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

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For Thomas, 36, Miami Vice also marks a career breakthrough after a variety of stage, screen and TV roles. Part Irish, German, American Indian and black ("I'm American gumbo"), Thomas writes poetry, markets a line of women's clothing and peppers his conversation with upbeat spiritual homilies ("If you love anything enough it will give up all its secrets"; "I replenish myself by giving, and it comes back"). Easygoing and exuberant, he is a sharp contrast to Johnson, who is described as meticulous and demanding on the set. "We're like night and day," says Thomas. "Don's like a truck driver, and I'm like an angel that sits up there and watches over everything. Don is real intense; I'm more intuitive. He maps out the way he wants to go. I just do it."

The most driven performer on the show, however, may be Olmos, who plays the stone-faced Lieut. Castillo. The Los Angeles-born actor won a Tony nomination in 1979 for his supporting role in the play Zoot Suit and produced and starred in the 1983 film The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez. He has an unusual nonexclusive contract with the series, which enables him to do other work during the season. Yet Olmos approaches his role with almost mystical dedication. "One of the things I have found most exciting about Miami Vice is that they have allowed me to play this character the way I wanted to play him," he says. "Castillo is very disciplined, very obsessive in his routines. He is a Ninja warrior. In order to be a very good combatant of crime you have to understand crime. So Castillo walks a very thin line."

Even a Ninja warrior might have a hard time competing for attention with what many consider the real stars of Miami Vice: the music and the visual pyrotechnics. Both are largely the contributions of Michael Mann, who joined the show as executive producer when NBC decided to turn Yerkovich's pilot into a series. Mann had directed the stylish film thriller Thief and the TV movie The Jericho Mile, as well as creating the TV series Vega$. But Miami Vice marked his first opportunity to bring a cinematic eye to the small screen.

"There is a very definite attempt to give the show a particular look," says Bobby Roth, who directed a Miami Vice episode last season and is now executive producer of the new ABC series The Insiders. "There are certain colors you are not allowed to shoot, such as red and brown. If the script says 'A Mercedes pulls up here,' the car people will show you three or four different Mercedes. One will be white, one will be black, one will be silver. You will not get a red one or a brown one. Michael knows how things are going to look on camera. A lot of it is very basic stuff that has never been applied to TV. For example, Michael carried a water truck around with him on his movie Thief, watering the streets down. So I decided to water the streets at night in my episode of Miami Vice. You get a different look, a beautiful reflection of moonlight off the pavement."

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