Monday, January 11, 2016

A look back at 'Miami Vice' and its impact on South Florida


Photograph by Donna Natale Planas, Miami Herald.
via Flashback Miami. 
Click image to enlarge.

"On Miami Vice, cop show meets music video meets car commercial. The camera has switchblade jitters, the music is hot and hard, the art cool as mercury—murder made aesthetic." —New York Magazine, Feb 25, 1985.

“Miami Vice changed not only the way people looked at television, but also the way they looked at Miami and Miami looked at itself." Stephen Sanders, author of "Miami Vice"

"It was a compressed reality, too -- from Arquitectonica's Pink House in Miami Shores, to the steel and glass towers of Brickell, to a post-modernist dreamhouse on Indian Creek island, to SoBe. (Which in '84 was merely South Beach -- where folks feared to tread. Nightclubs? Restaurants? You're dreamin', pal.) The car-chase in-an-instant was an hour-commute in real life. Mann took the one-tenth kernel of Art Deco/post-modernist truth, and edited it to make it seem the whole burgh looked this way. Eventually, more of it did." Steve Sonsky, Miami Herald, May 21, 1989.


Miami Vice lasted just five seasons on TV, but its impact on television and the city that hosted it is indisputable.

A few months after the first shows aired, city leaders were breathing a sigh of relief. "TV's 'Miami Vice' not as bad for city's image as expected" read a 1985 newspaper headline.

But by 1987, the Herald's Carl Hiaasen was writing, "Judging by the ratings, I might be one of the few persons in the country to loyally watch all 24 episodes this season. However, as was true last year, I admit to taping some of these shows and relying desperately on the fast-forward button to view them."

Hiaasen relieved his boredom by keeping a tally of each show's body count.

In a 1989 Miami Herald article, TV critic Steve Sonsky summed up Vice's first and second seasons: "In that first year, Vice was struggling in the ratings....The show ended that first season ranked 47th but during summer reruns, it moved into the top 10 -- and stayed there through season two, which began with another media blitz: the covers of People, Us, TV Guide, Rolling Stone again, even Time."

But season four's ratings were dismal. "Down to number 44 among network shows," Sonsky wrote.

In 1987, Johnson had decided he'd had enough of Miami, telling USA Today that despite all the good Miami Vice had done for the city's image, "We've been maligned and abused in the press and misused by politicians and other special interest groups."
Johnson's sharpest criticism was directed at The Miami Herald. He said the newspaper's handling of the Gary Hart sex scandal was one of the reasons he chose to sell his 1.84-acre property on Star Island, which he bought for $800,000 and recently sold for $1.39 million."I decided right then that I didn't want to live in a town where there was a newspaper that irresponsible . . . . I just found its tactics to be too tabloid-esque," Johnson said.

In a 1989 obit for the show, the AP's Jerry Buck wrote that despite a splashy debut,  "the glitz soon wore off. After the first year, the stories became mere excuses for Crockett and Tubbs to tool around in nighttime Miami as the lights bounced off their Ferrari or as backdrops for the fashion show. [...] In the final season, at the insistence of NBC, the scripts were improved, but the ratings continued to slip."


Miami Herald, Sept. 28, 2014: How ‘Miami Vice’ changed TV

by Howard Cohen

A much-repeated story pegged the origin of the show on two words — “MTV cops” — jotted onto a napkin by then-NBC president Brandon Tartikoff.

Untrue, said Anthony Yerkovich, the show’s creator. “That’s utter horse----, an apocryphal bit of revisionist self-promotion.”

Reality was much more intriguing, he said in an interview this month. The vision of a sexy, edgy, full-throttle Miami started with a 1982 article he read in the Wall Street Journal that contained an astounding bit of information: A full 20 percent of all unreported income in the United States came from Miami-Dade County.

Yerkovich, who wrote the pilot episode, a two-hour NBC movie that aired 12 days before the series started on Sept.28, said he thought “that must be a misprint.”

He did the math. “That means one-half of 1percent of the nation’s population is responsible for 20 percent of the under-the-table money. That is fascinating. Statistically, that’s a 40-to-1 disparity. Any area that generates 40 times more unreported cash than the rest of the country is worth writing about.”

