Don Johnson was ready to leave the show at the end of its second season, and the studio lined up Mark Harmon to take over the role of Sonny Crockett. The only one not happy with this solution was executive producer Michael Mann, who convinced Johnson to stay on. As a result, Johnson became the best paid actor in the history of television series. Johnson subsequently had to turn down roles in quite a few movies, such as the leads in both The Untouchables (1987) and Die Hard (1988).
During pre-production, Don Johnson wanted Sonny Crockett to be "more of a cowboy", and suggested "a lot of denim, V-neck sweaters and cowboy boots". He was really unsure about how the heavy use of pastel and bright colors would fit the macho, no-nonsense persona of his character, but producer Michael Mann and costume designer Jodie Lynn Tillen managed to convince him. They saw Crockett more in the lines of a beach bum. Johnson relented and as a result became one of the biggest fashion symbols of the 1980s.
The series' commitment to the visual quality of every episode made it one of the most expensive shows to produce at the time. In fact, the cost to produce one episode of the show was greater than that of the entire annual budget of the Miami Police Department's Vice Unit!
In order to help get the potential cast members more into character, they were taken on stakeouts by the real Miami Vice unit. While auditioning for the role of Sonny Crockett, Don Johnson came into a script reading for the producers directly from an all night stakeout. He appeared tired, his hair a mess, and he had not shaved that morning. That look showed the producers what a real life vice cop would look like following a long night of work, and he was hired immediately.
Edward James Olmos and Don Johnson often argued during the first season due to their different acting styles. Olmos used his anger towards Johnson for his character in their scenes together. In some episodes, Lt. Castillo never looks at Crockett at all.
Crockett's Ferrari Daytona was actually a modified Corvette. Ferrari executives were so upset that this ersatz Ferrari was gaining such popularity that they offered to provide the series with their new flagship car, the Testarossa.
All technical advisors for the show served with the real-life Miami Vice unit, and required that the cast members first pass the Florida Department of Law Enforcement firearms test before they could handle weapons on the set.
According to Sonny Crockett's character history he volunteered for military service in Vietnam in the early seventies. This is based on the real actions of Don Johnson who attempted to join the United States Marine Corps around that time. However, unlike Crockett who served a combat tour in Vietnam, Johnson was rejected by the marines due to a criminal conviction for drug possession.
Edward James Olmos made a few changes to his character when he was hired for the show. He said that his character's desk should always be free of paper work, and that the cops knock on the door before entering the office.
NBC originally wanted to spin off the characters of Officers Renko (a white cop raised in the South) and Hill (a black cop raised in the East) from Hill Street Blues (1981) into their own show, but decided not to when it was discovered that they were two of the most popular characters with viewers of the show. However, network executives liked the idea, and eventually it was incoporated into the characters of Sonny Crockett (white cop raised in the South) and Ricardo Tubbs (black cop raised in the East) on this show.
The idea for the look and tone of the show originated from NBC Exec Brandon Tartikoff whom, after seeing the success of the cable music network MTV, pitched an idea of cops who looked like they'd just walked out of an MTV video. "Miami Vice" was the result.
Sonny Crockett owned four boats on the show: a Cabo Rico 38 sailboat in the pilot, an Endeavour 40 sailboat in season 1, an Endeavour 42 sailboat in seasons 2 to 5, and a Wellcraft 38 Scarab KV "cigarette" speedboat. All three sailboats were called "The St. Vitus' Dance".
Anthony Yerkovich left Hill Street Blues (1981) to write the pilot for this show. While he was on "Blues", he wrote a character that was a 300 pound racist biker played by actor Dennis Burkley. The character's name was Sonny Crockett, the same name he gave the lead to this show.
Many of the television critics who praised the show in its first season made reference to the series' music, a combination of songs by artists like Glenn Frey, Phil Collins and Kate Bush and original music by Jan Hammer, the former keyboardist for the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Frey and Collins made cameo appearances in some episodes of the series.
The soundtrack LP went to #1 and stayed there for 12 weeks, making it the most successful TV soundtrack of all time. Jan Hammer received a congratulatory phone call from Henry Mancini, whose music from Peter Gunn (1958) was the previous record holder (it was #1 for 10 weeks in 1959).
