In the Heat of the Night (TV series)

In the Heat of the Night
Created by John Ball
Developed by James Lee Barrett
Written by Mark Rodgers
Ed Deblasio
Starring Carroll O'Connor
Howard Rollins (seasons 1–6, guest star on season 7)
Carl Weathers (seasons 7-8)
Alan Autry
Anne-Marie Johnson (seasons 1–6)
Lois Nettleton (season 2)
David Hart
Geoffrey Thorne (seasons 2–6)
Hugh O'Connor
Randall Franks (seasons 2–6)
Crystal R. Fox (seasons 3–8)
Denise Nicholas (seasons 3–8)
Christian LeBlanc (season 1)
Theme music composer Quincy Jones
Alan and Marilyn Bergman
Opening theme Performed by Bill Champlin
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 8
No. of episodes 142 + 4 TV movies (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Fred Silverman, Juanita Bartlett, David Moessinger, and Carroll O'Connor
Running time 60 minutes
(with commercials)
Production company(s) The Fred Silverman Company
Juanita Bartlett Productions (Jadda Productions for season 1 until name change)
MGM/UA Television (1988–93)
MGM Television (1993–95)
Original network NBC (1988–1992)
CBS (1992–1995)
Picture format 480i (SDTV), 1080i (HDT)
Original release March 6, 1988 (1988-03-06) – May 16, 1995 (1995-05-16)

In the Heat of the Night is an American drama television series based on the 1967 film and the 1965 novel of the same title. It starred Carroll O'Connor as white police chief William Gillespie, and Howard Rollins as black police detective Virgil Tibbs. It was broadcast on NBC from 1988 until 1992, then on CBS until May 1995. Its executive producers were Fred Silverman, Juanita Bartlett and Carroll O'Connor.


In the premiere episode Philadelphia detective Virgil Tibbs has returned to the fictional Sparta, Mississippi, for his mother's funeral. By virtue of his relationship with Gillespie from a previous murder investigation in which he assisted, Tibbs is persuaded to remain in Sparta as Chief of Detectives as part of an effort to help overcome the local squad's reputation of being racist and underskilled. Although the team experiences friction over Tibbs' dissatisfaction with the department's limited resources and racial attitudes while Gillespie is annoyed at Tibbs' condescending suspicion of his hometown, they prove highly effective in enforcing the law.

Eventually becoming a lawyer, Tibbs took a leave of absence moving to Jackson, Mississippi, to complete his law degree on a compressed schedule. Upon his return to Sparta, Althea and Virgil had separated, and later divorced. She moved back to Philadelphia with the twins to be near her parents. Through the hard work and pure intimidation of Harriet Delong, Virgil was able to keep his city pension even though he was two months shy of the qualifying period. Virgil began practicing law when he accepted a position in Ben Taylor's law office. Rollins' final appearance on the series was February 2, 1994. Meanwhile, Gillespie was dismissed as Police Chief by the Sparta city council and replaced by Hampton Forbes (Carl Weathers), the town's first African-American in that position. Gillespie finds a new post of equivalent authority as County Sheriff, and the two senior police officers find they get along in excellent fashion both in the professional and personal spheres.


The show dealt with a variety of issues, including racism, police brutality, hate crimes, drug abuse, alcoholism, rape, AIDS, misogyny, incest, child abuse, anti-Semitism, prostitution, government corruption, domestic violence, gambling, mental disorders, dysfunctional families, suicide, poverty, homophobia, and drunk driving.

Season-by-season overview

First season

The first season of the show was filmed in Hammond, Louisiana. This locale was selected by executive producer Juanita Bartlett and was supposed to represent the small southern town of Sparta, Mississippi. However, one of the problems with filming the show in Hammond involved finding filming locations that were usable. Oftentimes producers had to go very long distances to find houses and locations that were usable due to other structures being built in modern times.[1] A total of eight episodes were filmed, the two-hour pilot movie and six regular one-hour episodes. The series premiered on March 6, 1988, with the season finale airing May 3, 1988.

Many conflicts arose between Juanita Bartlett and series star Carroll O'Connor. At first, she allowed him to consult on the series per his contract. After the pilot, however, she ordered scripts from her writers that were in O’Connor’s words “recycled material from other crime shows”. O'Connor also said the writing was disappointing. They were taking big city stories and imposing them on a small town. The key to this show's success is keeping its small-town locale in mind.[2] Scripts would come back marked FINAL: NO REWRITES. Carroll O'Connor often rewrote scripts anyway, which angered the production staff members. They were making use of and burning up fax machines.[2] This angered O’Connor and he said that Juanita Bartlett was a very arrogant person.[1] Episodes often focused on grisly murders or crimes and not the lives of New South-era characters which the series would become known for. Storylines included the pride of Sparta County getting her head bashed in, a man and his wife’s distant cousin having an affair, the affair of a black man who was attempting to buy Sparta’s newspaper and a rich white woman ending up dead in the local newspaper plant, after an argument with the woman and her husband. In a two-part episode “Blind Spot”, a rich businessman and ex-friend of Virgil’s who stole a scholarship from Virgil in high school has promised to bring prosperity back to Sparta but ends up being caught in a game of murder and drug dealing using one of Sparta’s richest mansions as his home base. There was also the case of a bigamist and the case of Lester Sproles, who goes on a killing spree but not before kidnapping Althea and a young child who she was watching as a result of Lester killing his grandmother Miss Elnora. The season closed with Scooter going with his uncle and Althea and Virgil discussing the possibility of having children.