Federal forfeiture laws allowing the government to confiscate property used in crimes offered him the opening he needed to write about a pair of cops with access to Ferraris, cigarette boats, Versace suits, Hugo Boss shoes and Rolex watches. “And whatever other toys they needed to pass as high- level players in Miami criminal circles,” he said.

The final factor? MTV. “I wanted to take the story I was visualizing and set it to music.”


New York Times, July 9, 1984: TV series to be broadcast in stereo

by Stephen Farber

LOS ANGELES - One of the technical breakthroughs planned for television as it moves toward the 21st century is the regular broadcasting of TV programs in stereo sound. And one of the first dramatic shows to move into this area is ''Miami Vice,'' a new police melodrama being produced by Universal Television for airing on NBC on Friday evenings beginning this fall.

Both the two-hour pilot and the first 12 episodes are being filmed in four- track stereo, in an experiment that is expected to point the way forward for future television shows. Yet the producers of this series find that they may have been a bit premature in embracing this technical revolution before it has actually arrived.

Within the next year or two, new technology is expected to be available that will facilitate this development: Television sets will have built-in stereo speakers. For the moment, however, TV shows filmed in stereo must depend on FM radio stations to cooperate and simulcast the programs in stereo sound. And this has proved to be a somewhat more knotty problem than the makers of ''Miami Vice'' anticipated.

Michael Levine, NBC program executive in charge of the show, remarked: ''Except for filmed concerts, stereo simulcasting is not that appealing to radio stations. We're trying to tell them that 'Miami Vice' has a lot of contemporary music. But Friday night is a hot listening night, and they're reluctant to turn over an hour to us. It will really depend on the individual market. We are trying to make it happen, but it requires a tremendous amount of coordination.''
After spending three years as writer and producer of ''Hill Street Blues,'' [co-executive producer, Anthony] Yerkovich had hoped to concentrate on feature films when he left that series. But he was attracted to ''Miami Vice'' by the opportunity to do a gritty, off-beat police show. He was interested in exploring the contemporary criminal underworld of south Florida - the same milieu dramatized in the recent remake of ''Scarface.'' ''I read a statistic that said one-third of the illegal revenues in the United States came out of south Florida,'' he said. ''I wanted to explore the changes in a city that used to be a middle-class vacation land. Today Miami is like an American Casablanca, and it's never really been seen on television.''


Miami Herald, Sept. 16, 1984: Tonight, America tunes in to Miami

by Steve Sonsky,
Miami Herald Television writer

Tonight, on Miami Vice:

You will see some of the most graceful, most cinematically slick scenes ever done for television. Watch for the sequence near the end, when the heroes of the show, undercover cops Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, pull up in their black Ferrari to a luminescent phone booth that glows in the dark of night, and the skyline is a hazy beacon, and the silvery dust flies, and the car shines, and a neon sign casts a red and blue haze. It's as pretty as a painting.

On the other hand, tonight you will also see 10 people blown away in simulated violence that, though toned down by NBC censors, still paints as bloody a mood as any show on the tube; it's there in the name of "realism" for a series that purports to illustrate what the seedy world of the vice beat is really like.

Says Michael Mann, executive producer of Miami Vice: "How graphic we get is a function of whether it has dramatic integrity. Our yardstick is, 'Is it real?' "

You will also be party tonight to a show that is a pioneer in its use of sight and sound. It utilizes, at no small expense to NBC for the rights, actual hit songs by the original artists (Cyndi Lauper, the Rolling Stones, Phil Collins), and it incorporates them into dreamy, sometimes near-surrealistic scenes. In most cases, the long, dialogue-free, music-video- style visuals weave seamlessly into the fabric of the plot. (NBC originally planned to simulcast the show on FM radio, but that fell through.)

On the other hand, at some time tonight, you may feel yourself the unlucky, bored party to a show that perhaps tries to be too innovative, whose MTV-ish interludes in some cases hinder the flow of a sophisticated plot line.

Also tonight, the cities of Miami and Miami Beach are made to seem a multicultural metropolis of pastel colors, aquatic beauty and vibrant nightlife; they have never looked better.

