Video: Cool Cops, Hot Show

With flashy visuals and a rock score, Miami Vice sets a new TV beat

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The seeds of this new cop show were planted in mundane TV fashion, in the Burbank, Calif., office of NBC's Tartikoff. Trying to figure out how the network might cash in on the success of rock videos, he had jotted down a few notes to himself; one read simply, "MTV cops." Tartikoff presented the notion to Anthony Yerkovich, 34, formerly a writer and producer for Hill Street Blues, who related a movie idea he had been mulling, about a pair of vice cops in Miami. Yerkovich went to the typewriter and turned out the script for a two-hour pilot, originally called Gold Coast and later Miami Vice.

Yerkovich (who supervised the first five episodes after the pilot, then left to develop film projects for Universal) was fascinated by South Florida as a setting for his new-style police show. "Even when I was on Hill Street Blues, I was collecting information on Miami," he says. "I thought of it as sort of a modern-day American Casablanca. It seemed to be an interesting socioeconomic tidepool: the incredible number of refugees from Central America and Cuba, the already extensive Cuban-American community, and on top of all that the drug trade. There is a fascinating amount of service industries that revolve around the drug trade--money laundering, bail bondsmen, attorneys who service drug smugglers. Miami has become a sort of Barbary Coast of free enterprise gone berserk."

If Miami was an ideal setting for this new-wave Casablanca, Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas were inspired choices as the defenders of law and order. Both were picked only after the network had auditioned dozens of candidates and had twice delayed shooting the pilot. NBC had particular doubts about Johnson, 35, a journeyman actor who had appeared earlier in several unsuccessful pilots. A Missouri native, Johnson made his movie debut at age 20 in The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart, and later starred in such films as A Boy and His Dog and the TV mini-series From Here to Eternity. He has also dabbled in songwriting, collaborating on two numbers that were recorded by the Allman Brothers in their 1979 album Enlightened Rogues.

Johnson's offscreen life has been more eventful. At 22 he began a four-year liaison with 14-year-old Melanie Griffith, the daughter of Actress Tippi Hedren, with whom he had appeared in the movie The Harrad Experiment. Later Johnson plunged into drugs and alcohol. "I never drank or did drugs while I was working," he told PEOPLE magazine. "But brother, when they said 'Wrap,' I would try to set the land speed record." Johnson rehabilitated himself with the help of his current mate, Actress Patti D'Arbanville, and Miami Vice has put him in the fast lane to stardom. Among his upcoming projects are a starring role in next month's NBC mini-series The Long Hot Summer.

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