Anne Marie Johnson, who played Althea, summed up what it was like to film the show in the little town of Hammond, saying "My high school was bigger than this town".

Second season

Season two began airing in December 1988 due to a writers strike. The series had a new look and a new set of executive producers. On-location shooting was moved from Louisiana to Covington, Georgia. The season premiere was aired as a two-hour TV-movie, “Don’t Look Back”; the plot revolved around a copycat murder of one that Gillespie had investigated 20 years earlier. It introduced two new regular characters -- Joanne St. John (played by Lois Nettleton), the chief’s sometime-girlfriend and owner of the local diner, "The Magnolia Cafe"; and Officer Wilson Sweet (played by Geoffrey Thorne), fresh out of the Police Academy. This episode also introduced the first of several new recurring characters, including Doctor (or, "Doc") Robb, the county coroner (played by veteran actor Dan Biggers). The episode "The Creek" saw the introduction of the first new police character, and the second prominent Georgia performer to claim a regular role on the series, "Officer Randy Goode" (1988–1993) played by Randall Franks, who was cast following the show's move to Covington, Georgia.

Other episode plots in this season included a prominent citizen being murdered due to sexual abuse and incest in his family; Virgil’s ex-partner and Althea’s ex-lover (Michael Warren) coming to visit for a reunion that no one would ever forget; Chief Gillespie's having to face his own bigoted past when he arrests a close friend (played by Daniel Boone's Ed Ames)—who is also the sheriff of the neighboring county—for committing a racially motivated murder (In truth, Ames was born Jewish.); Bubba's getting caught up in a murderous love triangle; Althea’s niece "Nicole" visiting, and with new friend "Bobby Skinner" (Bubba's nephew) stumbling upon criminal malfeasance in the episode "City Mouse Country Mouse." Mary Crosby and Judith Chapman stir up trouble when the sisters are implicated in their father's murder. It is truly a sibling rivalry with a murderous twist. A bitter strike leads to murder, but not all is as it seems when a new manager takes over Thail River Mill and drives the union to strike after only three months — it is snowing in Sparta and "Mississippi is Burning."

During the filming of the episode "Walkout," Carroll O'Connor began to experience fatigue. After being checked by the set doctor, it was discovered that he needed sextuple heart bypass surgery, due to years of heavy smoking. During the last four episodes of the season, Joe Don Baker was brought in as a replacement for Chief Gillespie, who was said to be away at a police training conference at Quantico. Tom Dugan was appointed acting chief by Councilwoman White, but he was actually working undercover for the FBI in an attempt to stop the assassination of a civil rights preacher. The season finale titled "Missing" has the Chief being kidnapped by two men in pig masks. Carroll O'Connor wanted the chief to be undergoing heart surgery in the story line, but the husband and wife producing team came up with this story line instead. It was the final straw in a long line of complaints, and they were fired at the end of the season. Carroll O'Connor took over as executive producer for season three.[1]

Note: When Jeri Taylor and her husband decided to do the show, she was quoted as saying, "I was one of those in the '60s that was out marching for civil rights," and "I was one of those who thought the major work had all been done. When we (Taylor and her husband, Moessinger) decided to do the show, we took research trips to the South, and we saw that there had been an enormous amount of change. But we also came back with a renewed vigor and the realization that there is still a lot more to be done. There is still this deeply entrenched racism. And addressing that became a much larger element in our thinking about the show."

"What makes race relations a constant in our show is the two lead characters -- one is white and one is black," Moessinger said. "Whether they are angry at each other, whether they're happy or sad, we're showing the interaction of two men who are trying to do the best in life. If we never put one race issue into it, if we never said one word about it, the message is there because it's showing how people ought to interrelate, how they ought to work together, how they ought to get along."[3]

Third season

In the third season, Carroll O'Connor took complete control of the show, after firing husband and wife executive producing team David Moessinger and Jeri Taylor.

The third season saw a number of changes to the show. The character of Joanne St. John was eliminated to make room for councilwoman Harriet Delong. Althea grappled with the effects and aftermath of rape, after she was raped and attacked by the music teacher at Sparta High School. We learn that Parker was a Vietnam veteran, and someone abandons a baby on Bubba's doorstep. Dee Shaw also joined the cast as officer Dee Sheppard. Parker almost crosses the line between police ethics and love when he falls for Kate Morell and her daughter J.C. A former boxer that used to run for the mob tries to blackmail them. The chief tries unsuccessfully to save him telling Althea "The FBI wants to buy what King Baylor knows before the mob kills him and the mob wants him dead before the FBI can buy him. It's that simple". Althea's reply was "Chief, I believe that is the coldest thing I have ever heard you say". There is a murder at a nursing home, and a race riot almost erupts in Sparta when a white cab driver who got a black girl pregnant in the bottoms is found dead and $1,500 is missing. Gillespie and Tibbs take opposite sides in the case creating some very tense drama. When Althea's girlfriend from high school visits from Philadelphia and quickly takes an interest in Sweet things end tragically after she commits suicide in his apartment. The chief must also save a young girl from being tried as an adult after she is charged with killing her parents and hiding their bodies.

