In the Heat of the Night (TV series)

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In the Heat of the Night
In the Heat of the Night (TV series) cast photo.jpg
Created by John Ball
Developed by James Lee Barrett
Starring Carroll O'Connor
Howard Rollins (seasons 1–6, guest star on season 7)
Carl Weathers (season 7)
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 3–7)
Denise Nicholas (seasons 3–7)
Christian LeBlanc (season 1)
Theme music composer Quincy Jones
Alan Bergman
Marilyn Bergman
Opening theme Performed by Bill Champlin
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 7
No. of episodes 142 + 4 TV movies (List of episodes)
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 (1988-1993)
MGM Television (1993-1994)
Original channel NBC (1988–1992)
CBS (1992–1994)
Original run March 6, 1988 (1988-03-06) – May 11, 1994 (1994-05-11)

In the Heat of the Night is an American television series based on the film and the novel of the same title. It starred Carroll O'Connor as the white police chief William Gillespie, and Howard Rollins as the black police detective Virgil Tibbs. It was broadcast on NBC from 1988 until 1992, and then on CBS until 1994. Its executive producers were Fred Silverman, Juanita Bartlett and Carroll O'Connor. TGG Direct released the first season of the series to DVD on August 28, 2012.


In the premiere episode, Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia detective, has returned home (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, in 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' condenscending suspicion of his hometown, they prove highly effective in enforcing the law.

Eventually becoming a lawyer, Tibbs resigned to practice in Jackson, Mississippi with occasional cases in Sparta while 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. Fortunately, 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, drug abuse, rape, AIDS, incest, child abuse, anti-Semitism, government corruption, homophobia, and drunk driving.

Season-by-season overview[edit]

First season[edit]

The first season of the show was filmed in Hammond, Louisiana. Many conflicts arose between the first executive producer, Juanita Bartlett, and series star Carroll O'Connor. A total of eight episodes (the two-hour pilot, plus six regular episodes) were filmed. O'Connor threatened to quit if Bartlett remained executive producer, so she was eventually replaced.

The episodes in this season were mostly "recycled material from other crime shows," in O'Connor's words.[where?] O'Connor was promised the head writing position of Story Editor, but scripts would come back marked, "FINAL NO REWRITES."[citation needed] Episodes often focused on grisly murders or crimes, not the lives of the "New South"-era characters. 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: "My high school was bigger than this town."

Second season[edit]

Season two began airing in December 1988, owing 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 and being exposed as a murderer; Chief Gillespie having to face his own bigoted past when he arrests a close friend—who is also the Sheriff of the neighboring county—for committing a racially-motivated murder; Bubba 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"; Virgil and Althea going to an all-white Baptist Church in which the Pastor was murdered; Joanne (Lois Nettleton) being stalked by a murderous ex-con who escaped from a Louisiana Maximum Security Prison; the arrest of Councilwoman White’s son, Andrew White, for the recent robberies of elderly women; Chief Gillespie witnessing the execution of a convict he had helped capture, and who left Gillespie a bequest in his will; a mill union strike that leads to murder of Councilman Stiles, played by O.J Simpson; Bubba being accused of rape outside a bar and the capture of a serial rapist in Sparta; a manhunt for a drunk driver who killed three of Sparta's high school cheerleaders, and crippled a fourth; and an episode involving a serial killer mystery, in which everyone suspects the local "Pigwoman," until the real killer is revealed in a surprise ending.

During the last four episodes of this season, Joe Don Baker guest-starred as Retired Highway Patrol Capt. Tom Dugan, who was brought in as acting chief-of-police, while Chief Gillespie was at a month-long police conference in Quantico, Virginia. In real life, Baker was brought in to substitute for O’Connor, who was undergoing open heart surgery. Carroll O'Connor wanted his open heart surgery to be written into the story line, but the writers refused and came up with the kidnapping idea, instead. This is the only absence of Carroll O'Connor during the show's entire run.

In the storylines, Dugan is a good ol' boy with a mysterious side; he often works without consulting Detective Tibbs, and is unaccounted for on several occasions. The working relationship between Dugan and Tibbs becomes increasingly strained, in some ways reminiscent of Tibbs' and Gillespie's formerly combative relationship from season one. Eventually, Tibbs and Bubba Skinner become completely distrustful of Dugan, and Dugan increasingly feels that the entire police department will never accept him as one of its own, and views Tibbs as the rightful "chief", in Gillespie's absence. It is later revealed he was not only placed by Mrs. White of the Sparta City Council who was anti-Gillespie in every respect, but Dugan was actually an undercover FBI Agent working to prevent the assassination of a prominent southern civil rights preacher, and to discover the town's connections to BOAP (Brotherhood of Aryan People), the group which may have kidnapped Gillespie.

