How Miami Vice launched the ’80s on TV, then died with its decade

From The A.V. Club:

Conceptually, a decade isn’t always a 10-year period that begins and ends with a year ending in “1” or “0.” It can instead be a period framed by watershed events. Some say “The ’60s” began when JFK was assassinated and ended with The Rolling Stones’ disastrous Altamont concert, and “The ’70s” began when Nixon was re-elected and ended when the Iran hostages were released. By that logic, maybe the ’80s became “The ’80s” when Crockett and Tubbs rolled through a dark Miami night with streetlights reflecting off their hood and hubcaps, while Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” simmered on the soundtrack.

There are multiple legends about how Miami Vice came to be. The most famous is that NBC head Brandon Tartikoff scrawled “MTV Cops” on a napkin, then went looking for someone in the NBC stable to develop the idea, eventually settling on Hill Street Blues writer-producer Anthony Yerkovich. But Yerkovich has always claimed that even before Tartikoff approached him, he was already drafting the idea for what would become Miami Vice, inspired by news stories he’d been reading about the booming drug trade on Florida’s Gold Coast. (In fact, Gold Coast was the show’s original title.) And nearly everyone who wrote about Miami Vice in the ’80s pegged the show’s real creative force as executive producer Michael Mann, who’d been a staff writer on Starsky And Hutch with Yerkovich, and had been called away from a budding career as a feature-film director to help bring some of his neo-noir style to this bold new NBC experiment.

Mann actually never directed a single episode of Miami Vice, and is only credited as a writer on one script. The two-hour pilot that established the show’s style and tone was scripted by Yerkovich and directed by Thomas Carter, the former White Shadow actor who helmed the snazzy pilot for St. Elsewhere two years earlier. But Mann helped give Miami Vice its defining pastel look by decreeing “no earth tones” to the set and costume designers, and Mann was chiefly responsible for guiding the show from its seventh episode (by that point, Yerkovich was gone) to the end of its second season (after which Mann was more focused on his own new show, Crime Story). Mann certainly deserves a lot of credit for Miami Vice becoming a sensation.

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