In the Heat of the Night
is a television
series based on the motion picture
of the same name. The
series debuted as a midseason
for the short-lived NBC series J.J.
, premiering on March 6, 1988. The series ran on
the network until May 19, 1992. October 28, 1992 saw In the
Heat of the Night
premiere its sixth season on CBS, where the
series would remain until the series finale to conclude the eighth
season aired on May 16, 1995.
as William Gillespie and Howard Rollins
as Virgil Tibbs
. In the premiere episode, Tibbs
had traveled to Sparta, Mississippi for his mother's funeral. He
was persuaded to remain by the city government, which wanted to
make its police department more diverse.
The Executive Producers for the series were Fred Silverman
, Juanita Bartlett
, and Carroll
William "Bill" Champlin
of the band
sings the opening theme
The show dealt with a variety of issues. These included racism,
drug abuse, rape, murder, incest, government corruption, and drunk
driving, among others.
season of the show was filmed in Hammond, Louisiana.
There were many conflicts between the first
executive producer, Juanita Bartlett, and series star Carroll
O'Connor. A total of 8 episodes (the two hour pilot and six regular
episodes) were filmed. O'Connor threatened to walk at the end of
the season if he remained executive producer so he was released
from his duties. The episodes in this season did not really have a
"theme" and were mostly what O'Connor called recycled material from
other crime shows. He was promised the role of story editor but the
scripts would come back marked FINAL NO REWRITES. Episodes often
focused on grisly murders or crimes and not the lives of people in
the new south that viewers would later come to appreciate.
Anne-Marie Johnson, who played Virgil's wife Althea, summed up what
it was like to film the show in the little town of Hammond: She
says "My high school was bigger than this town".
The second season of In the Heat of the Night
in December 1988 due to a writers strike. When the new season
began, the show had a new look and a new set of executive
producers. The show was moved from Louisiana to Covington,
The two-hour kickoff movie was titled
“Don’t Look Back” and involved a copycat murder that Gillespie
worked on twenty years earlier. In this episode, we are introduced
to Joanne St. John, the chief’s girlfriend and owner of the local
diner. We are also introduced to the character of Doc. Robb played
by Dan Biggers.
Other episodes this season involved a prominent citizen being
murdered due to sexual abuse in his family, Virgil’s ex-partner and
Althea’s ex-lover coming back to Sparta and being discovered as a
killer, Chief Gillespie having to arrest the fellow sheriff of the
neighboring county for committing murder in his jail, Bubba getting
caught up in a love triangle, Althea’s niece visiting from
Philadelphia, Virgil and Althea going to an all-white church,
Joanne having been a prostitute out of necessity in the past, the
arrest of council woman White’s son, Chief Gillespie witnessing an
execution, a plant strike that leads to murder, and Bubba being
accused of rape. Interesting to note that in the episode about the
plant strike, O.J. Simpson
plays the role of a Sparta City
Councilman who is murdered by being almost decapitated with a
camper's wire saw. The episode "The Creek" saw the introduction of
the first new police character "Officer Randy Goode" (1988-1993)
played by Randall Franks
the show's move to Georgia introducing the second prominent Georgia
performer to claim a regular role on the series. Franks was already
an established bluegrass music star performing for the Grand Ole
Opry pursuing a new path.
During the last four episodes of the season Joe Don Baker
had to fill in for series star
Carroll O’Connor due to open heart surgery. The chief was said to
be at a police conference for a month. It seems that his
replacement Tom Dugan was a spy working for the government in an
attempt to stop the assassination of a civil rights preacher. The
second season ended in a cliffhanger: Chief Gillespie returns to
the force only to be kidnapped by two men wearing pig masks.
Inexplicably, the next season opened without any explanation or
reference to this, as if it never happened. Only later in the
season was any mention made of it, and at that very briefly.
Carroll O'Connor wanted his open heart surgery to be written into
the story line but the writers refused to comply and came up with
the kidnapping plot. The kidnapping episode is resolved in the
third season premiere Anniversary which aired later in the season
because Carroll wanted Althea's rape to be the season opener.
The third season saw a number of changes to the show. Carroll
O'Connor was finally in charge and got to do the show that he
wanted to do. The character of Joanne St. John was eliminated to
make room for council woman Harriet Delong. Althea Tibbs received a
lot of character development this season beginning with her rape.
