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A Look Back At Miami Vice: 30-Years Later

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – It's hard to believe it's been 30 years this month that a glitzy cop drama set on South Beach named Miami Vice first hit our TV screens. This stylized one-hour series changed the look and sound of future TV shows and it changed the face of South Florida forever.

The pilot episode of this shoot-'em-up series, "Brother's Keeper," aired on Sept. 16, 1984.

"It's so hard to believe it's been 30-years," casting director Lori Wyman told CBS4's Lisa Petrillo. "Wow, am I that old?"

CLICK HERE To Watch Lisa Petrillo's Report

Wyman was an integral part of the show back then and looked at hundreds of local actors for a role in every episode.

"Everyone wanted to be on that show. Miami Vice was the hottest show. It was cutting edge, it was like a 47 minute video. This was the first time they put out exciting music on a show. They used celebrity musicians like Phil Collins and used their music, the Eagles, Glenn Frey. I still hear "You Belong To The City" and think of Miami Vice," said Wyman.

The show is often credited for putting Miami on the entertainment and trend-setting map.

It also made Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas stars.

Don Johnson played James "Sonny" Crockett, an undercover detective of the Metro-Dade Police Department. A former University of Florida Gators football star and Special Forces and Vietnam War veteran, Crockett's undercover alias was Sonny Burnett, a drug runner and middleman.

Philip Michael Thomas played Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs, a former New York police detective with a personal vendetta with drug lord Esteban Calderone, who had ordered the death of his brother Rafael, a New York City police detective. After temporarily teaming up with Crockett in the show's pilot episode, he became Crockett's permanent partner.

These two members of the Metro-Dade Police vice squad quickly became known for driving fast cars, wearing flashy pastel suits, all while taking down criminals, pimps, cokeheads and mob bosses.

And who can forget that Crockett also lived on a sailboat guarded by his pet alligator named Elvis.

Actress Saundra Santiago was 27 years old when she was cast as Detective Gina Calabrese. She worked with Crockett and Tubbs on the vice squad.

Now, at age 57 and living in New York, she reflects on that special time.

"It's funny now I look around and watch TV now and go ,'It's so much more exciting in the 80s's.' I would like to think Miami Vice was a big part of the fashion and hipness of the 80s," she said.

It was more than hip. Many credit Miami Vice for making Miami cool. Miami Herald columnist Howard Cohen, who was an extra in one episode back in 1985, said Vice was the beginning of it all.

"Well if you remember South Beach at the time Miami Vice premiered, it was a dead city, you could roll a balling ball from the end of 1st Street to 5th Street and not hit anyone," said Cohen. "After the second season when ratings took off and the Europeans started to see it and come down and they started refurbishing the buildings and model shoots came down here, all the fashion shoots, suddenly the fashion industry realized what Miami always had."

Miami Vice had a major impact of how people dressed on the beach as well. You can't say Miami Vice without thinking about pastel colors, jackets with t-shirts and woven loafers without socks.

*"It's 30 years later and it's all about South Beach and what people may not realize, this one TV show, a TV show that made such a tremendous impact it put South beach on the map for the world," said Wyman.

Santiago remembers how suddenly, almost overnight, Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas became huge superstars.

"There were masses of people coming to set on the sidelines for Don and Philip. Women were going crazy and ultimately they had to have bodyguards."

Thirty years  later, Don Johnson might not need a bodyguard any longer but that one-hour weekly, flashy cop show left a legacy that continues today.

"So the impact that Miami Vice had on this city, no amount of money could have that impact as this one TV show. I truly believe and know that," said Wyman. "It was a time that was so magical for all of us who worked on Miami Vice. A phenomenon that will never be repeated."

Beginning Sunday, CBS4 News partner the Miami Herald is commemorating "30 years of Vice" with special coverage in Sunday's paper and on

And on October 2nd, the Herald is hosting a community conversation called "The Vice Effect" about the show's impact on architecture, fashion and design over the last 3 decades. It takes place at the Art Deco Museum. To RSVP go to

Miami Vice was on the air for five seasons.


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