In "First Girl", Gillespie hires Christine Rankin, the Sparta PD's first female black officer. Her life is tragically cut short, making room for her replacement, Luanne Corbin, played by Crystal R. Fox. Luanne would remain a prominent character throughout the rest of the series, although Crystal Fox was listed in the ending credits as a guest star until season seven where she finally appeared in the opening credits.

In the two-part episode, "Citizen Trundel", written by O'Connor, Cynthia Deming and William J. Royce, Harriet DeLong's sister, Natalie, is murdered by her secret lover, multi-millionaire V.J Trundel. The murder case caused Harriet a tremendous amount of grief—not only because of Natalie's murder, but by Gillespie and Tibbs not being able to implicate Trundel in the crime, much less charge him for it. In Part Two, it was shown out that Norman Luft and Jessica Franks, two of Trundel's most trusted employees facilitated not only Natalie's murder, but the murder of the man they hired to kill her. Jessica was arrested and Luft was apprehended attempting to leave Sparta by private plane with Trundel. Gillespie confronted Trundel with the knowledge that even though he has escaped a murder charge, he would still have to live with the burden of having his lover and the mother of his son, Eric Delong murdered and the risk that Eric would one day confront him over it. Unable to bear the weight of his guilt, Trundel committed suicide by crashing the plane only minutes after taking off. This episode was of special significance to series co-star Denise Nicholas. Ten years before, her real life sister had been murdered and the culprit never caught. When Carroll O'Connor approached Denise about the story line, she had to write him a note explaining the situation. He offered to have her not appear in the episode but she chose to do so to bring closure for her and her family. Only Carroll O'Connor and director Leo Penn knew the truth during filming. This is the first episode in which we see Bill and Harriet's relationship begin to gel.[4]

Howard Rollins' drug and alcohol problems

During the second half of season 3, Howard Rollins, took six weeks off when he entered a drug and alcohol rehab program to battle his addiction issues.[5] The episodes he missed included King's Ransom, Triangle, Hello in There, December Days, and An Angry Woman. MGM worked around his rehab schedule. Episodes were not necessarily aired in the order they were filmed which explains why Tibbs was present one week and not the next. To explain his absence he was said to be in New Orleans working for the FBI. He also considered committing suicide shortly before Christmas, 1989, prompting his stay in rehab.[5] Carroll O'Connor even threatened to sue a tabloid which published a story saying that MGM and Carroll had fired Rollins for being absent from the set due to his problems.[5] Denise Nicholas who played Harriet Delong said "Carroll set the standard for loyalty. If he liked you, he really liked you and would be there for you" [TV Guide, July 2001].

Fourth season

Cynthia Deming and William J. Royce were made story editor(s).

The season begins with a two-hour movie titled "Brotherly Love" and the birth of Virgil and Althea’s twins. William and Sarah Tibbs were welcomed into the world on September 18, 1990. While Althea was waiting to go into labor, Tibbs's friend from the Philadelphia police force is murdered, and Tibbs heads up to the “big city” to clear his friend's name, only to be framed for murder himself. It is now up to Chief Gillespie to find out the truth, clear Virgil’s name, and make it home in time. Other stories include a mild-mannered teacher's being accused of child molestation, only to commit suicide due to inflammation from the press. In "Family Matters," Virgil's cousin is a suspect in a string of robberies. Virgil promises his Aunt Ruda that he wants to be a family again and that Ty will not get hurt. When the boy ends up fighting Virgil for the gun used in the robberies and shoots himself, Ruda cuts herself off from the rest of the family. There is a Christmas clip show, a bounty hunter, and a storyline in which the Sparta P.D. has to save a wrongly-convicted man from death row, among many other story lines.

Harriet DeLong’s ex-husband Vic returns to Sparta plotting to rob his former employer in a revenge scheme. Three men, on a misty Sunday morning, shoot a security guard at the Lambry plant and steal a bundle of money waiting to be paid out on Monday morning. Harriet’s son Eugene also gets involved when he tries to assist his father and almost loses his life. The case brings Bill and Harriet closer together, while it drives a wedge between Harriet and Eugene. Eugene reminds his mother that "Aunt Natalie was killed by a white man," while Bill brushes off Eugene's fool notions about him and his mama for now. Virgil, on the other hand, is not buying it and can see the relationship between Bill and Harriet developing quite nicely.

The season closes with Althea close to a breakdown over the stress of Virgil’s job on the police force after he is almost killed by a stray bullet and does not tell her about it. On top of that, she is also worried that her children will grow up without their father, and she begs him to try something different. Chief Gillespie burns up the wires and gets Virgil on his way to law school, and Althea apologizes for not being more understanding as she, Virgil, and Chief Gillespie share a glass of wine together.

Fifth season

The fifth season begins with the revelation that Chief Gillespie has a daughter by the name of Lana Farren, played by Christine Elise (formerly of Beverly Hills, 90210). The Chief is now good friends with her mother, Georgia Farren, played by legendary actress Stella Stevens. Georgia Farren is asking Bill to help her put some of her affairs in order, and to keep all of her "boyfriends" as well as her ex-husband away from her assets which she intends to leave to Lana. Bill immediately puts Ted Marcus on the case to assist Lana in obtaining the property meant for her by her mother, Georgia Farren. In the meantime, Georgia returns to Gulfport and is murdered. The chief takes this very personally and sets out to find her killer, Ken Farren, who evidently learns that Bill Gillespie is Lana's true father. At the end of the episode, Lana finds out that Bill is her real father but does not want to have anything to do with him because of his non-existence in her life for 20 years. This cuts deeply into Bill, and he has a hard time dealing with it. Note: The character of Lana will not be seen again until the season six episode "Random’s Child."