The second season ended in a cliffhanger: The story line of Chief Gillespie is that he was kidnapped and being held captive by BOAP, of the Deep South. Chief Gillespie returns, only to be kidnapped (and JoAnne shot) at his home by two men wearing pig masks. After acting Chief Dugan was summoned to meet out in the woods near an old shack, he was gunned down by men dressed in pig masks, and discovered by Gillespie who was eventually let go. Gillespie wandered to a highway to hitch a ride back into town to the Sparta Police Department.

Inexplicably, season three opened without any explanation or reference to this, as if it never happened. Only later in season three was any mention made of it—and only a passing one. The kidnapping episode is resolved in the third season premiere "Anniversary"—which aired out of order, later in season three, because O'Connor wanted Althea's rape story line to be the season opener.[citation needed]

Third season[edit]

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 a person who worked with her 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.

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 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 & William J. Royce, Harriet DeLong's sister, Natalie, is murdered.

Fourth season[edit]

In the fourth season, Carroll O'Connor took complete control of the show by firing the entire writing staff, except for Cynthia Deming and William J. Royce, making them Story Editor(s).

The season begins with 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 falsely accused of molesting a child, who commits suicide when he is fired from his job in spite of his proven innocence; a woman with an intellectual disability getting pregnant and burying her child; the introduction of Bobby Johnson, after his brother is killed in a drug shootout; a scam involving another one of Virgil’s friends; a bounty hunter; and a serial rapist stalking Sparta.

Virgil arrests 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”

Another 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 share a glass of wine together.

Fifth season[edit]

The fifth season begins with the revelation 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 and is extremely jealous of the friendship between Georgia and Gillespie. 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".

Bobby Short plays blues musician Ches Collins in the award-winning episode "Sweet, Sweet Blues," one of the most powerful episodes of the season. (Based on the true story of Medgar Evers.) Officer Wilson Sweet learns there was a witness to the murder of his grandfather back in 1948. When he learns the murderer is still alive, Sweet is determined to see that justice is served. The crooked cop referred to in the song of "Sweet Sweet Blues" is played by James Best, the now retired Sheriff. Best appeared on the long time series The Dukes of Hazzard as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane. It is later revealed in this episode that the Sheriff visited the grave of where Wilson Sweet's grandfather was buried, now underneath a swingset in a park of a children's playground. Wilson Sweet confronts Best's character to let him know he is aware where his grandfather is buried and that he will pray with him at the site if he wants to meet there.[1]

Also, Bubba gets involved with yet another baby that is first presumed to many as Bubba's child since the baby boy is left on Bubba's doorstep one night. It is later revealed that a distant cousin of Bubba's named Cassie Long is the child's mother and was visiting Sparta to confront the child's father for Child Support of the baby. The presumed father was a prominent successful attorney who had an affair with Cassie and had paid her to have an abortion, and upon the evening where Cassie and the attorney were to meet, the attorney murders Cassie in front of the small baby sitting in a nearby carseat. The attorney who murdered Cassie was arrested at a large beautiful church in Sparta on the evening of his own wedding rehearsal in front of the bride to be, parents and wedding party; another episode is where a high school teacher who is a dear friend of Althea Tibbs is stalked by an obsessed taxidermist who's confronted to stop harassing the teacher. The teacher is a promiscuious lady and often referred to as the town slut due to many of the one night flings she has with men she meets in the various bars in Sparta. The over zealous and obsessed taxidermist (Mr. Crowe) goes as far to kill one of the lovers of the teacher and his last attempt to get back at the "harlot" teacher is wrapping up a bond to resemble a box of candy that's found in time and defused outside the high school in a near miss of injuring any students of Sparta High; a game of high-stakes poker leads to murder in "Liars Poker" guest starring Tippi Hedren of Alfred Hitchcock's popular movie The Birds; Parker gets reunited with his stepfather Roy, played by Pat Hinkle; Bubba is reunited with his Los Angeles love interest Miss Pat Day who represents the insurance company investigating the arson fires that involved a wanted man from Sparta. Bubba and Miss Day run from the Los Angeles mob connected members in order to bring a witness to trial who works for the mob bosses in their various business fronts in Los Angeles; Bill and Harriet share their first public kiss, and Sweet solves the forty-year-old murder mystery involving his grandfather and a 1948 Packard. Also, the estrangement between Virgil's aunt Ruda and the Tibbs family comes to an end in the episode, "Ruda's Awakening", after Ruda witnesses a robbery-in-progress where a young man is killed while fighting over a gun with Bubba. Ruda initially believes Bubba is responsible, but after visiting her son, Tyrell in jail (where he confesses the accident that crippled him was his fault and not Virgil's), her memory of the incident clears and Bubba is exonerated. This leads to a joyful reconciliation between Virgil and his Aunt Ruda at the end of the episode.

