Miami Vice premiered on NBC 25 years ago today, on September 16, 1984. The show that became synonymous with the decade of the 80s both reflected the visual and emotional aesthetic of its times as it simultaneously shaped them.
It was a seemingly superficial concept, encapsulated by Brandon Tartikoff’s two-word vision of “MTV cops.” But the end result was much more than that. While music and stylized cinematography provided high-profile features of the show, its stories helped reshaped what adult TV looked and felt like. Michael Mann, executive producer of the series, chose to set the show in Miami, giving it ample opportunity to showcase women in bikinis, neon lights, and nightclubs. It also provided a dark, gritty, urban backdrop and the specter of drugs.
And Latinos. Latinos (as actors or characters or both) figured prominently in the show from day one. Lead actor Philip Michael Thomas was not Latino, but he played “Ricardo Tubbs,” a former NYC cop who has Latin roots of some kind. In the first four episodes, Lieutenant Lou Rodriguez was played by Gregory Sierra. He was replaced with Edward James Olmos in the role of Lieutenant Martin Castillo. Saundra Santiago played Detective Gina Calabrese; while bit player Martin Ferrero appeared frequently as Izzy Moreno. Taking place in Miami, and frequently revolving around the business of drug smuggling, Latinos appeared in most episodes as shady, dark figures and other kinds of criminal-looking types.
Surprisingly, the show never finished a season higher than the ninth spot in the overall ratings, achieving that feat in its 2nd season. It tapered off big time in the ratings after that, finishing 23rd, 36th, and 53rd in the final three seasons, respectively. But the ratings don’t reflect the show’s impact on the culture. Don Johnson became a household name after 1984. The theme song by Jan Hammer went to number 1 on the charts. The show spawned original hit singles from Glen Frey, and made bigger hits out of songs by Phil Collins and Dire Straits.
And the stories! My favorite episode just might be “Out Where the Buses Don’t Run,” the third episode of the second season. From beginning to end it suggests what made the show great–the style, the music, the actors. And the plot is just about as dark a story as I had ever seen on TV. The complexity it represented stuck with me, but not half as much as the final scene. I can still remember watching it.
If you want to spend the time, the entire 48 minute episode can be viewed below from Hulu.
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