Howard Rollins's drug problems escalated, forcing him to miss 6
episodes due to his stay in rehab. In "First Girl," Gillespie hires
the Sparta PD's first female black officer. Her life is tragically
cut short, making room for her replacement Luanne Corbin. Dee Shaw
also joined the cast as officer Dee Sheppard. We learn that Parker
was a Vietnam veteran, and someone abandons a baby on Bubba's
doorstep. In perhaps the most important story of the year, Harriet
DeLong's sister is murdered. Gillespie knows who committed the
crime, but can he bring him to justice? This story line was very
special for Denise Nicholas, who portrayed DeLong. When Carroll
O'Connor approached Denise about the story line, she had to send
him a note explaining how real this was for her: The actress's real
sister had been murdered ten years previously. She agreed to do the
story to bring some closure for herself and her family. At the
time, no one on the set except for Carroll O'Connor, Denise
Nicholas, and director Leo Penn knew the circumstances surrounding
this episode. It is important to note that this episode set the
foundation for Gillespie and Delong's future relationship and
eventual marriage.Randall Franks
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.
The fourth season of In the Heat of the Night
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 he heads up to the “big city” to clear
his friend's name, only to be arrested himself. It is now up to
Chief Gillespie to find out the truth, clear Virgil’s name, and
make it home in time.
Other topics this season include the murder of a prostitute; a
teacher accused of molesting a child, who commits suicide due to
inflammation of the story from the press; a woman with an
intellectual disability getting pregnant and burying her child; the
introduction of Bobbie Johnson, after his brothers are killed in a
drug shootout; a scam involving another one of Virgil’s friends; a
bounty hunter; and a serial rapist stalking Sparta.
One of the two most important stories of the season involves Virgil
arresting his cousin, who shoots himself in the struggle for a gun,
becomes a paraplegic, and goes to prison. The boy's mother,
Virgil's Aunt Ruda, blames Virgil for the incident and cuts herself
off from the rest of the family, insisting, “There ain’t no family.
Not for me...not no more”
The other story involves the conviction of Harriet DeLong’s
ex-husband Vic for 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. As the relationship between
Harriet and Bill begins to evolve, all of Sparta wonders how a
relationship like that could exist and be accepted in the South.
Harriet’s ex-husband eventually gets the death penalty for his
crime, leaving Harriet and her son at odds. They continue to resent
each other because of conflicting loyalties to Vic and Bill.
The season closes with Althea almost having 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
The fifth season of In the Heat of the Night
began with a
shocking twist. Chief Gillespie has a daughter by the name of Lana
Farren. The Chief was a one-time love interest and is now good
friends with her mother Georgia. Georgia 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. In the meantime, Georgia returns to Gulfport and is
murdered. The chief takes this very personally and sets out to find
her killer. At the end of the episode, Lana finds out that Bill is
her father but acts as if she isn’t and does not want anything to
do with him. This wound cuts deeply into Bill and he has a hard
time dealing with it.Note: The character of Lana won’t be seen
again until the season six episode “Random’s Child”.
Also, Bubba gets involved with yet another baby, a teacher is
stalked by an obsessed taxidermist, a game of high stakes poker
leads to murder, Bubba gets reunited with Pat Day, Bill and Harriet
share their first public kiss, and Sweet solves the forty year old
murder mystery involving his grandfather and a 1948 Packard.
Other episodes include Sheriff McCombs deputy growing marijuana,
Darnell’s daughter being kidnapped, a wife who kills her husband
for beating her, a doctor who kills his wife and his mistress to
keep them from talking to each other, a real estate developer being
killed in an insurance scam, the return of Emily Trundel, and one
of the best episodes of the series “Family Reunion” in which, an
insurance investigator is on the trail of stolen money and is
murdered. Roy Paxton is reunited with his estranged family in an
attempt to recover the money that the matriarch has run off with
and it ends up in Sparta.
In the final two-part episode of the season, which was originally
advertised as the series finale, Gillespie and Tibbs are brought up
on charges when they help an escaped road gang prisoner of McCombs
and he is offered sanctuary in a local monastery. After he escapes
McComb feels betrayed by Gillespie and Tibbs for not upholding
their sworn duty. The gang corners the escaped prisoner but he runs
the road block and deputy Ferrell shoots him. Gillespie and Tibbs
are put on administrative leave.
