The rat-a-tat sound of machine gunfire resolves into a pulsing electronic rock beat. Staccato images flash by. A flock of pink-plumed flamingos. Bikini- clad girls on the beach. Race horses bursting from the starting gate. The ocean speeding by under the bow of a boat. And, of course, the familiar art deco logo, glowing in vibrant turquoise and pink.
If viewers are not sufficiently hopped up by the credit sequence of NBC's Miami Vice, chances are they will be before the hour is over. The plots whiz by with a minimum of exposition, the dialogue is tough and spare, the rock music almost nonstop. Characters may be shot in lyrical long shots or bathed in moody lighting or framed against semiabstract pastel backdrops. The local color of South Florida is augmented by the local colors: flamingo pink, lime green, Caribbean blue. Miami Vice has been filmed under what may be the strangest production edict in TV history: "No earth tones."
A year after its debut on NBC, Miami Vice, TV's hottest and hippest new cop show, is reaching a high sizzle. Scheduled on Friday nights opposite CBS's popular Falcon Crest, the show languished in the bottom half of the Nielsens for its first few months on the air. But viewers gradually began to take notice of its high-gloss visual style and MTV-inspired use of rock music, its gritty South Florida ambience and the cool charisma of Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, who star as Miami Detectives Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs. Since the end of May, the show's reruns have finished in the Nielsen Top Ten for ten of eleven weeks. Following the pattern of another innovative cop show that caught on during its first summer of reruns, Miami Vice is poised to become TV's next breakthrough hit. "Like Hill Street Blues before it, Miami Vice has redefined the cop-show genre," says Brandon Tartikoff, programming chief of NBC, the former last-place network that is suddenly doing everything right (see following story).
Miami Vice already seems to have supplanted Hill Street as the darling of one segment of the TV audience: the Emmy Awards committee. The program has garnered a record 15 Emmy nominations (compared with Hill Street's eleven), including ones for best dramatic series and best actor (Johnson). No matter how it fares at the awards ceremony on Sept. 22, the show is changing the way TV looks and sounds. Two new series debuting this month, ABC's The Insiders and Hollywood Beat, each feature a pair of young crime fighters and a pounding rock score, a la Miami Vice. Other Vice imitators are currently in the works.
Perhaps more important, the innovative visual style of Miami Vice has helped show TV executives that there are alternatives to the cookie-cutter blandness of most network fare. Says Joshua Brand, a co-creator of St. Elsewhere who is co-producing Steven Spielberg's new series Amazing Stories: "The success of Miami Vice shows that people do notice production values, lighting and what comes out of those little television speakers."