Other storylines include a taxidermist who is obsessed with a school teacher, a game of high stakes poker that ends in murder, Bubba's finding out that Sheriff McComb's deputy is growing pot on the side, Sweet's finding out the truth about the murder of his grandfather in 1948, a story based on Medgar Evers, and a humorous episode in which a family reunion goes awry after the father returns to collect the money he stole in a bank robbery 15 years ago only to find out that the mother has remarried and invested/spent a good portion of his millions. Once the money is located, the insurance company wants it back, but Bill and Virgil keep the money as evidence — requiring the insurance company to sue the police department to recover the funds. In "Moseley's Lot," one brother wants the other dead after he drags gambling debts and two thugs from New Orleans home to Sparta. A once-promising family business is destroyed over drugs, money, and jealousy.

Season 5 also sees the return of Virgil's Aunt Ruda in "Ruda's Awakening", when she is the only witness to a struggle between Bubba and a young robbery suspect that ends in the young man's death. But her prejudice against the police -- and Virgil clouds her memory of the incident. But after visiting her son, Tyrell in prison, whereupon he tells her that the shooting that left him hospitalized was not Virgil's fault, her memory of the incident returns and Bubba is exonerated. The episode ends with Virgil and Ruda happily reconciling.

In "Sanctuary" and "The Law on Trial," Sheriff McComb has Gillespie and Tibbs brought up on charges after an escaped prisoner is given sanctuary in a monastery. Judge Simms presides over the case (a recurring role as this judge plays many scenes throughout the run of In the Heat of the Night). After hearing both sides, the jury is not able to reach a verdict and Gillespie and Tibbs are freed. Ted Marcus represents Gillespie and Tibbs in the trial, and at times Althea fears if Virgil is charged, this is the end of his career as a cop and will hinder his chances of being an attorney later. Father DiMarco represents himself at trial and speaks to the courtroom and the judge, which has a great impact of the case being dismissed. The conflict between Sheriff McComb and Chief Gillespie lingers on through several more episodes, and that conflict affects every crossover dealing with subsequent interactions between McComb's deputies and Gillespie's officers. It isn't until the arrival of Chief Hampton Forbes (Carl Weathers) when we see Sheriff McComb and Gillespie as friends again.

The episode and season end with Althea and Virgil celebrating Virgil's being able to both attend law school as an attorney and remain on the payroll of Sparta Police Department; and with Bill and Harriet spending the night together.

Sixth season

At the beginning of Season 6, In the Heat of the Night moved from NBC to CBS. Originally, CBS opted only to pick up the series for a set of six two-hour movies. However, it was eventually picked up for a full 22 episode order. The first two episodes of the season saw the affair between Gillespie and DeLong intensify, only to be interrupted by a crack war waged on Sparta involving Eugene Glendon. Eugene is Harriet DeLong's son from her first marriage to Vic Glendon, a convict who came back to Sparta to rob the mill and former workplace of his employer where a cop was murdered during the attempt to apprehend the robbers. Vic Glendon is later convicted and sent to Parchment Prison on death row. Althea Tibbs saw new trauma this season as she witnessed the suicide of one of her students, Garth Watkins (played by Walton Goggins), causing her to suffer a near mental breakdown. Garth is so obsessed with his girlfriend, who has long broken up with him and taken to older, married men, that Garth steals the boots and gun of his girlfriend's stepfather and travels to Pervis Lake and sits in wait for Megan Fowler (the girlfriend) and Lyle Ridley (the older married man) and fatally shoots Lyle while he and Megan are chasing each other outside the cabin that belongs to Lyle Ridley and his wife. Parker and Dee suffer the dreaded task of traveling to the Ridley residence to tell Mrs. Ridley that her husband was shot at their lake home and was with a young 17-year-old girl, Megan Fowler.

Other highlights this season included the return of Luanne’s brother (played by Designing Women's Meshach Taylor), a faded country music singer (played by Robert Goulet) who ends up committing murder, Bubba's being stalked by an obsessed admirer, Sweet's being falsely accused of accepting a bribe, and a two-part episode directed by Larry Hagman involving the “white supremacy” that still exists in the new South. Additionally, there was another two-part episode written by O'Connor and Cynthia Deming, titled "Even Nice People" (1) and "Lake Winahatchie" (2) in which the mob, led by their real estate connection Lewis Alvin Epp, tries to force Lana off her farmland first by trying to buy it and then by torching it in an arson fire so that they can build the "Sparta South Development."

Howard Rollins' Firing from In the Heat of the Night

Rollins was fired due to health reasons and three outstanding warrants in Rockdale County and the city of Covington, GA.[6] He was replaced for season seven by Carl Weathers when filming began on April 28, 1993. Rollins had not been seen on the set since late January 1993 when season six wrapped. Despite numerous attempts by the media to contact Rollins, who was believed to be in New York City, only series star Carroll O'Connor was in contact with Rollins during this time. It was hoped that Rollins would get his legal issues resolved and return to the series full-time, serving in his capacity as attorney at law and assisting the Sparta P.D. with cases. But sadly, this was not the case.

