In the Heat of the Night (TV series)

In the Heat of the Night is an American police procedural crime drama television series based on the 1967 film and the 1965 novel of the same title. It starred Carroll O'Connor as police chief Bill Gillespie and Howard Rollins as police detective Virgil Tibbs, and was broadcast on NBC from March 6, 1988 until May 19, 1992, then on CBS from October 28, 1992 until May 16, 1995. Its executive producers were Fred Silverman, Juanita Bartlett and O'Connor.

In the Heat of the Night
Foreground: Carroll O'Connor; left middle: Howard Rollins; back row left to right: Hugh O'Connor; David Hart; Geoffrey Thorne; Alan Autry
GenrePolice procedural
Crime drama
Based onCharacters created by John Ball
Developed byJames Lee Barrett
StarringCarroll O'Connor
Howard Rollins
(main seasons 1–6, recurring season 7)
Alan Autry
Anne-Marie Johnson (seasons 1–6)
David Hart
Christian LeBlanc
(season 1)
Lois Nettleton (season 2)
Geoffrey Thorne (seasons 2–6)
Hugh O'Connor
Carl Weathers (seasons 7-8)
Crystal R. Fox (seasons 3–8)
Denise Nicholas (seasons 3–8)
Theme music composerQuincy Jones
Alan and Marilyn Bergman
Opening themeperformed by Bill Champlin
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons7
No. of episodes142 + 4 TV movies (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)Fred Silverman
Juanita Bartlett
David Moessinger and Carroll O'Connor
Running time60 minutes
(with commercials)
Production company(s)The Fred Silverman Company
Jadda Productions
(season 1)
Juanita Bartlett Productions
(seasons 2-8)
MGM/UA Television Productions
(seasons 1-6)
MGM Television
(seasons 7-8)
DistributorMGM Television
Original networkNBC (1988–1992)
CBS (1992–1995)
Picture format480i (SDTV), 1080i (HDTV)
Original releaseMarch 6, 1988 (1988-03-06) 
May 16, 1995 (1995-05-16)


The show itself is supposed to be a sequel to the 1967 film, set a few years in the future. In the premiere episode, Philadelphia homicide detective Virgil Tibbs has returned to his fictional home town of Sparta, Mississippi for his mother's funeral. By virtue of his relationship with Bill Gillespie, the white police chief, fostered during a previous murder investigation in which he assisted, Tibbs is persuaded by the mayor to remain in Sparta as Chief of Detectives. Mayor Findlay himself has an ulterior motive for hiring Tibbs: he wants to have some kind of record on civil rights in order to run for Congress, and hiring Tibbs to integrate the Sparta police department would help to overcome the local squad's reputation of being racist and underskilled—and it also benefits him. Although the team suffers friction over Tibbs' dissatisfaction with the department's limited resources and racial attitudes, and Gillespie is annoyed at the detective's condescending suspicions about his home town, the two men prove highly effective in enforcing the law.

At the beginning of the seventh season, Tibbs takes a leave of absence, moving to Jackson, Mississippi, to complete his law degree on a compressed schedule. Upon his return to Sparta, he and his wife Althea have separated, and they later divorce. She moves back to Philadelphia with their twins to be near her parents. Through the hard work of Sparta Councilwoman Harriet DeLong, Tibbs is able to retire and keep his city pension, although he was two months shy of the qualifying period. He begins practicing law when he accepts a position in Ben Taylor's law office. Rollins' final appearance on the series was February 2, 1994.

Meanwhile, the Sparta city council dismisses Gillespie as chief of police. The council selects Hampton Forbes (Carl Weathers) to take Gillespie's place. Forbes is the town's first African American to serve in that position. Gillespie finds a new post of equivalent authority as county sheriff. The two senior police officials find that they get along in excellent fashion, in both professional and personal spheres.


SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedRankRating
First airedLast airedNetwork
18March 6, 1988 (1988-03-06)May 3, 1988 (1988-05-03)NBC1917.0
222December 4, 1988 (1988-12-04)May 16, 1989 (1989-05-16)1817.3
322October 24, 1989 (1989-10-24)May 8, 1990 (1990-05-08)1916.9
422September 18, 1990 (1990-09-18)April 30, 1991 (1991-04-30)2114.9
522October 1, 1991 (1991-10-01)May 19, 1992 (1992-05-19)3013.1
622October 28, 1992 (1992-10-28)May 12, 1993 (1993-05-12)CBSN/AN/A
724September 16, 1993 (1993-09-16)May 11, 1994 (1994-05-11)N/AN/A
TV films4October 21, 1994 (1994-10-21)May 16, 1995 (1995-05-16)N/AN/A

The show dealt with a variety of issues, including racism, police brutality, interracial relationships, hate crimes, drug trafficking, drug addiction, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy, rape, AIDS, misogyny, incest, child abuse, sexual harassment, euthanasia, anti-Semitism, political corruption, prostitution, domestic violence, mental disorders, dysfunctional families, suicide, capital punishment, poverty, homophobia, and drunk driving.