Judge Simms presides over the case. After hearing both sides the
jury is not able to reach a verdict and Gillespie and Tibbs were
Of note, a sub-plot in this episode sees Councilman Waters and
Alvin Epp teaming up to keep Gillespie and Tibbs off the police
force because Gillespie vehemently objects to them overtaking
Sparta’s south side. This plot is explored further in the season
six two part episode “Even Nice People and Lake Winahatchie”.
The episode and season end with Althea and Virgil celebrating and
Bill and Harriet spending the night in each others company thus
moving their relationship to the next level.
As Season 6 began 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. Althea
Tibbs saw new trauma this season as she witnessed the suicide of
one of her students (played by Walton
), causing a near mental breakdown. Only with the help
of a tough psychologist recommended by Dr. Day is Althea able to
come out of her “funk” and return to teaching at Sparta High
School. The story arc involving Virgil and his Aunt Ruda Gibson
comes to a bitter-sweet end as she is diagnosed with cancer and he
does all he can to help her, leading to their reconciliation. Her
recovery is implied in season seven when Etta mentions that, after
Virgil and Althea left Sparta, she comes to visit and sometimes
stays the whole weekend.
Also of interest this season, Bill Gillespie’s daughter returns for
a three-episode stint to resolve the case started in "A Women Much
Admired." She is testifying against the New Orleans thugs that her
mother was involved with before her death. The case finally comes
to a conclusion as the mob led by their main Sparta connection
Lewis Alvin Epp orders Lana’s farm house burnt down after she
refuses to be bought out giving them access to Sparta’s south side.
In “Random’s Child,” this episode also becomes a musical feature
performance for "Officer Randy Goode," as Franks performs "The
Sparta Impound Blues" with actor Thomas Byrd in a scene written
specifically by O'Connor to feature Franks musically after letters
flooded in from viewers.
Other highlights this season included the return of Luanne’s
brother (played by Designing Women
), a faded country
music singer who ends up committing murder, Bubba being stalked by
an obsessed admirer, Sweet being falsely accused of accepting a
bribe, and a two-part episode involving the “white supremacy” that
still exists in the new South.
The season comes to a close when Eugene works hard to get his
father’s death sentence stayed by the state of Mississippi, only to
have his efforts stopped by a mad man who runs the prison pastor
off the road. Harriet also makes a critical decision at this point:
not to let Eugene influence her relationship with Bill anymore. He
may disapprove, but as she tells him, “One of these days you’re
going to walk away from me, and I’m just going to tell you to keep
After the season, both Howard Rollins and Anne-Marie Johnson left
the series. Rollins was dropped because of drug issues (although he
would return occasionally), while Johnson took a starring role on
Fox’s "In Living Color". Geoffrey Thorne and Randall Franks also
left the series with no explanation, and their characters were
never really written out of the show.
Season 7 of In the Heat of the Night
kicked off with a
bang. Bill Gillespie was forced out of office and former Memphis
detective Hampton Forbes was voted in. After nearly three decades
on the Sparta police force, the city council decided not to renew
Bill's contract because of his open relationship with Harriet
DeLong. It seemed as if Holly Colmer finally got his way, or did
Colmer’s celebration is short-lived however, and Gillespie is soon
appointed as the Sheriff of Newton County because Nathan McComb
suffers a heart attack and is too ill to continue his duties.
Hampton Forbes, meanwhile, is getting to know his new town and his
new officers, who are not happy that Gillespie is gone. Gillespies
last official act on his way out the door is to give each of his
officers a promotion.
The character of Virgil Tibbs was written out of the show due to
the fact that Howard Rollins had continuing drug problems. He is
often talked about but only seen in three episodes the entire
season credited as a special guest star. Lonnie Jamison takes over
the role of Chief of Detectives in Virgil’s absence.