Although Lt. Martin Castillo rarely engaged in the show's many shootouts, his weapon of choice was a Colt Trooper Mk V 357 magnum with a six inch barrel. It's improbably large for a plain-clothes officer whose duties are primarily administrative. It may have been an attempt to remind Sonny Crockett who has the bigger gun.
The Ferrari Daytona Spider Crockett and Tubbs drive in seasons one and two was in actuality a kit car; a plexiglass body on top of a Chevy Corvette chassis with a Corvette power plant, on Pirelli tires. It was cheaper than using a genuine Daytona Spider. Ferrari CEO Enzo Ferrari offered the use of a new white Ferrari Testarossa for seasons three to five.
James "Sonny" Crockett was to use a SIG Sauer P220 in .45 Auto which is evident in the pilot episode. Crockett started using the Bren Ten 10mm auto. The Bren Ten, manufactured by Dornaus & Dixon, was a stainless steel handgun notable as the first ever chambered in the powerful 10mm Auto caliber. The Bren Ten was originally manufactured as a two-tone weapon: the carbon steel slide was black oxide and frame was stainless steel. The model used in Miami Vice had a hard chromed matte finished slide so that it showed up better during night shots. The pistol used in the show was chambered in .45 ACP, as opposed to the standard 10mm Auto. After the Dornaus & Dixon company went out of business in 1986, the product placement contract went to Smith & Wesson. He also carries a Detonics Pocket 9 as a backup, tucked in his rear waistband near the small of his back.
Before filming started, the producers briefly considered doing most of the exterior shots in Los Angeles and passing it off to viewers as downtown Miami, in a similar way as CSI: Miami (2002) did nearly two decades later. This idea was abandoned in favor of all exterior filming taking place in and around Miami. Unlike shows like Dallas, which spent a few weeks every season filming exterior scenes in and around Dallas and then proceeding to film interiors at MGM Studios in Los Angeles, Universal enlisted the services of Greenwich Studios in North Miami for most of the interior scenes.
The dilapidated apartment building used in the pilot later became Gianni Versace's mansion, after much renovation. Later on, Don Johnson was a frequent guest at the mansion and a friend to Versace. On July 15, 1997, Versace was shot and killed in front of the mansion. Greg Kral, a real-life Miami police officer who sometimes appeared as an extra, was involved in the SWAT raid that turned up Versace's murderer, serial killer Andrew Cunanan.
Sonny's undercover alias was "Sonny Burnett." Ricardo's became "Rico Cooper" except for the pilot, when his alias was "Teddy Prentiss," and some early first season episodes when he used "Richard Taylor."
After Larry Wilcox was dropped from CHiPs (1977), he decided to audition for the role of Detective James 'Sonny' Crockett to keep his career active. Wilcox and Don Johnson were the last two finalists for the role, and the producers had trouble choosing between them. They decided against Wilcox because they felt going from one cop role to another would not be a good fit.
The show used numerous real-life Metro-Dade Police Officers. One of them, SRT Police Sniper Greg Kral, was involved in the SWAT raid that turned up Gianni Versace's killer, Andrew Cunanan. He was also involved in the hostage rescue of 13 autistic children from a school bus, and part of the team that recovered remains from ValuJet 592, which crashed in the Everglades.
Miami city officials were initially appalled at the idea of calling the series "Miami Vice", because at the time, Miami had been receiving a lot of negative press about its recent race riots, police corruption and drug trafficking. It was felt that having the word "vice" in the title of the show would further tarnish the city's reputation. A few nondescript alternative titles were suggested to the production team, but the producers adamantly adhered to the title "Miami Vice", and when the show became a success, opposition to its title diminished.
In an appearance on The Graham Norton Show (2007), Don Johnson said his character's iconic look was an accident. Miami was just too warm, so he began stripping off whatever clothes he didn't need, including socks. The costume designer had also gone to Italy and came back with clothing from Gianni Versace and Giorgio Armani, both of whom were relatively unknown. Johnson didn't like their clothes, and said they looked like pajamas.
Sonny Crockett's pet alligator on the show is named Elvis; Don Johnson played Elvis Presley a few years earlier in the made-for-TV movie Elvis and the Beauty Queen (1981). There were two alligators used during the show, Elvis and Presley . Originally the producers wanted to use a stuffed alligator.