Phil Collins had no idea his 1981 hit song “In the Air Tonight” would rocket again to the top of the charts in 1984 because of a new NBC television show. Miami Vice, a new, chic detective drama debuted that September sporting unique cinematography and a focus on the drug trade in South Florida.
Today, people still talk about the 1.4 second action shot of a Jai-Alai player in the opening of the series. I remember awaiting that first 2-hour pilot episode, “Brother’s Keeper,” where Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) seemed to endlessly drive through the streets of Miami in his white Corvette with the Phil Collins song in the background. The show was an immediate hit!
A few months before the show aired, I received a call from an NBC production assistant requesting some Jai-Alai footage for a new network drama. When I heard the title Miami Vice, I was skeptical. But, we were always looking for national exposure. So, I sent a short out- take reel of some action footage we had shot for a past commercial. They chose a great forehand throw by our young star Elorrio as part of the opening montage.
Despite the controversy of the subject matter (making Miami look like the drug capital of the world, which at that time it was), Miami Vice brought the magic back to the “Magic City.” Tourism began to soar in the ’80s. South Beach became the destination of the hip. I was thrilled that we were part of that new vibe, even if it was only for 1.4 seconds.
In June of 1986, I came back from lunch only to find a note on my desk which said, “Michael Mann, producer of Miami Vice called.” I recognized his name immediately because it was always in the closing credits of the show. I quickly called the number. One minute later I was talking to Mann (who would later go on to be an Oscar nominated director).
“Marty, are you familiar with our show, Miami Vice?” he asked me. I responded that I watched it every week and was happy they included a Jai-Alai player in the opening sequence. He told me that he had director, Leon Echaso, that had directed some of the episodes who was from Miami. He had co-written an episode that featured a Jai-Alai player. They would like to film almost the entire episode at Miami Jai-Alai. “Would you be interested?” he asked.
I almost fell out of my chair. For us to get a full hour of prime time on a major network like NBC… the publicity would be worth millions. I told Mann that I needed to run it by my boss, the president of World Jai-Alai Dick Donovan, but I didn’t see any problems.
“Miami Vice? They want to do a show about us on Miami Vice? No! Absolutely not!” Donovan said to me. Paul Rico, VP and General Manager of Miami Jai-Alai was sitting in the office with me when I ran it by Donovan. Paul liked the show, thought it was a great idea. Dick didn’t. I asked Donovan why.
“I have watched the show a few times, didn’t like it. It’s all about drug deals, blowing up boats, Cocaine Cowboys. We don’t need to be associated with any of that, ” he told me. I told him that was all fiction, that this was a great opportunity for tremendous national exposure. I begged him to please reconsider. He resisted, but Paul suggested to maybe “run it by Roger.”
Roger Wheeler, Jr. was now the managing partner of World Jai-Alai following his father’s murder in 1981. Roger was young, easy going, and a very nice guy. Located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Roger would visit us a handful of times a year, mainly to play golf and go over the financials. Much to Donovan’s chagrin, Roger was a big Miami Vice fan.
A few days later, Donovan called me into his office and said, “Can you believe it, Roger watches the show and likes the idea of us being on it. But, it can’t be anything negative about the sport or the company. We need to see the script before we agree.”
So, I have to call Michael Mann, Executive Producer of the hottest show on network television, and tell him I, Marty Fleischman, will require script approval of his Jai-Alai episode. I, Marty Fleischman, will go through and EDIT out anything I don’t like about the script. I was sure this would kill the deal. But, this was better than a quick “no.”
I explained to Michael Mann that we were a little sensitive about our image. Our company had just gone through a period of terrible publicity with the tragic murders of two executives. We just want to make sure our sport and players are not portrayed in a negative light.
He responded that this request is highly unusual. Scripts are completely confidential and few people get to see them prior to production. But, they really would like to do the episode and he would honor our request. He would send a copy of the script down the next day.
I thanked him profusely. I told him I would personally coordinate the entire shoot and make sure all went perfectly. I reminded him that Jai-Alai was part of the culture in Miami and we were thrilled that they finally came up with an episode about our great sport. Finally, as we were about to hang up, I asked him the name of the episode. He said, “Killshot.”
Though the term killshot is an actual shot to score a point, I knew this might have a more literal meaning in the show. I was sure after Donovan got through editing the script, there would be nothing left but a blank piece of paper. Would our Miami Vice Jai-Alai episode soon vanish “In the Air Tonight?”