Miami Vice was more than just a popular cop show – it left a lasting impact on pop culture (1980s)

Vintage 80s Miami Vice TV show

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Miami Vice was a television series that aired from 1984 to 1989, spotlighting the exciting and often dangerous world of two Miami undercover detectives, Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs. Set against a backdrop of glamorous nightlife and gritty streets, the show followed their relentless pursuit of criminals involved in drug trafficking and other crimes.

Vintage 80s Miami Vice TV show logo

Years on air: 1984 to 1989
# of seasons: 5
# of episodes: 112


  • Sonny Crockett – Played by Don Johnson: A charismatic undercover detective in Miami’s Metro-Dade Police Department’s Vice unit. Known for his stylish attire and complex personality.
  • Ricardo Tubbs – Played by Philip Michael Thomas: A New York cop who partners with Crockett. He’s intelligent, smooth, and dedicated to bringing down criminals.
  • Gina Calabrese – Played by Saundra Santiago: A detective in the Vice unit. Professional and competent, she often works undercover and has a close relationship with Trudy.
  • Trudy Joplin – Played by Olivia Brown: A spirited and dependable detective in the Vice unit, who often teams up with Gina on undercover missions.
  • Stan Switek – Played by Michael Talbott: A detective known for his humor and technical skills. He specializes in surveillance and electronic equipment.
  • Larry Zito – Played by John Diehl: Switek’s partner and a fellow detective in the Vice unit. Together, they provide comic relief and technical support to the team.
  • Martin Castillo – Played by Edward James Olmos: A stern and enigmatic Lieutenant who leads the Vice unit. Known for his no-nonsense approach and deep dedication to his team.

Miami Vice was a ground-breaking American television show that aired from 1984 to 1989. Its blend of fast cars, flashy fashion, and synthesized music captured the zeitgeist of the 1980s, offering viewers a look at the grit and glamour of Miami’s drug wars.

Florida boat scene with Crockett and Tubbs of Miami Vice

Miami Vice focused on the lives of two undercover detectives, Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, played by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas respectively. They worked to take down criminals in the Miami underworld, often blurring the line between good and bad.

The show was created by Starsky & Hutch veteran Anthony Yerkovich, and produced by Michael Mann (who also served as showrunner).

Promo shot of the retro 80s TV show cast of Miami Vice

That Miami Vice fashion

This Florida-centric television series didn’t just bring crime-fighting to the living room — it also brought 1980s Miami style. Don Johnson’s character, Sonny Crockett, notably sported pastel-colored suits, T-shirts paired with blazers, and loafers without socks.

The style of Miami Vice was as bold and flashy as the city it portrayed, and it left its mark not only on the show but on the wardrobes of fans across the country. It was more than just a cop show…  it was a fashion statement.

Miami Vice-style fashions for men from Sears in 1986
Miami Vice-style fashions for men from Sears in 1986

Miami Vice songs

The music in Miami Vice played a key role in the show’s overall vibe. Featuring a blend of contemporary pop and rock hits, the soundtrack was considered pretty unconventional for its time.

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Under music supervisor Jan Hammer, tracks such as “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins and “You Belong to the City” by Glenn Frey were used — not merely as background noise, but to enhance the emotional resonance of specific scenes. Here’s a look:

YouTube video

This approach to intertwining music with visual aesthetics and thematic elements in Miami Vice can be seen as a departure from standard television practices of the era.

Those old Miami Vice songs offered a different way of using music within a narrative context, a method that has been adopted and adapted by other shows and films in the subsequent years. The series’ musical choices highlighted the complexities of matching sound with storytelling in television.

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About Miami Vice’s cinematography

Not only did the series excel in the drama genre, but it also introduced a new kind of visual storytelling that was both slick and stylish. The cinematography of Miami Vice stood out in the 1980s television landscape. Using bright colors and (then) innovative camera techniques such as handheld shots, the show’s visual style captured Miami’s unique atmosphere.