And again, on the other hand, there are scenes that imply that our town is an armed camp; bars on the windows of suburban homes are one touch, another is an absurdly overstated scene that shows everyone in a courtroom, from the judge to the bailiff, packing a rod for protection.

And then there is dialogue like this between two female vice cops, returning from the ladies room in a hip restaurant frequented by the drug kingpins they're pursuing. First lady cop: "It was a regular Hoover convention in there. Six legs to a stall." Second woman: "I guess that's why they call it the powder room."

Somewhere in Kansas, someone will cancel a vacation thinking that's what all of Miami is like.


Click image to enlarge.

Rolling Stone, March 28, 1985: Inside 'Miami Vice'

by Emily Benedek

I got stopped for speeding on Collins Avenue. The cop says, 'Where are you going?' I say, 'The production office of Miami Vice.' He says, 'Oh, you work on Miami Vice?' I say, 'Yeah, I'm the executive producer.' He says, 'Oh, I got a great story for you.' He forgets all about writing me a ticket, he gives me a great story and I use it." Michael Mann laughs. He goes on: "This show is a ball. It's absolutely a blast. I mean, how else do you get to tell twenty-two stories a year? Or hear a song like 'Smuggler's Blues' on the radio and say, 'Wow, those lyrics are fantastic. Let's do an episode on it.' Think, Who knows this shit better than anybody? Mikey -- you know, Miguel Piñero [the ex-convict who wrote Short Eyes]. Get him to write a script, have lunch with Glenn Frey two days later and ask him if he wants to play Jimmy, the pilot. Bang, it's on the air in four weeks."

Miami Vice is the NBC series that is blowing standard television out of the water. It's the show that keeps people who usually don't watch TV at home with their phones off the hook on Friday nights. Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas play two sexy, funky detectives, Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, who ride around in a black Ferrari Daytona, picking off the master drug and flesh peddlers of southern Florida. Since they're undercover in such a slick crowd, they can't afford to be slouches in the clothes department Tubbs wears $800 Verri Uomo double-breasted suits and dark silk shirts with narrow Italian ties. Sonny has a gold Rolex and carries a Bren 10-mm semiautomatic pistol, a gun so new it is considered experimental by most special-weapons teams. The show's story line is not that unusual; it's standard shoot-'em-up cop fare. But there are differences that are immediately apparent.

Johnson and Thomas have a quirky individualism more often seen in movie stars than in television actors, and their show looks more like a motion picture than TV. The design scheme is a juxtaposition of flashy high tech (cars, guns, chrome interiors) with the pastel colors and art deco lines of the restored South Beach area of Miami. In one scene from the pilot episode, following a long shot of Crockett and Tubbs in the Ferrari, the car rolls to a stop under an arching pink and blue neon sign that reads Bernay's Cafe. Beneath the sign is alone, lit telephone booth. Everything else is blacked out. Sonny gets out of the car and steps to the phone. Edward Hopper in Miami.

As expensive as the show is to produce (it is one of TV's priciest, at a more than $1 million per episode), Miami Vice is reaping commercial rewards as well as critical acclaim. Syndication rights have been sold to Canada, Australia and the BBC. The two-hour pilot will be released as a feature film in Europe. And the ratings, only modest at first -- as were those of NBC's two other hits, Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere -- would take off if the show found a better time slot. But even airing on Friday night, when most of its potential audience is out of the house, Miami Vice has consistently between Matt Houston in local ratings and on several occasions topped the reigning Falcon Crest. The fact that Miami Vice can do that, despite the weekend activities of its young urban audience, is testament to its potential for success. Mike Levine, NBC's director of current drama programs, says that the network is overjoyed with the show's performance. In a highly unusual move, NBC announced the series' renewal on the air after the February 8th episode.


Miami Herald, Feb. 19, 1986: Star Island catches a star, Don Johnson's moving in

by Fabiola Santiago

A star is moving to Star Island.

Don Johnson, the Miami Vice detective who made the 5 o'clock shadow stylish, has bought two lots on the Miami Beach island known for luring such eccentrics as the pot-smoking Coptics and an Arab sheik who skipped town, leaving his island palace unfinished.

The Johnson estate, to be designed by the also trend- setting Miami firm Arquitectonica, is across the street from sheik Mohammed al-Fassi's old place.

