If the subject is Miami Vice (1984-89), it won’t be long before Michael Mann gets mentioned. That’s because Mann, the writer-director whose credits include The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and The Insider (1999), had his signature all over the iconic NBC series between film projects.
However, Mann did not create Miami Vice. Anthony Yerkovich, who wrote and produced Hill Street Blues in the early ’80s, came up with the concept of a series that would feature vice cops on the job in the American center of the narcotics trade.
But while Yerkovich wrote the Miami Vice pilot (“Brother’s Keeper”) and full story while executive-producing a chunk of season 1, it was Mann who had his name featured as the EP prominently in the credits (both at the beginning and end).
Given Mann’s level of involvement in the show’s production, that sounds exactly right. As Emily Benedek put it in a 1985 Rolling Stone article on the show, “[Mann’s] mark is apparent in every frame of every episode.”
Michael Mann was involved in every detail of ‘Miami Vice’ from the beginning
Benedek did not have any question about who ran things on the set of Miami Vice. “Mann is the single most important force behind Miami Vice,” she wrote in Rolling Stone. “It is, simply, his baby.” Naturally, that went far beyond the visual aesthetic.
“[Mann] is obsessed with managing every detail of the show, from script to final edit,” Benedek wrote. “And although he won’t hire anyone but the extraordinarily talented, he makes it clear — to cast, crew, staff and public — that this is the Michael Mann Show and only one person is indispensable.”
As Steven Sanders wrote in his book-length study on the show (Miami Vice, 2010), “Mann created a total atmosphere: visual, sonic, and thematic.” Sanders compared Mann’s work on the show to that of Jack Webb (Dragnet) and other “television auteurs.”
For Mann, it wasn’t about slapping together an episode to showcase every week. Instead, he saw it as the production of a weekly film. Sopranos fans may have seen interviews with creator David Chase in which Chase says basically the same thing.
Mann would insist choices of ‘Miami Vice’ clothing, vehicles, and locations
In terms of day-to-day operations, nothing escaped Mann’s focus. Producer John Nicolella told Rolling Stone he dictated “the whole visual sense of the show.” That included the cars as well as clothes, the color palette, and the film cutting.
When Bruce Willis guest-starred as a drug kingpin, Mann insisted Miami’s “Pink House” be his home. As for the content, you could say Mann insisted on, in a word, his own noir sensibility. Fans of Thief (1981) and Heat (1995) will know it well.
Overall, you cannot overstate Mann’s influence on Miami Vice production. Though he stepped away from the show on a certain level after season 2, it never lost Mann’s stamp. And Miami Vice has lived into its fourth decade because of that influence.