|Written by||Robert W. Lenski|
|Directed by||Jerry London|
Billy Dee Williams
|Theme music composer||Michael Small|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||3|
John E. Quill
John J. Dumas
|Running time||6 hours|
|Original release||November 13, 1983 – November 16, 1983|
Chiefs is a television miniseries based upon the novel of the same name by Stuart Woods. It was first 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, loosely modeled after Manchester, Georgia, situated at the base of Pine Mountain. The plot follows three generations of Delano police chiefs - Will Henry Lee (Wayne Rogers), Sonny Butts (Brad Davis), and Tyler Watts (Billy Dee Williams) - as they investigate a series of murders. 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. The town appoints farmer Lee its first police chief, and, even though he has no law-enforcement experience, Lee becomes known as fair-minded and effective.
Not long after his appointment, the townspeople become alarmed by a series of disappearances of young men and boys; then the body of a young boy who had been sexually molested is discovered by the train tracks in town. Chief Lee investigates and discovers that well-to-do loner "Foxy" Funderburke (Keith Carradine) is responsible, but Chief Lee is mistakenly shot by a delirious man before he can arrest the well-regarded local. Funderburke hovers in the background in the hospital room 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.
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 chief dies of a heart attack, the city council appoints Butts to fill the vacancy. Butts 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 decades-long 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 story of the continual investigation is that 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 lawyer and, boldly for the time and place, a liberal. He enters politics and becomes first a state senator, then lieutenant governor, and there is talk of his elevation to national office. Around that time, Tyler Watts, a retired, decorated military officer and experienced criminal investigator, takes the bold step for a black man in 1962 of applying for the vacant position of police chief in a southern town. With the support of Billy Lee and Mayor Holmes, Watts is appointed police chief of Delano. In these respects, Chief Lee's son, Billy, is acting in a manner similar to that of Jimmy Carter, who was from Plains, Georgia, and who also served in the state senate and as Governor of Georgia, and who then ran for, and was elected to, the office of President of the United States.
Like everyone else, Billy Lee assumes that Watts is a genuine newcomer in town. He 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 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 local politics, Watts and Lee seek the FBI's assistance in the case. On Funderburke's land, having looked at first in vain for evidence of the crimes, one of the FBI agents accompanying Chief Watts trips over the jutting handlebar of Butts's buried police motorcycle.
As the agents begin digging up the dirt with their bare hands, Funderburke goes for his shotgun, and wounds Watts in the arm. Then Funderburke is immediately shot to death himself by the agents, thus escaping a public reckoning for four decades of murders. Aged Holmes grieves for his town as the bodies of young boy after young boy are unearthed from the ground surrounding Funderburke's house (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. This naming convention is a change from the novel, where it states that the town is named after its founder, industrialist Thomas Delano.
Chiefs premiered on CBS as a six-hour miniseries. The first two hours aired beginning at 8pm November 13, 1983. The second part aired November 15 at 9pm, and the final part aired November 16 at 9pm.
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 criticized the ending of the miniseries for not following the novel's ending, in which Holmes realizes that, for all the decades of work he did to make Delano a decent place, it will now always remembered as the site of a perverted series of murders; the film, by contrast, ends with Lee and Watts recognizing each other and embracing in an upbeat moment of friendship. Nevertheless, he 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 years of segregation, continuing the tradition since slavery, a young white man was free to gain experience with a willing (or perhaps even unwilling) black woman. What terrified white southerners was the thought of 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—or, indeed, of men of the same color having homosexual sex—would have been equally or more repugnant to the sensibilities of the time.
- "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.