfaces and Stylistic Excess: The Pleasure and Politics of Miami Vice." Journal of Communication Inquiry (Iowa City, Iowa), Fall 1986.

Seewi, Nurit. Miami Vice: Cashing in on Contemporary Culture?: Towards an Analysis of a U.S. Television Series Broadcast in the Federal Republic of Germany. Heidelberg, Germany: Winter, 1990.

Dick Wolf on how he came to produce Miami Vice
Edward James Olmos on being cast as "Martin Castillo" on Miami Vice
Chuck Lorre on writing a spec script of Miami Vice that was "too funny"
Michael Chiklis on making an appearance on Miami Vice
Edward James Olmos on the legacy of Miami Vice
Thomas Carter on directing the pilot for Miami Vice
Who talked about this show

Thomas Carter

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Thomas Carter on directing the pilot for Miami Vice
Thomas Carter on casting Miami Vice
Thomas Carter on shooting Miami Vice in Miami
Thomas Carter on working with Michael Mann on Miami Vice
Thomas Carter on Jan Hammer's theme song to Miami Vice

Michael Chiklis

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Michael Chiklis on making an appearance on Miami Vice

Paul Michael Glaser

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Paul Michael Glaser on directing Miami Vice and being nominated for an Emmy and DGA award

Chuck Lorre

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Chuck Lorre on writing a spec script of Miami Vice that was "too funny"
Chuck Lorre on writing a spec script of Miami Vice

Edward James Olmos

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Edward James Olmos on being cast as "Martin Castillo" on Miami Vice
Edward James Olmos on the legacy of Miami Vice
Edward James Olmos on being cast as "Martin Castillo" on Miami Vice
Edward James Olmos on filming his first scenes as "Martin Castillo" on Miami Vice
Edward James Olmos on clashing with Don Johnson during the filming of Miami Vice
Edward James Olmos on the backstory of his Miami Vice character "Martin Castillo"
Edward James Olmos on the development of his Miami Vice character "Martin Castillo"
Edward James Olmos on the atmosphere on the set of Miami Vice
Edward James Olmos on winning an Emmy award and his favorite Miami Vice episodes

Dick Wolf

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Dick Wolf on how he came to produce Miami Vice
Dick Wolf on the popularity of Miami Vice starring Don Johnson
Dick Wolf on his duties as executive producer of Miami Vice
Dick Wolf on favorite Miami Vice episodes he worked on, including episodes featuring Julia Roberts and James Brown
Dick Wolf on leaving Miami Vice to work on Gideon Oliver

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