In early September 1984, my agent at the time, Diane Cleaver, submitted my manuscript, In Shadow, to Chris Cox, an editor at Ballantine Books. It was the 24th submission for the novel (there were a lot more publishers back then!). The murder mystery is set in Miami, concerns a designer drug that enhances psychic ability, and features a black and white cop.
On the morning of September 17, my agent called to tell me that Chris had made an offer on the book. “He watched the premiere last night of Miami Vice, Trish, and was struck by the similarities between the show and your novel – Miami, the black and white cops, the whole feel of it.”
Leap ahead. It’s late 1985. In Shadow has been published. The first season of Miami Vice is such a big hit that Ballantine decides to do a book called The Making of Miami Vice. It’s to be a behind the scenes look at everything that goes into the show – the terrific music, stunts, pyrotechnics, editing, scripts, shooting, car chases, fashions, the stars, concept, the look. Rob and I got hired to write the book. I was always struck by the synchronicity of our landing this project – that Chris had bought In Shadow the Monday after Vice premiered, the similarities in characters (my cops aren’t flashy!), the locale.
We were told we would have access the set, the stars, the nuts and bolts behind the scenes. We would be flown out to LA to interview Michael Mann, the sound and editing crew, Jan Hammer (the music guy) and anyone else who would talk to us. There was just one little catch: they needed the manuscript in two to three months, so it could be rushed into production in time to hit the shelves around the same time that season three premiered.
In early 1986, we made our first of several trips to the set of Miami Vice. It didn’t take long for the two stars – Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas – to decide they didn’t have time to do interviews. It meant we have to patch together their chapters from other interviews, from our own observations on the set, and from their co-workers. We initially were going to make their chapters the first two in the book, but when we learned they couldn’t be bothered, we moved their chapters farther down. Johnson/Crockett became chapter 9 and Tubbs/Thomas became chapter 13.
This project was great fun. Everyone we talked to was gracious and accommodating. Eddie Olmos invited us to his house for coffee and we sat out on the porch talking about karma and life. John Diehl invited us to his small apartment on Miami Beach, where we met his cat- Panzy – and discovered that one of Diehl’s passion was boxing. He was a regular guy who had lucked into a fortunate role. He knew it. But he missed his girlfriend, an actress in L.A. and said he felt restless after two seasons of Vice. He was ready to try other parts.
Michael Mann (who went on to make movies after Vice) was fascinating. We talked to him in his office in LA, a cave of a room with black walls and a large poster of the galaxy. We learned that Mann is a risk-taker, a gambler, and doesn’t believe in playing it safe. “Film-making isn’t like dealing blackjack, where you know that sooner or later the odds will come up in your favor. It’s like a big crap game. You have to take risks to win. I’d rather take a risk and fall flat on my face than play it safe and grow stale.”
One of the most interesting interviews we did was with Bonnie Timmerman, the brilliant casting director for Vice. Like Mann, she’s a risk-taker. She wanted intriguing secondary characters in each episode and during the first two seasons, some of those extras included: Bruce Willis, Bianca Jagger, Leonard Cohen, Lee Iococa (former CEO of Chrysler) James Russo, Jose Santana (father of musician Carlos Santana), Ted Nugent, John Heard.
Then there was the music… Jan Hammer’s fabulous pieces, but also everyone from Eric Clapton to Joe Cocker to the Who to Bob Marley.
The intricate details of putting together even a single episode of Vice were staggering. And when we finally sat down to start writing, it took us days to go through our notes and listen to the interviews we’d recorded. But the book came out that fall, right on schedule.
It went out of print around 1989, when the series ended. And as the Internet developed and Amazon came into being, we watched used copies of Miami Vice go up for sale for as high as $350. At one point, I even wrote to one of these used booksellers and asked who was paying that much for a paperback book. “Collectors,” he replied.
At any rate, it’s now in digital format through Crossroad Press, with formatting for every kind of reader and a really cool cover by Crossroad’s illustrator, David Dodd. That neon flamingo really captures the Art Deco scene of Miami Beach in the 1980s. And Crossroad’s price for the book is a bargain: $3.99. Here’s the first chapter.