Some of Johnson's neighbors-to-be weren't surprised. They've known the star was shopping around.

One of them has never seen the TV show. He doesn't even own a TV.

"I don't know anything about him, except that he needs a shave," said attorney Dan Paul, who lives five houses away. "I think he'll make a good neighbor."

Johnson's waterfront land is part of the 200,000-square- foot estate of the late laboratory owner and civic activist Willard Ware and his wife, Rhoda. The real estate agent who listed the property, Gerard Llorens, said Johnson paid close to a million for the land.

"It's his home," Llorens said. "It's going to be quite a place."

On one side, Johnson's neighbor will be Florence Hecht, owner of Flagler Dog Track; on the other, Rosalie Sholtz, the sister of former Florida governor David Sholtz. Other island notables include former Miami Dolphin Bob Kuechenberg and powerful lobbyist Steve Ross.

"He has filmed in my house and the one next door," said another neighbor, Gustavo Sanchez. "He's a good actor. He looks good."

Paul said the Johnson property now includes the Wares' greenhouse and garden service building. Mrs. Ware said she did not want to talk about the sale.

"I respect his privacy," she said.


Miami Herald, March 9, 1986: Ride in I-95's fast lane gets 'Vice' star ticketed

by Edna Buchanan

Miami Vice star Don Johnson, a.k.a. Sonny Crockett, got a speeding ticket for driving his silver Mercedes 82 miles an hour on Interstate 95 at 1:15 a.m.

Sympathetic police officials "canceled" the citation. Then, after somebody posted a copy of the ticket on a bulletin board at the police station and somebody else tipped off the press, officials said it was all a mistake -- the ticket had not been canceled after all.

It all began early Tuesday. A four-door, hard-top Mercedes flashed past officer Randall Kugler, 23, at the Key Biscayne ramp to northbound I-95.

"He was going very fast, very, very fast," said Kugler. "It took me from Key Biscayne to State Road 112 to catch him."

The alleged traffic violator had a familiar face.

"Hi, I'm Don Johnson," the driver announced. He was wearing a stylish tweed jacket.

"Could I see your driver's license and registration, please?" Kugler said.

"I'm with Miami Vice," Johnson said and showed him his California driver's license.

Kugler wrote the ticket.
Later, on the set, Johnson, 36, told Metro-Dade Cmdr. Nelson Oramos about the citation.

Oramos, technical adviser for the top-rated cop show, arranged to have the ticket "reviewed."

Cmdr. William Johnson said Friday, "We canceled it for him. We asked the officer to reconsider and the ticket was canceled."

The commander said the actor "has done a tremendous amount of community service. He's been with us through two Pig Bowls and a number of other charities, including Big Brothers and Big Sisters. It wasn't a situation where anyone's life was endangered. The guy's done everything a human being can do. Why is this such a big deal?"

Cmdr. Johnson denied the ticket had been fixed.

"I don't know what you mean by fixed," he said. "The ticket was canceled. We cancel tickets. We have a cancellation form. Fixing tickets is a whole different thing."


Miami Herald, Oct. 16, 1987: Dear Sonny: Pleeease don't leave Miami

by Carl Hiaasen

Say it's not so. First it rains on the pope, then the Dolphins go on strike, and now this.

Don Johnson is so ticked off at Miami that he's decided not to live here anymore!

That's the heartbreaking news from a front-page interview in USA Today, wherein "the Miami charm machine" trashes the city fathers for their lack of gratitude toward the TV show.

"Since we came here, tourism has risen 12 to 15 percent," Johnson declared. "I think we are greatly responsible for giving a city that was in a great deal of trouble an identity and an image that it didn't have before. For that we've been maligned and abused in the press and misused by politicians and other special interest groups."

On the same note, a "disenchanted" Johnson disclosed that he sold his real estate on Star Island not because he stood to clear $590,000 on the deal. Rather, the real reason he sold the lot was because of the way the Miami Herald covered the Gary Hart story.

Miami Herald, May 3, 1987.

"I decided right then and there," Johnson said, "that I didn't want to live in a town where there was a newspaper that was that irresponsible. . . . I just found its tactics to be tabloid-esque."