Notable episodes this season include the daughter of a friend of
Bubba’s contracting AIDS from someone who knowingly gave it to her,
and the personal storylines involving Luanne, which include her
singing nights in a sexy blues club and helping take care of an
abandoned baby—with whom she falls in love. It is later revealed
that she can’t have children of her own and she decides to sign up
to be a full-time foster parent. Other episodes include Parker
being accused of police brutality, Bubba trying to help his nephew
deal with recovering from drugs, a deeper look at Lonnie’s life off
the police force which is controlled by his cantankerous Aunt Cora,
and Harriet DeLong taking a bigger part in the story lines. Series
co-star Denise Nicholas wrote four episodes this season.
Perhaps the most amusing episode of the season involved the return
of Maybelle Chesboro the ex-madam. She has returned to operate a
legal phone sex business. All is going well until one of her
employees tries to blackmail one of Holly Colmer’s friends and ends
up getting shot. Maybelle decides to hang it up for good, but not
before visiting Bill and attempting to get romantic one last
While some wished the series were renewed for another full season,
it was beginning to wind down, and with that came what has been a
long time coming—the marriage of Bill Gillespie and Harriet DeLong.
However, some in Sparta are not happy about the event and death
almost does the couple part when a sniper mistakes Gillespie for
The wedding goes off without a hitch, and in the final two-part
episode of the season Bill and Harriet prepare to celebrate their
honeymoon—only to be interrupted when a cult invades Sparta with
The series wraps up during the 8th season with four two-hour
The show aired four made-for-television movies during the 1994-1995
season. This is considered to be the eighth season of the show.
Each movie was two hours in length, making them equivalent to eight
regular episodes. The movies were:
- A Matter of Justice
- Who was Geli Bendl?
- By Duty Bound
- Grow Old Along with Me (Series Finale)
||Starred in the lead role of William O. "Bill" Gillespie.
Gillespie was a crusty but honorable small town police chief. At
first resentful of Virgil Tibbs, he would later become very close
to Virgil and the rest of the Tibbs family. For the first six
seasons he was the chief of the Sparta Police Department until he
was fired at the beginning of the 7th season. He would then become
interim Sheriff after the previous Sheriff became too ill to
continue his duties. Gillespie was married at one time to Anna, who
became pregnant - both she and their son would die in childbirth.
He also had an older daughter, Lana, 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
4, near the end of the 1988-89 season, because of his recovery from
open heart surgery.
||Starred in the lead role of Virgil
Tibbs. An African-American, he
had grown up in Sparta but later moved north and became a police
detective. He would later return to Sparta after being offered a
job as chief of detectives with the city police department. At
first Tibbs and Gillespie butted heads, but would soon become close
friends - Gillespie even became a godfather to Virgil and Althea's
twins. 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.
Tibbs would return as a guest star several times during the 7th
season in his new role as an attorney before Rollins was
permanently barred from the county where the series was filmed
after another arrest.
||Played "Bubba" Skinner. Skinner was something of a redneck. He was also a sort of ladies
man around town. He eventually became close friends with the Tibbs
family. Skinner was from a large family. Eventually he rose to the
rank of Captain. In Season 5, it is revealed that Skinner's first
and middle initials are V.L.
||Starred as Virgil's wife Althea Tibbs. She starred in that role
for six seasons. Althea's life in Sparta was very rough, having
been raped at the beginning of the third season, and suffering a
mental breakdown later after witnessing the suicide of one of her
students. Althea did not reappear for the seventh season, and her
character was written out as Althea had been separated from Virgil
and moved back to Pennsylvania. In reality, Johnson left the show
for a role on the Fox Television
sketch comedy show In Living Color.
||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
||Played Parker Williams. Parker generally sat behind the
dispatcher's desk, although he would also be assigned to patrol
duty. He finally in 1994 rose to the rank of First Sergeant. Parker
was a Vietnam veteran. As a comic
relief Parker would always have a glass of soda pop on his
||Portrayed Junior Abernathy, a patrolman seen only during Season
|Geoffrey A. Thorne
||Joined the cast as Wilson Sweet in 1988. Aside from Tibbs,
Sweet was one of the first African
Americans to join the force. His ambition was to rise in the
ranks of the Sparta police force and become Sparta first black
Police Chief-a part which was played by Carl Weathers.
||Played the role of Lonnie Jamison, an officer on the Sparta
police force. O'Connor was the adopted son of Carroll O'Connor.