After the season Anne-Marie Johnson and Geoffrey Thorne left the series. Rollins would return occasionally as a guest star, while Johnson took a starring role on Fox’s In Living Color. Thorne left to pursue a career as a novelist and screenwriter. Unlike the characters played by Rollins and Johnson, Thorne's character simply vanished with no explanation for why he was absent from the show.

Seventh season

Season 7 began with Bill Gillespie being forced out of office and former Memphis, Tennessee Police Department Inspector Hampton Forbes hired as the new police chief. After nearly three decades on the Sparta police force, Gillespie does not receive a new contract from the city council because of his open relationship with Harriet DeLong. However, Gillespie is soon appointed as the acting Sheriff of Newton County when Nathan McComb suffers a heart attack and is too ill to continue his duties. Bill's first case as Sheriff is to solve the murder of one of the richest families in Sparta — the Barons. Wade Hatton, played by Stacy Keach, is a lawyer from New Orleans who has returned to his native Sparta to revisit his childhood memories and romance Sarah Hallisey. The prime suspect in the case is a 16-year-old black youth, played by Wayne Brady with an intellectual disability. Gillespie eventually solves the case with the help of Hatton, Hallisey, and Judge Cully — much to the dissatisfaction of District Attorney Darnell, who feels the prisoner is being treated in a privileged status due to his disability. Meanwhile, Chief Forbes is escorted on a driving tour of Sparta by Bubba Skinner and Officer Covey. Forbes gets to see both the finest street in town, along which Bubba indicates that he has solved many major crimes, as well as "The Bottoms." Chief Forbes soon realizes that Sparta is no different from Memphis, and he and Gillespie will need to work together to keep the town safe from the criminal elements. Howard Rollins returns in his new capacity as attorney Virgil Tibbs and assists on three of the Sparta PD's cases after having moved into Ben Taylor's law office.

Other cases involve a friend of Bubba Skinner's being given the AIDS virus from a lover who knew he had it, a nine-year-old little girl being killed because of a drunk driver, a young inter-racial couple being stalked by a white supremacist (Brent Lunay), first seen in the episode "Odessa," written by Denise Nicholas. Other cases include Parker's being accused of police brutality, and the return of Daddy Roy and Miz Rhoda. Both Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller make special guest appearances in two separate episodes. Gillespie must once again confront his racist past when a new synagogue moves into Sparta and the Rabbi detests Gillespie for being an anti-Semite back in the 1960s. This both angers and shocks Harriet. Lana Gillespie also makes one final appearance as Bill's daughter in the Hagman-directed episode "A Love Lost," in which he must protect her from a former boyfriend who is involved in a gun running scheme with someone in Sparta.

In the episode "Ches and the Grand Lady," Bobby Short reprises his role as the blues musician from "Sweet, Sweet Blues." The episode also guest stars Jean Simmons as the dying grand dame of Sparta who also happens to be Ches's old flame and the overbearing great-aunt of Lonnie Jamison. Another episode involves the return of Maybelle Chesboro (played by Elizabeth Ashley), the ex-madam. She has returned to operate a legal phone sex business. One of her employees tries to blackmail one of Holly Colmer's friends and ends up getting shot. Chesboro decides to give up working in the business for good, but not before visiting Gillespie and attempting to get romantic with him.

Finally, in "Dangerous Engagement," Gillespie and DeLong tie the knot at the same sanctuary involved in the sanctuary case from season five. Father DiMarco has since died, but the new Monk agrees to marry them. Chief Forbes serves as best man. In the meantime, a newspaper misprint makes Gillespie the target of an escaped killer from Texas whose father Sheriff McComb sent to death row. His son is now seeking revenge.

The season and the TV series wraps up with the two-hour movie of the week, "Give Me Your Life," starring Peter Fonda as Appfel. The story (by O'Connor and written by Cynthia Deming & William J Royce) is loosely based on the real-life drama unfolding in Waco, Texas with David Koresh and his followers.

TV movies

Four made-for-television movies were made during the 1994–95 season. Once released on DVD, these movies combined were considered to be the eighth season of the show.[7] The movies were:

Series co-star Hugh O'Connor committed suicide two months before the fourth film actually aired. When aired in its original, two-hour format, there was a black screen in between the intro tag and the opening title, which read "In memory of Hugh O'Connor: 1962–1995".

