In the Heat of the Night (TV series)

In the Heat of the Night (TV series)

Infobox television
show_name = In the Heat of the Night

executive producers = Fred Silverman, Juanita Bartlett, David Moessinger, and Carroll O'Connor
format = Crime / Drama
runtime = 60 minutes per episode
creator = James Lee Barrett
starring = Carroll O'Connor
Howard E. Rollins Jr.
Alan Autry
Anne-Marie Johnson
David Hart
Geoffrey A. Thorne
Hugh O'Connor
Carl Weathers
Crystal R. Fox
Denise Nicholas
country = USA
network = NBC / CBS
first_aired = March 6, 1988
last_aired = May 16, 1995
num_seasons = 8
num_episodes = 150
imdb_id = 0094484

"In the Heat of the Night" is a television series based on the motion picture, "In the Heat of the Night", that ran from 1988 to 1995. It starred Carroll O'Connor as William Gillespie and Howard Rollins as Virgil Tibbs. Tibbs had traveled to the Sparta area for his mother's funeral. He was persuaded to remain by the city government, who had felt the need to make the city's police department more diverse.


The Executive Producers for the series were Fred Silverman, Juanita Bartlett, and Carroll O'Connor.

The series originally ran on NBC for five seasons, premiering in March 1988 and running there until it was dropped from the NBC lineup in the spring of 1992. CBS then picked it up for three more seasons, with the series coming to an end in May 1995.

William "Bill" Champlin of the band Chicago sings the opening theme song.


The show dealt with a variety of issues. These included racism, drug abuse, rape, murder, incest, government corruption, and drunk driving, among others.

Currently Airs

Beginning September 15, 2008, In the Heat of the Night will air weekdays at 11:00 AM on WGN America.

First season

The first season of the show was filmed in Hammond, Louisiana. There were many conflicts between the first executive producer, Juniata 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 she remained executive producer so she was released from her 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 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".

econd season

The second season of In the Heat of the Night began airing 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 Hammond Louisiana to Covington Georgia. The two hour kick off movie was entitled “Don’t Look Back” and involved a copycat murder that Gillespie worked on twenty years earlier. In this episode, we are introduced to Jo Ann 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 who turned out to be 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, Joann being a former prostitute out of necessity, 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.

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 cliff hanger when Chief Gillespie returns to the force only to be kidnapped by two men wearing pig masks. It is now up to Virgil, Bubba, and the gang to bring the chief back alive and figure the out the reason behind the kidnapping!

Third season

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 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 black officer. Her life was tragically cut short and this made 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 (In reality, ten years prior, her real life sister was murdered). She agreed to do the story to bring some closure for herself and her family.

Fourth season

The fourth season of In the Heat of the Night 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 friend from the Philadelphia police force is murdered and he heads up to the “big city” to clear his friends 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 women 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.

Perhaps the two most important stories of the season involve Virgil losing his Aunt Ruda and any chance of bringing his family closer after her son is arrested, ends up shooting himself, and goes to jail. Ruda blames Virgil for the whole affair and nothing he says can convince her otherwise! “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 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 is wondering 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 which leaves Harriet and her son at odds and resentful of each other for not understanding where the other is coming from in terms of loyalty to Vic and her relationship with Bill.

The season closes with Althea almost having a break down 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 begs him to try something different. Chief Gillespie burns up the wires and gets Virgil on his way to going to law school and Althea apologizes for not being more understanding as she, Virgil, and Chief Gillespie share a glass of wine together!

Fifth season

The fifth season 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 Gulf Port 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 freed.

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.

ixth season

As season six 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 with Eugene being involved. Althea Tibbs’ saw new trauma this season as she witnessed the suicide of one of her students causing a near mental break down. Only with the help of a tough psychologist recommended by Dr. Day did Althea come out of her “funk” and once again be able to do what she loves: teaching at Sparta High School. We also saw the story arc involving Virgil and his Aunt Ruda Gibson come to a bitter-sweet end as she was diagnosed with cancer and he did all he could to help her. She apparently did recover because it is mentioned by Etta in season seven that after Virgil and Althea left Sparta that she came to visit and sometimes stayed 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 mama was involved with before her death. The case finally comes to a conclusion as the mob lead 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.

Other highlights this season included the return of Luanne’s brother, 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 ran the prison pastor off the road. Harriet also makes a critical decision at this point: to not let Eugene influence her relationship with Bill anymore. He may disapprove but as she tells him “one of these days you are going to walk away from me and I am just going to tell you to keep on going”.

After the season, both Howard Rollins and Anne-Marie Johnson, who had played a huge part of the series, 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. At the same time, Geoffrey Thorne also left the series with no explanation and his character was never really written out of the show.

eventh season

Season seven 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 he?

Colmer’s celebration is short lived however, when Gillespie is soon appointed as the Sheriff of Newman 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 whom are not happy that Gillespie is gone. The last official thing that Gillespie does 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 and was dropped from the show. 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 form someone who knowingly gave it to her, the personal storylines involving Luann which include her singing nights in a sexy blues club and helping take care of an abandoned baby – whom she falls in love with. 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 time.

While some wished the series were renewed for another full season it was beginning to wind down and with it came what has been a long time coming – the marriage of Bill Gillespie and Harriet Delong. However, some in Sparta were not happy about the event and death almost does the couple part when a sniper mistakes Gillespie for Sheriff McComb.

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 deadly results.

The series wraps up during the 8th season with four two hour made for television movies.

Eighth Season

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, which would be the equivalent of eight regular episodes. The movies were:

*A Matter of Justice
*Who was Geli Bendl?
*By Duty Bound
*Grow Old Along with Me (Series Finale)

The cast

Recurring cast

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 for many years. He was then followed by Howard Rollins on December 8, 1996, who had died of complications from lymphoma. On June 21, 2001, Carroll O'Connor, who had been suffering from diabetes, died after having had a heart attack. Finally, on January 18, 2008, Lois Nettleton, who played Joann St. John died at age 80 of lung cancer after years of heavy smoking.


*Main article: In the Heat of the Night episodes


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, 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, and Morgan. 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.


Soundtrack for the series is a Bill Champlin song "In The Heat Of The Night". According to Camplin's website, the song was recorded in 1988 but features on an album only in 1994, album title "THROUGH IT ALL".


External links

*imdb title|id=0094484|name=In the Heat of the Night

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