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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Vice (along with Hill Street Blues and Cagney and
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.
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
Michael Mann, Anthony Yerkovich, Mel Swope
HISTORY 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
Jeremy G. "Miami Vice: The Legacy of Film Noir." Journal of Popular
Film and Television. (Washington, D.C.), Fall, 1985.
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),
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.
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.
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.
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.