Writing staff


Actor Role
Carroll O'Connor Starred in the lead role of William O. "Bill" Gillespie. Gillespie was a tough but honorable small city police chief. At first somewhat resentful of Virgil Tibbs, Gillespie would later become very close to Virgil and the rest of the Tibbs family. It should be noted that their relationship in the TV series is much less adversarial than it is in the film version. For the first six seasons he was the chief of the Sparta Police Department until he was fired by the city council at the beginning of the 7th season. He would then become interim County Sheriff after the previous Sheriff became too ill to continue his duties. Gillespie would become the permanent Sheriff by the end of the series. Chief Gillespie was a World War 2 Veteran and identified himself as serving with a colored man in the 227th Military Police (it is assumed the 227th was a colored unit and Gillespie was the commanding officer). Gillespie had a penchant for wearing high-powered sidearms such as the Colt Python and later a brushed chrome Desert Eagle. Gillespie was married at one time to Anna, his Italian war bride whom he brought home from his WWII service in Italy. Anna became pregnant - both she and their son would die in childbirth. He also had an older daughter Lana, played by Georgia Farren. Gillespie eventually fell in love with Harriett DeLong. Throughout the series run, O'Connor was one of the actors to appear in every episode of the series on both networks (NBC) and (CBS), with the exception of four shows near the end of the 1988-89 season that he missed while recovering from open heart surgery.
Howard Rollins Starred in the lead role of Virgil Tibbs. Virgil had grown up in Sparta but later moved north and became a police detective in Philadelphia, PA. He would later return to Sparta after being offered a job as chief of detectives and the rank of Captain with the city police department. At first Tibbs and Gillespie butted heads, but would soon become close friends - Gillespie even became Godfather to Virgil and Althea's twins. Tibbs also initially clashed with Bubba early in the series, but after helping Bubba clear his name during a case where he was falsely accused of rape, they became good friends as well. Even though some city council members wanted to make him chief, Tibbs firmly rebuffed their offers, preferring to work with Gillespie. After continued legal problems, Rollins was dropped from the series in 1993, and Tibbs was written out of the series as having left the community following his graduation from law school and becoming an attorney in private practice. Rollins would return as a guest star several times during the 7th season in his new profession, attorney at law.
Alan Autry Played Virgil Lawrence "Bubba" Skinner. At first Bubba was something of a redneck. Intimidating and physically powerful, he was never afraid to use force when needed, but despite his rough exterior, he was a good man deep down. He was also a sort of ladies' man around Sparta, as he always seemed to have a new girlfriend. He was known to turn female heads - including that of Althea Tibbs who refers to him as a "hunk." Bubba was deeply resentful of Virgil's presence on the police force at first, clashing with him on several occasions. He eventually became close friends with the Tibbs family, particularly after Virgil helped clear his name in a false allegation of rape. As the series progresses, Bubba is shown to be a brave and honorable man who is more complex and intelligent than people give him credit for. Through the course of the series, Bubba became more racially tolerant, referring to bigots and racists as "knotheads." Bubba was also from a large family, and was shown several times during the series to be an expert shot with a rifle. When the Sparta police needed a sniper (such as when Captain Tibbs's wife Althea was taken hostage in the episode ".......And then you die,") it was Skinner who took the shot with a scoped rifle kept in the trunk of his squad car. Bubba carried a Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver in his belt holster like most of the other Sparta police officers. In Season 1, Bubba's rank seemed to be patrolman but was never explicitly stated. By Season 2's premiere he was a Sergeant. Eventually he rose to the rank of Captain before Gillespie left the Sparta Police. In Season 5, it is revealed that Bubba's first and middle initials are V.L. Bubba also always wore "white socks" with his uniform. Bubba usually was the one who was asked to arrest the tougher suspects due to his large size and immense strength.
Anne-Marie Johnson Starred as Virgil's wife, teacher and counselor Althea Tibbs. She starred in that role for six seasons. Althea's life in Sparta was difficult-- she was raped at the beginning of the third season, and later suffered a mental breakdown after witnessing the suicide of one of her students. Althea did not reappear for the 7th season, and her character was written out as Althea had been separated from Virgil and moved back to Pennsylvania.
Lois Nettleton Played Joanne St. John from 1988 to 1989. She was the owner of the Magnolia Cafe, a popular eatery in Sparta (as seen in the show's opening). After it was revealed that Joanne was once a prostitute, she eventually left Sparta.
David Hart Played Parker Williams. He was a very perceptive character. He genuinely loved the people of Sparta whom he had sworn to serve and protect, and he often sensed when someone was hurting. Parker knew everybody in town and was able to get through to them because of his kindness. Parker generally sat behind the dispatcher's desk, handling the telephone and radio, although he also was assigned to patrol duty. In 1994, he rose to the rank of Senior Sergeant. Parker was a Vietnam veteran, as explained in the episode "My Name is Hank." As a comic relief, Parker always had a Mason jar of sweet tea on his desk, including when he was at the Tibbs's house for Christmas in the episode "Blessings." Parker can be seen holding his tea jar with a Christmas bow stuck on it.
Christian LeBlanc Portrayed Junior Abernathy, a patrolman seen only during Season 1. Junior was a young and inexperienced policeman who often was chastised by Detective Tibbs or Chief Gillespie for not knowing proper police procedure. However, Junior often rose to the occasion to assist in arrests or at other incidents in Sparta.
Geoffrey Thorne Joined the cast as Wilson Sweet in 1988. Aside from Tibbs, Sweet was one of the first black men to join the force. His ambition was to rise in the ranks of the Sparta police force and become Sparta's first black Police Chief - a part which was eventually played by Carl Weathers. The character disappeared in Season 7 after Thorne left the show and was never mentioned again.
Hugh O'Connor Played the role of Lonnie Jamison, an officer and senior investigator on the Sparta police force. Lonnie eventually rose to the rank of Lieutenant and Acting Chief of Detectives. Lonnie was a very capable officer and took his job seriously. He usually had a serious and straightforward personality, with a dry humor that always fit the moment, and he was an amiable and friendly person overall. One of the many facets of Lonnie's character was fierce, never-give-up loyalty to his friends. A prime example of that loyalty occurred over several episodes as Lonnie's friendship with Harriet DeLong's son Eugene. Lonnie was Eugene's track team coach at Sparta High, and it was Lonnie Jamison who was able to get through to the young man when Eugene's father was being tried for murder, episode "No Other Road." Later, in "A Small War," when Eugene's friend was killed in a drive-by at a drug pusher's house, Lonnie tried to convince Eugene to talk about what he had witnessed. Eugene resisted, testing Lt. Jamison's patience, but when Eugene agreed to help the police identify the shooter, it was Lonnie who drove him up to Jackson. Actually, Lonnie let Eugene drive, and they took Jamison's Corvette. That scene was another example of Lonnie helping to get through to Eugene. Lonnie was a crack shot with a rifle and was often selected by Chief Gillespie to handle a situation requiring a long range rifle shot, as in episodes "My Name is Hank," "An Eye for An Eye," and "CrackDown." Along with Bubba, the Sparta Police had a very lethal sniper team.
Carl Weathers Joined the cast in the final season as Police Chief Hampton Forbes. He was picked to lead the department after the controversial firing of Bill Gillespie. Forbes was the first black chief of the department and a 20-year veteran of the Memphis, TN, police department, serving in one of the four police districts in the city of Memphis. He retired from the MPD to become the new Police Chief in Sparta. Forbes became friends with Gillespie and often worked closely with him when Gillespie became county sheriff.
Crystal R. Fox Played Luanne Corbin. After the first black woman to join the force, Officer Christine Rankin, died in the line of duty on her first day on the job, Corbin was recruited to take her place. Crystal was featured in the episode "Singin' the Blues," which gave her the opportunity to display her talent as a singer as well as a fine actress. Her beautiful singing voice was also featured in the episode "Odessa," where she sang the Gospel song "Jesus Savior, Pilot Me."
Denise Nicholas Played Sparta City Council woman Harriet DeLong. Harriet's relationship with Chief Gillespie was deeply adversarial in the beginning, and the two clashed often when she first appeared on the show. But over the course of the series, Harriet saw Gillespie's softer, more caring side and began to think more fondly of him. By the time Denise Nicholas became a series regular, Harriet and Gillespie were becoming a couple, much to the disapproval of her son, Eugene. In the two-part episode, "Citizen Trundel," Harriet's sister, Natalie was the mistress of conniving businessman, V.J. Trundel, who later had her murdered. They had a son named Eric from their illicit affair, and Harriet eventually gained custody of him after Trundel committed suicide by deliberately crashing his private airplane after a confrontation about the murder with Gillespie. Emily Trundel, V.J.'s estranged widow, attempted to gain custody of Eric in the following season, but only succeeded in gaining visitation rights, something Harriet deeply opposed.
Randall Franks Played Officer Randy Goode (1988–1993) Randy Goode began his work on the series as a partner to Wilson Sweet in "The Creek;" he soon began driving Chief Gillespie and Detective Tibbs around.
Harvey E. Lee Jr. Played Officer Ken Covey. (Joined the show in the sixth season.)
Mark Johnson Played Officer Luke Everett. (Joined the show in the sixth season.)