O'Connor had gotten his son this role as a way of keeping Hugh
close to him, and in the hopes of keeping him away from drugs.
||Joined the cast in the final season as Hampton Forbes. He was
picked to lead the department after the controversial firing of
Bill Gillespie. Forbes was the first African-American chief of the
department. Forbes became friends with Gillespie, and would often
work closely with him when Gillespie became sheriff. Weathers was a
replacement for Howard Rollins, who had been dropped from the
series after continued legal problems.
|Crystal R. Fox
||Played Luanne Corbin. After the first African American woman to join the force
died in the line of duty on her first day on the job, Corbin was
recruited to take her place.
||Played Sparta City Councillwoman Harriet DeLong. Harriet's
relationship with Chief Gillespie was deeply adversarial in the
beginning, due to his somewhat racist personality 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.
Harriet's sister was the mistress of conniving businessman, V.J.
Trundle, who later murdered her. They had a son named Eric from
their illicit affair and Harriet eventually gained custody of him
after Trundle committed suicide by deliberately crashing his
private airplane after a confrontation about the murder with
||Played Officer Randy Goode (1988-1993) Randy Goode began his
work on the series as a partner to Willson Sweet in "The Creek"; he
soon began driving Chief Gillespie and Detective Tibbs around. He
was often found at crime scenes shooting crime photos, handling the
police dog, dusting for finger prints, or following suspects. Back
at the station, he served a jail turnkey, alternated with Parker
Williams, Luanne Corbin and Dee Shepard manning the phones and the
radio, played checkers with prisoners and with Bubba with whom he
was often partnered in the field until the addition of Luke Everett
and Everett became his partner on the show until Franks left the
show. He also performed musically on the show playing guitar in
season six. Franks often used the character to provide some comedy
to the drama. Randy Goode is seen in almost every show from seasons
two through six.
|Mark W. Johnson
||Played Luke Everett. Joined the show in the sixth season.
|Thom Gossom, Jr.
||Lana Gillespie - Gillespie's daughter.
|Scott Brian Higgs
||JudgeDr. Alfred Wiggins Ed Ruger
|Joe Don Baker
||Captain Tom Dugan - A retired 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. His
nephew, who had become involved with these people, later agreed to
help the police.
||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.
||Roy Eversole - Parker Williams' 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.
Four of the actors who played main characters in the series have
since died. Hugh O'Connor
, who had
played Jamison, committed suicide on March 28, 1995, after having
had problems with drugs
years. He was then followed by Howard
on December 8, 1996, who had died of complications from
lymphoma. On June 21, 2001, Carroll
, who had been suffering from diabetes, died after
having had a heart attack
Finally, on January 18, 2008, Lois
, who played Joann St. John died at age 80 of lung
cancer after years of heavy smoking.
A roster of guest stars
During the series' seven and 1/2-season run, many 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: Frances Fisher
, Nana Visitor
, Gail O'Grady
, Dana Barron
, Marco St. John
, Mickey Jones
Laurance, Laura Johnson
Vaughn, Martha Byrne
, Walton Goggins,
Maury Covington, Earl Holliman
, Wayne Brady
, Art Evans
Lou Walker, Robert Goulet
, Bobby Short
, William Sadler
, Michael Spound,
, Lisa Pelikan
, Jennifer Bassey
Macaulay, Jean Simmons
Jefferson Bird, Vanessa Bell
, Matthew McConaughey, J.D. Hall, Bruce Kirby
, Ernest Thomas
, Ken Marshall
, Laurence Fishburne, Ted Manson,
, Meshach Taylor
, Francesco Quinn
, Jeffrey Buckner Ford,
Gary Anthony Williams
McKenzie, Craig Shoemaker
, Stephen Nichols
, Mitchell Anderson
, James Best
, Byron Cherry
, Whitman Mayo
, among many others. Future
Dr. Quinn Medicine
and Chad Allen
appearances. Future Desperate
star Doug Savant
veteran actor Kevin McCarthy
also made their guest appearances on the two-part pilot
episode, as well as former football
star turned convicted felon O.J. Simpson in a cameo appearance
television series also took place in a fictionalized version of
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, and it remained there for the rest of its
run. The principal area of Sparta was in fact
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.
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