|Directed by||Jerry London|
|Produced by||Jerry London
John E. Quill
|Written by||Robert W. Lenski|
Billy Dee Williams
|Music by||Michael Small|
|Editing by||Eric Albertson
John J. Dumas
|Original run||November 13, 1983 – November 16, 1983|
|Running time||6 hours|
|No. of episodes||3|
Chiefs is a television miniseries based upon the novel of the same name by Stuart Woods. It was broadcast on CBS over three nights in November 1983. It was directed by Jerry London, and stars Charlton Heston, Keith Carradine, Stephen Collins, Danny Glover, Wayne Rogers, and Billy Dee Williams. It received three Emmy Award nominations and one Eddie Award nomination.
The miniseries is set in the fictional town of Delano, Georgia, which appears to be loosely based on Manchester, Georgia, situated at the base of Pine Mountain. The story begins in 1924 as town patriarch Hugh Holmes (Charlton Heston), whose character intermittently narrates the story, decides that the town has grown large enough to require a jail and a full-time police officer. Shortly after the town appoints failed farmer Will Henry Lee (Wayne Rogers) its first police chief, the townspeople become alarmed by a series of disappearances of young men and boys. The story follows three generations of Delano police chiefs - Will Henry Lee (Rogers), Sonny Butts (Brad Davis), and Tyler Watts (Billy Dee Williams) - as they investigate the crimes. Even though he has no law enforcement experience Will Henry Lee becomes known as a fair minded, effective police chief. Soon after his appointment Will Henry Lee starts investigating the murder of young man by the train tracks in town. The local coroner informs Chief Lee that the boy had been sexually molested prior to his murder. Chief Lee investigates and learns that other boys, many vagrants, have disappeared in the area. He is the first to discover that well-to-do loner "Foxy" Funderburke (Keith Carradine) is responsible for the crimes, but Chief Lee is mistakenly shot by a delirious man before he can arrest the well-regarded local. Funderburke hovers in the background while the dying Lee tries to gasp out the truth about Funderburke's guilt, but Lee's wife fails to understand. Despite the feverish delirium that caused him to believe that the police chief was trying to kill his son, the man who shot Lee is executed because he is a black man.
Now again free from suspicion, Funderburke continues a decades long spree of sexually motivated murders. Shortly after World War II, crooked and violent Army veteran Sonny Butts, is appointed to the post of assistant police chief in Delano because he is a war hero. When the serving Police Chief dies of a heart attack the city council appoints Butts to fill the vacancy. Butts soon shows his true colors as a violent racist in public. He also figures out Funderburke's guilt, just as town father Holmes tells Butts he is about to take his badge due to a series of depredations culminating in Butts's murder of a Medgar Evers-like figure. Sure that solving the murders- mystery will save his job, Butts goes to Funderburke's land and catches him in the very act of burying his latest victim. But as Butts chortles over his victory, letting down his guard, Funderburke strikes Butts with the shovel in his hands, shoots Butts with his own police revolver, and buries his body on the spot—along with his police motorcycle. No one makes the connection between the disappearance of Butts and the long-unsolved murders.