Recurring cast

Actor Role
Maureen Dowdell Played Nurse Tracey Boggs, Bubba's girlfriend. Also played Nurse Jill and Lydia Kinsey.
Thom Gossom Jr. Ted Marcus
Fran Bennett Virgil's aunt Ruda Gibson
Karen Carlson Sarah Hallisey
Rugg Williams Eugene Glendon
Wallace Merck Colmer
Christine Elise Lana Farren - Gillespie's daughter by Georgia Farren as the result of a long-ago love affair. They had no relationship while Lana was growing up.
Adair Simon Emily Trundel
Bob Penny Alvin Epp
Scott Brian Higgs Randy Calhoun
Wilbur Fitzgerald Dist. Atty. Gerard Darnelle
Afemo Omilami Jimmy Dawes
Burgess Meredith Judge Cully
Stuart Culpepper Judge Henry Sims
Joe Don Baker Captain Tom Dugan - A retired Mississippi Highway Patrol police captain, Dugan appeared on the last four episodes of the second season. Baker was brought in as a stand-in for Carroll O'Connor while O'Connor was recovering from open heart surgery. Dugan was placed in the department by the FBI to uncover a plot by white supremacists to assassinate a civil rights leader. Dugan was murdered by these same white supremacists at the end of the second season. Dugan's godson, who had become involved with these people, later agreed to help the police.
Ron Culbreth Sheriff Nathan McComb - the former county sheriff. Culbreth appeared on nine episodes as Sheriff McComb. In the 7th season, McComb became too ill to continue his duties, and Gillespie was appointed as acting sheriff in his place. Prior to his appearances as McComb, Culbreth also appeared on the episode Missing in another guest role.
Pat Hingle Roy Eversole - Parker Williams' step-father. Hot tempered, Eversole had a great deal of difficulty maintaining steady employment. Eversole was once a murder suspect after getting into a heated argument with a former employer, who was subsequently found dead a short time later.
Tonea Stewart Virgil's aunt Etta Kibby
Dee Shaw Officer Dee Shepard
Jen Harper Dr. Day