Other episodes include Sheriff McCombs' deputy illegally growing and selling marijuana, which this episode begins with Bubba traveling to Sutters Rock with a love interest for an afternoon picnic at Sutters Rock when the deputy is hidden in the woods shooting at Bubba and his date to scare them away and keep them from discovering the field of marijuana. Bubba's date is injured when one of the warning shots fired ricochets off the large rock and becomes lodged in her leg. Virgil later discovers a bullet casing the deputy tried so hard to cover from Virgil in his search around the area. Virgil later confronts Sheriff McCombs that his deputy took the bullet casing and replaced it with another separate bullet casing for the lab to inspect; District Attorney Darnell’s daughter being kidnapped; a wife who kills her husband for beating and mentally abusing her; a doctor who kills his wife and frames his mistress to keep them from talking to each other, then killing his mistress only to leave his fingerprint on a capsule containing rat poison that was accidentally dropped under the sofa by the mistress; a real estate developer being killed in an insurance scam; the return of Emily Trundel, the wife of the wealthiest man in Mississippi, 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. The police follow the family to a cemetery called "Hush You Heros" where the family is followed into a crypt of Kilroy, a Northern Soldier from the war between the North and South, and in the crypt there are hundreds of thousands of dollars rolled up and stuffed into hot water bottle containers. The money is collected and the insurance company tries to retrieve the money from Chief Gillespie, who refuses to give it back to them because he is a policy holder of the same company and tells the insurance company that the money belongs to the people who had to pay for the loss of the missing money. The scene ends with three (3) angry insurance company representatives who are determined to file a lawsuit to get the money back, but Gillespie makes his point that his policy increase was to cover the cost of this loss and the money recovered will not decrease his policy amount. Gillespie wants the company to fight to get the money back and in the meantime, he's holding the money as evidence in the crime.

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 county road gang prisoner (Francesco Quinn) of Sheriff McCombs and the escapee is an illegal immigrant seeking political asylum from a war-torn Latin American nation who is offered sanctuary in a local monastery ran by a friend of Gillespie's Father DeMarco. After the convict escapes McComb from the monastery, McCombs feels betrayed by Gillespie and Tibbs for not upholding their sworn duty. The Sheriff's men corner the escaped prisoner but has he runs the road block Deputy Ferrell shoots and kills him. Gillespie and Tibbs are put on administrative leave.

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 DeMarco represents himself at trial and speaks to the courtroom and the judge greatly and results as a great impact of the case being dismissed against them. The conflict between Sheriff McCombs and Chief Gillespie lingers on several episodes and that conflict effects every crossover dealing with McCombs deputies and Gillespie's officers where they have to interact with one another. It isn't until the arrival of Chief Hampton Forbes (Carl Weathers) when we see Sheriff McCombs and Gillespie being friends again.