Running parallel to the continual investigation, is the story of Chief Lee's son, Billy. A young boy at the time of his father's death, Billy Lee comes home from World War II an officer and war hero. He becomes a successful lawyer and, boldly for the time and place, a liberal. He enters politics and becomes Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. Around that time Tyler Watts, a Major and highly decorated career officer in the United States Army Military Police Corps., is about to retire from U.S. Army after over twenty years of distinguished service. He applies for the position of Delano's Police Chief which is currently vacant. The city council is impressed with Major Watts' impressive military record. In 1962, Billy Lee is garnering national attention in part due to his support of Major Watts' being appointed as Police Chief. He and Mayor Hugh Holmes support the controversial hiring of Watts, who is an African-American, and who Billy Lee and everyone else assumes is a newcomer to Delano. With Holmes and Lee's support, Tyler Watts is appointed as the new Police Chief of Delano. Billy Lee does not recognize Watts as his boyhood friend, son of the man who shot his father, as the child fled the town following the shooting and assumed another name. Despite Lee's support, Watts is wary lest the increasingly powerful man discover his true identity. Yet Watts, an experienced criminal investigator, also uncovers the truth of the serial murders and of Funderburke's guilt. Unable to obtain a local search warrant for Funderburke's farm because of racism and local politics, Chief Watts with the assistance of Lt. Governor Lee seek the FBI's assistance in the case. FBI Special Agents from the Atlanta, GA FBI Field Office obtain a federal search warrant on the charge of violation of persons' civil rights, to wit: murder. On Funderburke's land, having looked at first in vain for evidence of the crimes, one of the FBI Special Agents accompanying Chief Watts trips over the jutting handlebar of the late Chief Butts' buried police motorcycle. As the Special Agents begin digging up the dirt with their bare hands, Funderburke goes for his shotgun, and wounds Chief Watts in the arm. Then Funderburke is immediately shot to death himself by the FBI Agents, thus escaping a public reckoning for four decades of murders. Aged town father Holmes grieves for his town as the bodies of young boy after young boy are unearthed from the ground surrounding Funderburke's house by FBI Forensics Teams (evoking the discovery of the bodies of the victims of John Wayne Gacy). Watts, however, is now an acknowledged hero, and he decides to tell Billy Lee who he really is.
Warm Springs is the site of the vacation home of the late Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and a state park bearing his name is located on Pine Mountain. In this story, Foxy Funderburke resides on Pine Mountain, and presumably the name of the town of Delano alludes to President Roosevelt's nearby summer home.
John J. O'Connor of the New York Times said Chiefs was "an ambitious yet flawed project that overall, works powerfully well." Director London has "a keen sense of what the sweeping saga entails, though there are weaknesses." He criticised the ending of the miniseries for not following the novel's ending, but noted that the performances of Davis (Sonny Butts), Sorvino (Skeeter), Carradine (Foxy Funderburke), and Glover (Marshall Peters) were outstanding. Among the flaws is a whipping scene in which a young white man is flogged, supposedly for having sexual intercourse with a black woman. The scriptwriters have that backwards. In the Old South, a young white man was free to gain experience with a willing black girl. What terrified the Old South was a black man having sex with a white woman. This historical inaccuracy may have been included because the white man is the implied victim of homosexual rape at the hands of Foxy Funderburke (Carradine), and the thought of a white man and a black man engaging in homosexual sex would have been equally repugnant to the sensibilities of the Old South.
- "Outstanding Art Direction for a Limited Series or a Special" – Production designer Charles C. Bennett and Set designer Victor Kempster (for Part 2)
- "Outstanding Limited Series" – Executive producer Martin Manulis, supervising producer Jerry London, and producer John E. Quill
- "Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special" – Keith Carradine
- Charlton Heston - Hugh Holmes
- Keith Carradine - Foxy Funderburke
- Wayne Rogers - Will Henry Lee
- Stephen Collins - Billy Lee
- Brad Davis - Sonny Butts
- Billy Dee Williams - Tyler Watts (a.k.a. Joshua Cole)
- Paul Sorvino - Sheriff Skeeter Willis
- Danny Glover - Marshall Peters
- Tess Harper - Carrie Lee
- Victoria Tennant - Trish Lee
- O'Connor, John J. (November 11, 1983). "TV Weekend; Life of a Georgia Town". New York Times. Retrieved July 11, 2009.
- White, Ray; Lindsay, Duane, eds. (2007) . "Chiefs Did the Trick: Interview with Stuart Woods". How I Got Published: Famous Authors Tell You In Their Own Words (1 ed.). Cincinnati, Ohio: F+W Publications Inc. pp. 245–246. ISBN 978-1-58297-510-8. Retrieved July 11, 2009.