Season-by-season overview

First season, 1988

The opening scene of the pilot episode was filmed in Bessemer, Alabama, while the rest of the first season was filmed in Hammond, Louisiana. Hammond was selected by executive producer Juanita Bartlett to represent the small southern town of Sparta, Mississippi. Actually, the producers had difficulty finding filming locations that were usable, because other, more modern structures were close enough to be picked up in the images.[1] Eight episodes were filmed—the two-hour pilot movie and six regular one-hour episodes. The series premiered on March 6, 1988, with the season finale airing May 3, 1988.

Many conflicts arose between Juanita Bartlett and series star Carroll O'Connor over the writing of the series. At first, she allowed him to consult on the series per his contract. After the pilot, however, she ordered scripts from her writers. O'Connor described these as "recycled material from other crime shows". He was disappointed in the writing, feeling that the writers were taking big-city stories and imposing them on a small town. He believed that the key to this show's success was to express its small-town locale and characters through the stories.[2] Scripts would be given to him marked FINAL: NO REWRITES, but O'Connor often rewrote scripts anyway. This angered the production staff members, which felt they were burning up fax machines with the changes.[2] O'Connor described Bartlett as a very arrogant person.[1] If the show was going to be renewed, then O'Connor was not interested and threatened to quit the show if Bartlett was not replaced as executive producer.

In the early episodes, there was an emphasis on grisly murders or other crimes, rather than the lives of the New South-era characters, for which the series later became known. Storylines included the pride of Sparta County getting her head bashed in, in the two-hour pilot episode; a man and his wife's distant cousin having an affair, and the affair between a black businessman from New York City who was attempting to buy Sparta's newspaper, and a rich, white newspaper heiress which ends in murder as a result of an altercation with the woman's husband. In the two-part episode "Blind Spot", a successful businessman and ex-friend of Tibbs, who stole a scholarship from him in high school, has promised to bring prosperity back to Sparta. But he is caught in a game of murder and drug dealing, using one of Sparta's richest mansions as his home base. A humorous episode about a polygamist with an equally healthy appetite for food as well as women ends up dead, suspected to be poisoned by one of his many wives. The season closes with Althea and a Sparta youngster, Scooter, being taken hostage by an escaped convict on a murder spree, with his girlfriend going along for the ride.

Anne-Marie Johnson, who played Althea Tibbs, summed up what it was like to film the show in the little town of Hammond. She said, "My high school was bigger than this town".

Second season, 1988-89

Season 2 premiered on December 4, 1988 due to a writers strike; the season introduced a new look and set of executive producers, Jeri Taylor and her husband David Moessinger, with on-location shooting moved from Louisiana to Covington, Georgia, which remained as the primary filming location of the show for the duration of the series. The season premiere was aired as a two-hour TV-movie originally entitled "The Voodoo Murders", now known in syndication as "Don't Look Back". The plot revolved around a shocking copycat murder of one that Gillespie had investigated 20 years earlier. Also the Sparta city council was pushing Virgil Tibbs to run as a possible candidate for Chief of Police to replace Gillespie, but Virgil wasn't interested in doing so; however the word gets out that Tibbs is after Gillespie's job, causing dissension between the two men. Althea, who was a stay at home wife in Season 1, is offered a position as a teacher and guidance counselor at the local high school by city Councilman Ted Marcus (Thom Gossom, Jr.).

Gone was Christian LeBlanc, who portrayed Officer Junior Abernathy and added were 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 rookie officer Wilson Sweet (Geoffrey Thorne), fresh out of the Police Academy. The season also introduced the first of several new recurring characters, including Doctor (or, "Doc") Frank Robb, the county coroner (played by veteran actor Dan Biggers). "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. "Gunshot", where Virgil experiences extreme guilt and mental trauma after he shoots and kills a female robbery suspect, introduces a character that had a criminal past but later became invaluable in supplying Gillespie and the Sparta P.D. with information, Jimmy Dawes (Afemo Omilami).