Donna Rice
You can well imagine the thunderous effect of these remarks. All week long a funereal pall has hung over this newsroom, while high-level editors huddle morosely to figure out what to do.

Many of us were called in and brutally interrogated to find out if we were the ones who maligned and/or abused Don Johnson. We denied it vigorously, of course, since our necks were on the line.

Internally, the whole Gary Hart saga was reviewed, and the consensus emerged that we erred grievously by not checking first with Don Johnson before publishing such a big story. (The editor who committed this oversight was immediately garroted, and his parking privileges revoked.)

Later, some civic bigshots paid a somber visit to the newspaper and claimed it was all our fault that Johnson was moving back to Los Angeles. "Do something!" they cried. "Before tourism drops 12 to 15 percent!"

Some people whimpered that it might be too late. If we didn't shape up fast, they said, all the big celebrities in town might start selling their houses and moving out.

"We lose the Bee Gees, and your butt's in a sling," the bigshots warned.

Some of us were under the impression that Johnson was getting treated pretty well down here, but apparently more could be done to make him comfy -- say, closing the MacArthur Causeway at dusk, so the traffic won't keep him awake.

Others argued for something simple yet dramatic, like groveling at his feet.

Somebody offered to take out a full-page advertisement in Variety, apologizing to Johnson for whatever it was that we supposedly did, and begging him to stay.

I offered to sweeten the deal by promising to write nothing but wonderful things about his TV show -- particularly how brilliant and realistic the plots are. I also drafted a flattering review that began: "Move over, Olivier, here comes Donnie!"

Skeptics doubted if even this would be enough to keep him.

As an emergency measure, some top-level editors proposed a "Don Johnson Crisis Hot-Line" that would run straight from our newsroom to his trailer on the set of Miami Vice.

This way, all major news stories could be reviewed, edited and approved by Don himself before publication. If he were in the midst of shooting a scene, or flossing his teeth, we'd gladly hold the presses until he was done.

I don't know if Johnson will like this plan, but we tabloid-esque types would do anything to make him stay.

After all, before Don came to town, the rest of America unfairly saw Miami as a violent, drug-riddled snake pit. Now, thanks to the TV show, it's seen as a violent, drug-riddled snake pit where everyone dresses snazzy.

How do you put a price on that?


Los Angeles Times, Sept. 21, 1988: TV's Favorite Miami Cop Picks a Sensitive Movie Role

by Nina J. Easton

"Miami Vice" star Don Johnson has kept the photographer waiting long enough. He finally descends from the top floor of his Beverly Hills Hotel bungalow and slips into a brocaded armchair, his shirt open to the waist.

He has a few ideas of his own about how this photo session should proceed. "What lens are you using?" he demands. Then, a bit later, refusing a pose: "This is not a flattering angle. I've been in this business a long time, and I can usually tell what looks good."

Minutes into the session, Johnson declares that he's had enough and walks out. Just like that, the session is over. "These pictures always look lousy in the newspaper anyways," he calls over his shoulder as he moves back up the steps.

Welcome to the tempestuous world of Don Johnson, where cool telegenic charm can disappear into a black hole of celebrity hauteur faster than a speedboat in the Miami night. Johnson's temper is already legendary in the Florida city that loaned its name to his stylish cop series. He stormed out of Miami last year after publicly blasting its press and city leaders. Both, he told USA Today last year, were guilty of "maligning" and "misusing" "Miami Vice" and its stars--even though, he added, the show had boosted tourism to Miami by "12 to 15%."

Johnson said in the same interview that he decided to sell his $1.4-million Star Island estate and move back to Los Angeles after learning about the Miami Herald's "tabloid-esque" tactics in uncovering Gary Hart's entanglement with model Donna Rice. (That comment prompted the Herald to print a tongue-in-cheek response, acknowledging that the paper's editors had erred grievously by not checking with Johnson first before running such an important story.)

Johnson's furor with Miami--and its local press--had been mounting for some time. Not content to stop at dutifully reprinting Johnson's favorite dessert recipe (pistachio souffle) or his taste in women (he prefers a sense of humor), the Herald provided extensive coverage of his life in Miami.

