Five Facts You Likely Never Knew About ‘Miami Vice’
One of the most popular shows ever made took a unique journey to the screen — and had a huge effect on the '80s (and beyond)
No show better encapsulates the 1980s than “Miami Vice,” a series about two cops caught up in the drug war and the heat of Miami.
From the wall-to-wall music hits playing over action scenes to the flashy and bright clothes, “Miami Vice” ended up being as much an influence on the ‘80s as the decade was on the show.
From the darker storylines to the expensive soundtracks used to convey character development and emotion, the influence of “Vice” can still be felt in television dramas and action movies today.
Starring Don Johnson (as Detective Sonny Crockett, pictured above left) and Philip Michael Thomas (as Ricardo Tubbs, pictured above right), “Vice” ran for five seasons and 111 episodes from 1984 to 1990.
Few shows make the mark “Miami Vice” did; and though it was a product of its time, the series is still incredibly popular today.
A summer blockbuster reboot was made in 2006 (written and directed by original executive producer and showrunner Michael Mann) and “Vice” still airs on television today.
Despite its massive popularity and constant rotation since closing out a decade in style, there are still plenty of fans who don’t know much about how “Miami Vice” came to be.
Here are five facts you likely didn’t know about the show.
1.) The studio didn’t want Don Johnson. Johnson became one of the biggest stars in the world thanks to “Miami Vice.” After his contract expired following the second season, the network negotiated to keep him by offering to pay him a then record-breaking salary for each episode (the numbers vary on what exactly he was paid, but it’s a safe guess he was well-taken care of).
However, Johnson wasn’t the first choice for Sonny Crockett. He wasn’t even the second choice.
Jeff Bridges (“The Big Lebowski”) and Nick Nolte (“48 Hrs.”) were both offered the lead role, but both turned it down to focus on their skyrocketing film careers.
Gary Cole, who would play a smuggler in a season two episode, also auditioned for the role of Crockett.
The network was very concerned about Johnson: He was thought to have bad mojo when it came to pilots (first episodes of shows used as pitches to see if the program can be picked up for more installments).
“I had made five pilots for Brandon Tartikoff [president of NBC at that time] back then, and none of them were picked up,” Johnson told Rolling Stone about the original hesitance to cast him.
Johnson’s final roadblock was an actor named Larry Wilcox, who helped lead the popular “CHiPs” from 1977 to 1983.
Surprisingly, Johnson’s final roadblock was an actor named Larry Wilcox, who helped lead the popular “CHiPs” television show from 1977 to 1983.
Wilcox later recounted on his official website his experience of auditioning for and nearly getting the role of Crockett. He was first asked to create an audition tape by executive producer Michael Mann.
“When Universal saw my screen test they went crazy, saying I was one of the finest and most intense actors they had ever seen in a screen test and told my agent, David Shapira, that I should have been a screen star with that intensity. I wallowed in the ego of those statements and of course … agreed,” remembered Wilcox.
Wilcox was so close to getting the role that the studio was having him read with other actors to help round out the cast. He was also performing stunts and training for the role. However, Wilcox heard that series creator Anthony Yerkovich did not want him for the role — and he may have been just stringing the actor along to help find other cast members.
“On the day before Christmas, after helping them (Universal and Michael Mann) to find an actor, taking hits to my face in fight scenes, and all of the other such tests … I was informed that it was all bulls*** and they were not going to use me and in fact were going to use Don Johnson,” recalled Wilcox.
He added, “It was a cold blow and a manipulative blow the day before Christmas, and I was upset and dejected. I wondered about all the compliments and all the hoopla and the lies or truth of it all.”
Wilcox said he still wasn’t sure who was behind the final decision, but he holds no grudges. Like many fans of the series, he loved Johnson’s take on Crockett. “In retrospect, I think they made the right choice!”
2.) The show helped make Miami the city it is today. “Miami Vice” changed the face of the the city in which it was based. Aside from boosting tourism heavily, “Vice” literally repainted the town.
Executive producer Michael Mann loved the mix of bright pastel colors that became the signature of the show’s fashion and style. However, many historic buildings in the backgrounds of shots were old, rundown and made up of plain beige colors.
The producers of the show ended up working with the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) to help redesign and beautify buildings that had been ignored for years.
“‘Miami Vice’ helped politically, economically and artistically,” MDPL co-founder Michael Kinerk told The Miami Herald. “I have absolutely no doubt. It certainly put the Art Deco district on the world map.”
“Miami Vice helped politically, economically and artistically.”
The effort was later dubbed the “Vice Effect” by local papers. Mann would also go on to sponsor the Art Deco Weekend, an annual event that continues to this day.
3.) The Crockett stubble made an incredible impact. “Miami Vice” was behind many fashion trends in the ’80s, especially with men. One of the more interesting ones was the “Crockett stubble.” Johnson made the decision early on that his character wouldn’t shave as often as others. Instead of a clean face, he’d always have a stubble — something that hadn’t really been seen in a lead actor before.
How did Johnson get the desired effect on his beard? “I shave with a sideburn trimmer,” he told People about the famous stubble. Men everywhere wanted the same look — and products flooded the market, such as the Miami Device, a beard trimmer meant to deliver the Johnson look. Fearing a lawsuit, the company changed the name of the product, but it didn’t matter much. It was discontinued soon after.
Johnson revealed to Rolling Stone the stubble was all part of a look he was bringing to the character to give him a sense of realism.
“It was the ’80s, man,” he said. “It was all about what it looked like. I took what was handed to me and I turned it into my style. The rolled-up sleeves were a function of the fact that I had to have a jacket to cover the gun and the holster. I just stripped everything down to the bare minimum. I didn’t wear socks because it was too hot to wear damn socks. And the stubble was born out of the character, because it was intimated that he had been up partying with drug dealers for two or three days at a time. That was sort of an unspoken thing, which is why he was always unshaven and looked like he slept in his clothes.”
4.) Ray-Ban Wayfarers were saved by “Miami Vice.” After nearly going out of business, Tom Cruise donning a pair of Wayfarers in 1983’s “Risky Business” gave the brand the jolt it needed to stay alive. The film reportedly helped sell over 360,000 pairs of the sunglasses in 1983 alone.
“Miami Vice” blew that record out of the water. After being shown in the series — mostly on Johnson — over 1.5 million pairs were sold by 1986. Most of the credit is given to the series.
5.) There originally wasn’t going to be a show. Creator Anthony Yerkovich had initially conceived of “Miami Vice” as a movie to be called “Gold Coast.”
The writer had spent time in the city with undercover narcotics cops and he wanted his film to be a “modern-day American ‘Casablanca,’” according to a 1985 interview he did with Time.
It was after a meeting with NBC’s president that the phrase “MTV Cops” was written on a napkin, according to legend —and two ideas became one. Thus, “Miami Vice” was born.
For more, check out this video of Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas accepting a People’s Choice Award for “Miami Vice” in 1986:
This article previously appeared on LifeZette and has been updated.