Almost from its beginnings, television showed a remarkable ability to influence the pop charts, and not only by giving exposure to popular musical artists on programs like American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show. Many television programs also launched legitimate pop hits in the form of their theme songs—songs like “The Peter Gunn Theme,” “Welcome Back” and “Theme from S.W.A.T.” But prior to 1985, no television program had ever launched a smash-hit, movie-style soundtrack album. The first one to do so was NBC’s Miami Vice, a show that not only altered the landscapes of television and fashion, but also sent the soundtrack album of the same name to the top of the Billboard 200 on this day in 1985—a spot it would hold for the next 11 weeks
The genesis of Miami Vice is the stuff of television legend. It came about in the form of a memo from NBC head of programming Brandon Tartikoff in which he documented one of his brainstorms simply as “MTV Cops.” Inspired by MTV’s growing influence on the music industry, Tartikoff reasoned that a slickly produced, visually arresting cop show could become to television essentially what Duran Duran was to music. Under the creative guidance of producer Michael Mann, Tartikoff’s vision took shape in 1984, when it debuted on NBC’s fall schedule.
Scheduled opposite the ratings juggernaut Falcon Crest on Friday nights at 10 pm, Miami Vice struggled in its first season but catapulted into the Nielson Top 10 in the autumn of 1985. Simultaneous with the television show’s rise to popularity, its instrumental theme song, by Czech composer Jan Hammer, was climbing the Billboard pop singles chart. The popularity of that single, in turn, drove sales of the soundtrack album Miami Vice, which featured not only Jan Hammer’s theme song and other examples of his incidental soundtrack music, but also several original songs written expressly for the show’s fall season, including “Smuggler’s Blues” and “You Belong To The City” by Glenn Frey. The album also featured previously released songs that had been featured prominently in the program’s signature musical montages—songs such as Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” and Tina Turner’s “Better Be Good To Me.”
In demonstrating how five scenes’ worth of difficult expository dialogue could easily be replaced with a 90-second visual montage set to mood-appropriate pop music, Miami Vice made a significant creative impact on the future of American television. In demonstrating how much additional revenue a television show could generate by releasing soundtrack albums of pre-existing popular music, it had a significant business impact as well