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 from Hill Street Blues) coming to visit for a reunion that no one would ever forget; Chief Gillespie's having to face his own bigoted past when he has to file charges against a close friend (played by Ed Ames, who is also the sheriff of the neighboring county) for committing racially motivated murders of prisoners in his custody; Bubba's getting caught up in a murderous love triangle with a beautiful visitor to the town; Althea's niece visiting, and with new friend Bobby Skinner (Bubba's nephew) stumbling upon criminal malfeasance in the episode "City Mouse, Country Mouse". Two feuding sisters (Mary Crosby and Judith Chapman) stir up trouble when they are implicated in their father's murder. All hell breaks loose when Virgil and Althea integrate an all-white church by request of a progressive minister, but not all the congregants are happy with his decision, and the minister ends up dead. Joanne's past comes back to haunt her in the form of a vicious escaped convict. Gillespie witnesses the execution of a man whom he arrested years ago, an episode that Carroll O'Connor wrote himself under the pseudonym Matt Harris ("A Trip Upstate"). A bitter strike leads to murder, but not all is as it seems when a new manager takes over Thail River Mill and drives the union to strike after only three months. A joyful day in Sparta is quickly turned to heartache when three teenagers are killed and another left in a vegetative state as a result of a drunk driving accident, and the culprit is right under the Sparta P.D.'s nose.

During the filming of the episode "Walkout", Carroll O'Connor began to experience fatigue. After being checked by the set doctor, it was discovered that he needed sextuple heart bypass surgery, due to years of heavy smoking. During the last four episodes of the season, Joe Don Baker was brought in as Tom Dugan, a replacement for Chief Gillespie, who was said to be away at a police training conference at Quantico. The episodes where Gillespie was away were "Fifteen Forever", "Ladybug, Ladybug", "The Pig Woman of Sparta" and "Missing". Dugan was appointed acting chief by Councilwoman White, but he was actually working undercover for the FBI in an attempt to stop the assassination of a civil rights preacher during a visit to the town by a white supremacist group. The season finale "Missing" has the chief being kidnapped upon his return to Sparta by two men in pig masks, and the police and the FBI are at wit's end trying to locate him and those who are responsible. O'Connor wanted the chief to undergo heart surgery in the storyline, but the husband and wife producers came up with this storyline instead. It was the final straw in a long line of complaints; these producers were fired at the end of the season, with O'Connor becoming the executive producer for season three.[1]

Note: When Jeri Taylor and her husband decided to do the show, she was quoted as saying, "I was one of those in the '60's that was out marching for civil rights," and "I was one of those who thought the major work had all been done. When we (Taylor and her husband, Moessinger) decided to do the show, we took research trips to the South, and we saw that there had been an enormous amount of change. We came back with a renewed vigor but also with the realization that there is still a lot more to be done. There is still deeply entrenched racism. And addressing that became a much larger element in our thinking about the show."

"What makes race relations a constant in our show is the two lead characters—one is white and one is black," Moessinger said. "Whether they are angry at each other, whether they're happy or sad, we're showing the interaction of two men who are trying to do the best in life. If we never put one race issue into it, if we never said one word about it, the message is there because it's showing how people ought to interrelate, how they ought to work together, how they ought to get along."[3]

Third season, 1989-90

In the third season, Carroll O'Connor took complete control of the show, after firing husband and wife executive producing team David Moessinger and Jeri Taylor. From that point on, he brought aboard writers and showrunners who shared his vision of where he wanted the series to go.

Althea Tibbs grappled with the effects and aftermath of rape in the explosive Season 3 premiere after she was brutally assaulted and violated by the new music teacher at Sparta High. She had an uneasy relationship with him from the outset and it culminated in the attack. Althea and Virgil are frustrated trying to bring the rapist to justice because the new district attorney Gerard Darnelle (Wilbur Fitzgerald) doesn't have enough evidence to prosecute the teacher. Althea was blindfolded during the attack, so she didn't see him but she recognized his voice, and the teacher's wife always provides him with an alibi. However, after being thoroughly excoriated by Gillespie for her complicity, she finally comes forward and implicates him. The teacher invaded Virgil and Althea's home during this and attempted to assault her again, but Althea bravely fought him off and he was subsequently arrested.

The second part of the Season 2 finale, "Missing", is resumed in Episode 6, entitled "Anniversary" - a decision made by O'Connor that the network was not pleased with because the episodes were not shown in chronological order. The Season 2 cliffhanger was Gillespie being kidnapped and Dugan murdered and when the show returned, it was as if none of that ever happened. O'Connor selected the "Rape" episode to kick off the new season instead because he thought it was more powerful, and it would attract higher viewer ratings.

The character of Joanne St. John was eliminated to make room for Councilwoman Harriet DeLong (Denise Nicholas) as Chief Gillespie's future love interest, first as a recurring character, then later, a main cast member. An attractive, much younger African-American divorcée, DeLong was college-educated, outspoken, and brimming with attitude, which was a turn off to Gillespie at first and the two of them did not get along.

In "First Girl", Gillespie hires Christine Rankin, Sparta PD's first female officer. Her life is tragically cut short her first day on duty in a shootout with a drug dealer and murder suspect, causing Gillespie much despair and guilt. Her replacement was Officer LuAnn Corbin, played by Crystal R. Fox. LuAnn 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. LuAnn's hiring opened the door for more women police officers to join the force: Officer Dee Shepard (Dee Shaw) is hired later in the season.