Miami Vice TV promo - Nov 1984

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Filming on location added authenticity… but also presented challenges and increased costs. Although the distinctive look contributed to the show’s appeal, some critics — as referenced in the 80s newspaper article below — felt that the focus was more on style than substance.

Nevertheless, the flash and flair of that Miami Vice cinematic style did more than just show the adventures of Crockett & Tubbs — it influenced later TV shows and movies, and used techniques that are still talked about today.

Old Miami Vice TV show cast members

Miami Vice themes

As someone who watched the show during its original run might remember, MV was not just about entertainment — it showcased some of the critical issues of the time, such as drug abuse, racial tension, and corruption. Its portrayal of moral ambiguity and the complexity of law enforcement set a standard that many crime dramas followed in the years to come.

Vintage 80s Miami Vice TV Guide ad

Despite ending over three decades ago, the influence of Miami Vice on television and film is still felt today. Scroll on for some critic observations from 1985, as well as photos and stills from the show’s run that we’ve collected!

Miami Vice theme song & opening credits

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Miami Vice hip and hot and almost a hit (1985)

Excerpted from an article by Tom Jicha – The Miami News (Florida) Sept 27, 1985

Something to remember as “Miami Vice” begins its second season tonight: It’s a hip show and a hot show but, relentless hype notwithstanding, it isn’t a hit show — not yet.

The two lead actors from the 80s Miami Vice television series

For the full 1984-85 season, “Miami Vice” averaged a 14.4 rating and a 24 percent share of the audience. The average prime-time network rating last season was 16.2, and the generally accepted share that separates winners from losers is 26.

Crockett and Tubbs on Miami Vice

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Through the first quarter of 1985, the ‘Miami Vice” ratings were on a steady upward curve. Like the weather, “Miami” got even hotter in the summer.

Summer audiences have a tradition of opting for programs they previously passed on for the logical reason that the reruns are original fare to those who were watching something else the first time around. When the regular season begins, those viewers tend to return to old favorites.

Actor Don Johnson as Sonny Crockett on Miami Vice (1980s)

None of America’s previous summertime flings, however, had their stars on the cover of Time, Rolling Stone and GQ. Nor did they inspire a fashion trend. There never was a “Mork and Mindy” look.

Miami Vice on the cover of Time magazine (1985)

“Miami Vice” attracts a quality audience — young, upscale, intelligent viewers, people who don’t watch TV for want of something better to do or the lack of imagination to find it. They’re the people whom advertisers covet the most and reach the least.

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What draws them to essentially another cops-and-robbers show, some of whose scripts have been publicly denigrated by those involved with the series? “Miami Vice,” like many of its fans, aspires to be more than it is. Don Johnson, this year’s hottest cover boy, frequently boasts: “We’re turning out a movie every week.”

Vintage Miami Vice cast photo with Edward James Olmos

But “Miami Vice” is more than high production values, trendy clothes and clever use of music. That’s something the imitators don’t seem to understand.

Those who say “Miami Vice” is strictly a triumph of style over substance ignore one of TV’s credos. If people don’t like the characters, a show is dead meat. Magazines don’t sell stars. Stars sell magazines. That’s why Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas are on so many covers. Slick photography and mood music didn’t win an Emmy for Edward James Olmos.

Miami Vice on the cover of TV Guide (July 1985)
Miami Vice on the cover of TV Guide (July 1985)

Late 80s photo of the stars of the Miami Vice series

Late 80s photo of the stars of Miami Vice TV series

Miami Vice TV show finale movie (1989)

Miami Vice TV show finale movie (1989)

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. Today, when we think of the 80s, the “Miami Vice” aesthetic automatically comes to mind — the clothes, the music, the Miami pastels, even the design of the show’s logo. I remember the show being popular but not that much of a craze… yet today it largely defines how we see that era. If you saw someone today with a Sonny Crockett style t-shirt and blazer, you’d assume they were going to an 80s-themed costume party.

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