A sub-plot in this episode sees Councilman Waters and the crooked town attorney Alvin Epp teaming up to keep Gillespie and Tibbs off the police force because Gillespie vehemently objects to them overtaking Sparta’s south side. Gillespie's daughter Lana (Christine Elyse) now lives in Sparta on the prime spot of south side right along the Winihatchie River. Lana's neighbor Randy Calhoun, somewhat eccentric character, lives across the street from Lana and becomes her friend and caretaker of her property. Lana Farren is living in the home her grandmother and mother lived years ago and has become close to her father upon her return to Sparta. It is also revealed in several episodes that Attorney Alvin Epp is a member of the mob who is operating as an attorney in the small Southern town of Sparta. This plot is explored further in the season six two-part episode "Even Nice People and Lake Winahatchie" as Alvin Epp and Betty Simms, the real estate agent, employ a known arsonist to try and burn out the homes of Lana and Randy Calhoun in order to obtain the property along the Winahatchie River to be developed into the Winahatchie Lake where the property values increase 300 percent. An episode where a drug smuggler is involved in a hit and run of Virgil's young neighbor Kevin, traveling on his bike to school reveals the fact that Epp is involved greatly in the mob and its dealings throughout Spart and larger cities. The driver of the "Baby Diaper Service" is really a front for smuggling cocaine to larger cities. The driver flees the site of the accident where he hit the boy (Kevin) and luckily, Bubba is pumping gas at a station across from the intersection where young Kevin is injured. Bubba chases the hit and run driver down and holds him until backup arrives. Officer Lonnie Jameson (Hugh O'Connor, the son of Carroll O'Connor) discovers the large amounts of cocaine in the boxes labeled diapers and perform a taste test to confirm it is not baby powder but in fact cocaine. The driver eventually is granted to leave under the orders of the FBI due to the mob relation of the drug smuggling. The fact that the driver ran over a child and put the child into a coma has no effect on the FBI, as they want to use the prisoner/driver as states evidence against the mob. Gillespie and Tibbs fight hard to keep the charges against the prisoner but are overruled by the FBI in taking the prisoner into their custody. The angry father of young Kevin is later charged for murder when the FBI is transporting the hit and run driver from the Sparta City Jail into their custody. Kevin's father is a sniper on the bell tower of the church down the street from the jail and kills the hit and run driver before he can be put into the car and transported to another facility at the FBI's discretion. Kevin's father is unaware that Kevin has regained consciousness and is going to fully recover before his shooting and murdering of the heartless hit and run driver.

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

Sixth season[edit]

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 later. Althea Tibbs saw new trauma this season as she witnessed the suicide of one of her students, Garth Watkins (played by Walton Goggins), causing a near mental breakdown. Garth is so obsessed with his girlfriend, who has long broken up with him and dating 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 seventeen-year-old girl, Megan Fowler. Megan is also a student of Althea's and was counseled by Althea along with Garth Watkins and the death of his mother which had a tremendous effect on him, which he shoots himself in the head at the grave of his mother, where Althea found him and was trying to talk him out of committing suicide. Only with the help of a tough psychologist (played by Allan Arbus) recommended by Dr. Day is Althea able to come out of her “funk” depression and mental overload in order to return to teaching/counseling at Sparta High School. Aunt Ruda Gibson makes another appearance as she is diagnosed with cancer and Virgil does all he can to help her. This episode also reveals a Doctor who is "helping" cancer patients end their lives abruptly with overdoses than linger on until the cancer finally takes them away after many months of suffering. The story line resembles the same practices of real life Dr. Kivorkian and his mercy killings of terminal patients. Virgil and Althea hire a cancer specialist who practices new age medicine and Aunt Ruda is given a second chance at life and isn't another victim dying of cancer. Aunt Ruda's 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 week assisting with the twins, William and Sarah.

Also of interest this season, Bill Gillespie’s daughter, Lana returns for a three-episode stint to resolve the case started in "A Woman 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. The events in that storyline lead into Bill’s and Lana’s reconciling. 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.[citation needed]

Other highlights this season included the return of Luanne’s brother (played by Designing Women '​s Meshach Taylor), 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 on going”.

After the season Howard Rollins, 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[edit]

Season 7 began with Bill Gillespie being forced out of office and former Memphis, TN Police Department Inspector Hampton Forbes hired as the new police chief. 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. However, Gillespie is soon appointed as the acting Sheriff of Newman County when 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. Gillespie's last official act on his way out the door is to give several of his officers a promotion.

Finally, the marriage of Bill Gillespie and Harriet DeLong takes place near the end of the seventh season.

In the beginning of this season, Virgil is mentioned as being in Jackson getting his law degree. He is often talked about but only seen in three episodes the entire season credited as a special guest star. When Virgil returns to Sparta as an attorney, he and Althea have separated and she has moved back to Philadelphia with the twins. Lonnie Jamison takes over the role of Chief of Detectives in Virgil’s absence.