Guest stars

During the series' 7½-season run, many familiar and unfamiliar actors and/or actresses have made guest appearances, and others were newcomers who have gone on to become well-known, among them appearing in Heat of the Night episodes: Ed Ames, Frances Fisher, Rod Masterson, Mel Stewart, Denzel Washington, Nana Visitor, Gail O'Grady, Peter Fonda, Don Galloway, Corbin Bernsen, Dana Barron, Marco St. John, Larry Black, Ted Lange, Mickey Jones, Mitchell Laurance, Laura Johnson, Jordan Vaughn, Martha Byrne, Walton Goggins, Maury Covington, Earl Holliman, Michael Beck, Randy Brooks, Wayne Brady, Art Evans, Nicolas Cowan, Lou Walker, Alan Arbus, Robert Goulet, Bobby Short, Iman, William Sadler, Michael Spound, Bill McKinney, Lisa Pelikan, Mark Rolston, Jennifer Bassey, Marc Macaulay, Jean Simmons, Thomas Jefferson Bird, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Matthew McConaughey, J.D. Hall, George C. Scott, Joe Senaca, Stephen Root, Bruce Kirby, Lisa Rieffel, Marla Gibbs, Ernest Lee Thomas, Ken Marshall, Laurence Fishburne, Josh Lucas (as Joshua Lucas), Ted Manson, Mariska Hargitay, Meshach Taylor, Francesco Quinn, Jeffrey Buckner Ford, Gary Anthony Williams, Richard McKenzie, Fred Thompson, Craig Shoemaker, Stephen Nichols, Stacy Keach, Mitchell Anderson, James Best, Sonny Shroyer, Michael Warren, Byron Cherry, Whitman Mayo, Ken Curtis, Louise Fletcher, Victor French, among many others. Future Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman stars, Helene Udy, William Shockley and Chad Allen made guest appearances. Future Desperate Housewives star Doug Savant and veteran actor Kevin McCarthy also made their guest appearances on the two-part pilot episode, as well as former Pro Football Hall of Fame star O. J. Simpson in a cameo appearance.

Broadcast history and ratings

The series debuted as a midseason replacement for the short-lived NBC series J.J. Starbuck, premiering on March 6, 1988. The series ran on the network until May 19, 1992, then was shown on CBS until its finale after an eighth season, on May 16, 1995.

Season Time Rank Rating Viewers
1987–88 Tuesday at 9:00-10:00 PM on NBC 19 17.0 15,639,200
1988–89 18 17.3 15,564,900
1989–90 19 16.9 13,871,900
1990–91 21 14.9 (tied with Major Dad) N/A
1991–92 Tuesday at 9:00-10:00 PM on NBC (October 1, 1991 - January 7, 1992)
Tuesday at 8:00-9:00 PM on NBC (January 14 - May 19, 1992)
30 13.1 (tied with The Golden Girls) N/A
1992–93 Wednesday at 9:00-10:00 PM on CBS 46 N/A 10,630,000
1993–94 Thursday at 8:00-9:00 PM on CBS (September 16, 1993 - January 6, 1994)
Wednesday at 9:00-10:00 PM on CBS (January 12 - May 11, 1994)

DVD releases

On August 30, 2012, TGG Direct released the first season on DVD in Region 1 for the very first time.[8] The eighth and final season was released on June 11, 2013.[7]

On October 23, 2012, TGG Direct released an 8-disc best-of set entitled In the Heat of the Night - 24hr Television Marathon.[9]

TGG Direct released seasons 4 and 5 onto DVD on December 10, 2013. However, due to licensing issues, the following episodes are missing from the box set: Brotherly Love, Shine On Sparta Moon, Sweet, Sweet Blues, Sanctuary, Law On Trial.[10][11]

TGG Direct released seasons 2 & 3 in a single boxed set onto DVD on March 11, 2014. However, due to clearance issues, the following episodes are excluded from Season 2 and Season 3 Season 2 Excluded Episodes: The Family Secret, The Hammer and the Glove, A Trip Upstate, Intruders, Sister Sister, Walkout Season 3 Excluded Episodes: Fairest of Them All, Crackdown, Anniversary, My Name is Hank, King's Ransom, A Loss of Innocence, Home is Where the Heart Is, Indiscretions, Citizen Trundel Part 1 and Part 2

TGG Direct also released seasons 6 and 7 in individual boxed sets onto DVD on March 11, 2014. However, due to clearance issues, the following episode is excluded from Season 6: Random's Child and the following episodes are excluded from Season 7: Singin' The Blues, Every Man's Family, Maybelle Returns, Ches and the Grand Lady, Dangerous Engagement.


The television series also took place in a fictionalized version of Sparta, Mississippi. While there is a real Sparta, the version of Sparta shown on television is very different from the real town. For example, the TV Sparta is situated along Interstate 20, while the real town is nowhere near any interstate. During the first season, Hammond, Louisiana was the site of the show's production. In the second season, the show was moved to Georgia, to an area east of Atlanta and it remained there for the rest of its run. The principal area of Sparta was in fact downtown Covington, Georgia. Rural scenes were filmed in a wide surrounding area, in the Georgia counties of Newton (where Covington is located), Rockdale, Walton, Morgan, and Jasper. Decatur in Dekalb County was used as a stand-in for an episode as the Mississippi Capital city of Jackson, and Atlanta itself was used in one episode, in which Bubba worked on a case there. In fact, during the series' run, many of the cast members had homes in the area and were often spotted in local restaurants and retail stores. The cast members would also go around to local schools to speak to students.


The theme song, "In the Heat of the Night," was recorded by Quincy Jones, and is usually paired with "They Call Me Mr. Tibbs" on albums. Bill Champlin of the band Chicago sang the opening theme song for the television series.

Randall Franks and Alan Autry co-produced the cast CD "Christmas Time's A Comin'" for Sonlite and MGM/UA featuring the entire cast and a host of music stars and it was released Christmas 1991 and 1992 and was among the top holiday recordings of those years around the South and Midwest.


External links

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