There was the time, for example, that police officials canceled an 82 m.p.h. speeding ticket--until the paper got wind of the story. And another time when the paper printed the whereabouts of Johnson's estate, prompting the actor to file a $2-million invasion-of-privacy suit against the broker who had leaked the news. The suit was later settled out of court.

There's not a lot of love lost between Miami and Don Johnson, but then maybe it doesn't matter much anymore. Johnson has confided to associates that he would not be heartbroken if this was the last season for "Miami Vice"--which has dropped from the ninth most popular show during its second season to No. 45 last season. As the series begins its fifth season, which debuts Nov. 4, Miami may not have Don Johnson to kick around any more.



Aug. 2, 2012: How Miami Vice launched the ’80s on TV, then died with its decade 

But Yerkovich was onto something when he suggested the Miami drug trade as a subject for a TV drama. In a 1984 interview with The New York Times, Yerkovich said he was drawn to this city that “used to be a middle-class vacation land,” and intended to explore what it had become instead: a criminal kingdom. In Billy Corben’s 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys, Miami Herald crime reporter Edna Buchanan claimed that at one point in the ’80s, an entire Miami police academy graduating class ended up dead or in jail. And a local police scientist in Cocaine Cowboys estimated that any random $20 bill plucked from a Miami wallet in 1981 would’ve revealed traces of cocaine. Clearly, Yerkovich had found the perfect setting for an ’80s cop show.


Rolling Stone, Oct. 9, 2014: Don Johnson on 30 Years of 'Miami Vice'

What was your first impression of Miami? Had you spent much time there?

I'd been there a few times with the Allman Brothers Band, recording at Criteria Studio. I'd passed through. It started to change dramatically in the early Eighties. The drug flow was just insane — thus the creation of the show. When I got off the plane to do the pilot, you could feel the pressure cooker of violence in the air. We were shooting the pilot in a house down in Liberty City/Overtown. And the [1983] Miami riots broke out. We had to shut down production because they were afraid for our lives. It was one of those cases where, "Well, we ain't in Kansas no more." But it was rich and raw. The whole city was just dilapidated, and it was during that time where there was a huge transition from the old white establishment to the influx of Cubans and Hispanics. That was a gigantic factor that contributed to the riots and unrest.

Had you seen Scarface? Did that prepare you for the role?

I had. Scarface in a lot of ways was larger than life and cartoonish. That's not to say that it wasn't like that, because it was like that. The guys running the drugs were coming from war-torn countries, and getting shot at was no big deal for them. Getting shot at, and having due process and actual laws that actually worked in their favor in some ways — you know, "You can't pin it on me if I'm not there with the stuff," blah blah blah — this was like a holiday.

I remember being out at this nightclub in Coconut Grove, called Cats. I got a couple of nice looking ladies with me, and in the next booth over was a guy I got to know pretty well, a big weight mover, and he had eight gorgeous girls sitting with him. At some point, I'm standing at [a] urinal and this guy stands next to me and he says [affects Miami accent] "Hey man, you that actor that plays that guy on TV, you guys are so cool." And he reaches in his pocket and pulled out a baggie that would choke an elephant, full of the best looking blow I've ever seen, and says "I want you to have this, man." Then he yanked it back real quick and said "Whoa, whoa… you're not what you are on TV, ain't ya?" And I said, "No, I'm not a cop but I'm not using, thanks but no thanks." And that was the truth — I was clean and sober the entire time during Miami Vice.
Returning to Miami all these years later, what changes struck you?

When we were there, it was all retirement apartments that were dilapidated and rundown. We painted the facades of virtually every building up and down Collins Avenue and Ocean Avenue to match the color palettes that we had for the show. At the time, there were no cool people down there. When I was on The Carson Show with David Brenner, he joked: "Miami? What are you doing in Miami? I thought that's where old Jewish women went to have Cuban children?" He accurately described it. If you shot a cannon off at South Beach, you would have hit maybe a blue heron and a Marielito.

What would you say is Miami Vice's most lasting impact?

The whole town kind of reinvented itself in the image of a television show. [Plus] you can't turn on TV without seeing some influence from Miami Vice, be it the music, the cinematography, whatever.

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