Notable episodes this season include "A Depraved Heart" about the daughter of a friend of Bubba’s contracting AIDS from someone who knowingly gave it to her, and "Singin' The Blues" involving Luanne, which includes her singing at a blues club and helping take care of an abandoned baby—with whom she comes to love as her own. It is later revealed that she can not have children of her own and she decides to sign up to be a full-time foster parent.Marla Gibbs guest stars as a Family and Children Services Case Worker. Other episodes include Parker being accused of police brutality, Bubba going to Atlanta to help his nephew deal with recovering from drugs,and investigating Drug Dealers while there. 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. Actor/director Larry Hagman directed several episodes.

In "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' 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. Maybelle decides to give up working in the business for good, but not before visiting Bill and attempting to get romantic with him.

The season and the TV series wraps up with the two-hour movie of the week, "Give Me Your Life" starring Peter Fonda as Marcantony 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[edit]

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.[2] The movies were:

  • A Matter of Justice
  • Who was Geli Bendl?
  • By Duty Bound
  • Grow Old Along with Me

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[edit]

  • Mark Rodgers (1989–1990)
  • Edward Deblasio (1989–1990)
  • Nancy Bond (1989–1990)
  • William J Royce (1989–1994)
  • Cynthia Deming (1990–1994)
  • Robert Bielak (1990–1991)
  • Mitch Schneider (1990–1994)
  • Joe Gannon (1991–1994)


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, he 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 identifies 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 high powered sidearms such as the Colt Python that he wore and later on 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, 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, Pennsylvania. 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 a godfather to Virgil and Althea's twins. He also initially clashed with Bubba early in the series, but after Virgil helped 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 V.L. "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 on hand. He was known to turn female heads-including 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 at first glance, as the series progressed, Bubba became more racially tolerant, referring to bigots and racists as "knotheads", Bubba was also from a large family, and was shown several times over the course of the series, a crack expert shot with a rifle and 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 Policemen. In Season One Bubba's rank seemed to be patrolman but was never explicitly stated. By Season Two's premiere he was a Sergeant. Eventually he rose to the rank of Captain after 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 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 suffered 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. Johnson left the show for a role on the Fox Television sketch comedy show In Living Color.
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. Parker Williams 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 would also be 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 would always have a Mason jar of sweet tea on his desk, including when he was at the Tibb's house for Christmas in the episode Blessings. Parker can be seen holding a mason 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 Captain Tibbs or Chief Gillespie for not knowing proper police procedure. However he 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 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. The character disappeared in Season Seven 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 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. Over the course of several episodes Lonnie's friendship with Harriet DeLong's son Eugene was shown. 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, such as in My Name is Hank, An Eye for An Eye, CrackDown, etc. 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 African-American chief of the department. Forbes was a twenty-year veteran of the Memphis, TN Police Department rising to the rank of Inspector. An Inspector in the MPD commands of 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 would often work closely with him when Gillespie became county sheriff.
Crystal R. Fox Played Luanne Corbin. After the first African American 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 Councillwoman 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. It was shown in the two-part episode, "Citizen Trundle", that Harriet's sister, Natalie was the mistress of conniving businessman, V.J. Trundle, who later had her murdered. 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 Gillespie. Emily Trundle, V.J.'s estranged widow attempted to gain custody of Eric in the following season, but only succeeding 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 W. Johnson Played Luke Everett. (Joined the show in the sixth season.)

Recurring cast[edit]

Actor Role
Jen Harper Dr. Day
Thom Gossom Jr. Ted Marcus
Fran Bennett 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
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. His nephew, 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.
Maureen Dowdell Tracy Boggs
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
Dee Shaw Dee Shepard

Guest stars[edit]

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: Frances Fisher, Rod Masterson, Mel Stewart, Nana Visitor, Gail O'Grady, Peter Fonda, Don Galloway, Corbin Bernsen, Dana Barron, Marco St. John, 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, 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[edit]

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.

TV ratings[edit]

  • Season 1: #18-15,639,200
  • Season 2: #19-15,564,900
  • Season 3: #21-13,871,900
  • Season 4: out of the top 30
  • Season 5: out of the top 30
  • Season 6: #46-10,630,000
  • Season 7: NA
  • TV Movies: NA

DVD releases[edit]

On August 30, 2012, TGG Direct released the first season on DVD in Region 1 for the very first time.[3] The eighth and final season was released on June 11, 2013.[2]

On October 23, 2012, TGG Direct released an 8-disc best-of set entitled In the Heat of the Night - 24hr Television Marathon.[4]

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.[5][6]

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 two episodes, one as a stand-in for Philadelphia, as well as an 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[edit]