In other plotlines, Parker almost crosses the line between police ethics and love when he falls for dance teacher Kate Morell and her daughter Jaycee; a former boxer that used to run for the mob tries to blackmail them. The chief tries unsuccessfully to save him, telling Althea, "The FBI wants to buy what King Baylor knows before the mob kills him and the mob wants him dead before the FBI can buy him." Althea Tibbs takes an interest in two orphaned kids, whose parents were murdered the same day; Bubba becomes the object of two brothers' revenge when he shoots down their other brother during a robbery. It was also revealed during a Christmas-themed episode that season that Parker served two years in Vietnam and was held as a prisoner of war there. Sweet attempts to save a young girl addicted to crack, but her father (and Gillespie, for a while) isn't convinced that crack is a problem for a small town like Sparta. A young boy, whose father played football with Bubba in high school, witnesses his father's murder and is so traumatized that he can't speak to identify the killer. A reverend is found to have led a double life after he is slain. There is a murder at a nursing home, and racial tensions nearly reach a boiling point in town when a white man is robbed and killed in The Bottoms, and a black man visiting a relative in Sparta is the prime suspect. The case puts Gillespie and Tibbs at odds with one another. An unexpected visit from Althea's high school girlfriend from Philadelphia has a hidden motive. There is an almost instant attraction between her and young Officer Sweet, but the secrets she's brought along with her contribute to bringing things to an ill-fated end.

In the two-part season finale, "Citizen Trundel" (written by O'Connor, Cynthia Deming, and William J. Royce), Harriet DeLong's sister Natalie is murdered by order of her secret lover and the married father of her nine-year-old son, millionaire businessman V.J. "Vidge" Trundel. The situation causes Harriet a tremendous amount of anguish, rage, and frustration, not only because of Natalie's murder but because Chief Gillespie is reluctant to pursue the powerful Trundel as a suspect. That causes conflict between Harriet and Gillespie, because Gillespie and Detective Tibbs are not able to implicate Trundel in the crime, much less charge him for it. They are only able to arrest Natalie's assassin, who miraculously is released on bail - but is later killed himself. However, Harriet wants Trundel himself apprehended, but Gillespie refuses to act upon it, which infuriates her and she tries to get Gillespie removed from the case. In Part Two, it is discovered that Norman Luft and Jessica Franks, two of Trundel's most trusted employees, facilitated not only Natalie's murder — but also the murder of the man they hired to kill her. Jessica is arrested, and Luft is apprehended attempting to leave Sparta by private plane with Trundel. Gillespie confronts Trundel with the knowledge that even though he has escaped a murder charge, he will still have to live with the burden of having his lover and the mother of his son, Eric DeLong, murdered and having to live with the risk that Eric would one day confront him over it. Prior to this, Trundel's wife finds out about the boy from Gillespie and Tibbs, and after that, everything seems to fall apart. Unable to bear the weight of his guilt, Trundel commits suicide by deliberately crashing his plane only minutes after taking off. These are the first episodes in which we see Bill and Harriet's relationship begin to gel. During this period, he is able to see beyond her hardened exterior and finds a vulnerable and sensitive woman behind it; she discovers his compassionate side. From this point on, a camaraderie is formed between the two.

This story arc was of special significance to series costar Denise Nicholas, who played Harriet DeLong. Ten years before, her real-life sister had been murdered and the culprit had never been caught. When Carroll O'Connor approached Denise about the storyline, it had upset her greatly and she had to write him a note explaining the situation. He offered to have her not appear in the episode, but she chose to do so to bring closure for her and her family. Only O'Connor and director Leo Penn knew the truth during filming.[4]

Althea announces that she is pregnant to an overjoyed Virgil, and later to Gillespie, whom she asks to be the godfather of her unborn child at the end of the episode, and he cheerfully accepts.

Rollins' substance abuse problems

During the second half of season 3, Howard Rollins took six weeks off when he entered a drug and alcohol rehab program to battle his addiction issues.[5] The episodes he missed were "King's Ransom", "Triangle", "Hello In There", "December Days", and "An Angry Woman". MGM worked around his rehab schedule. Episodes were not necessarily aired in the order they were filmed, which explains why Tibbs was present one week and not the next. To explain his absence, he was said to be in New Orleans working for the FBI. He considered suicide shortly before Christmas 1989, prompting his stay in rehab.[5] Carroll O'Connor threatened to sue a tabloid which published a story saying that MGM and Carroll had fired Rollins for being absent from the set due to his problems.[5] Denise Nicholas, who played Harriet DeLong, said "Carroll set the standard for loyalty. If he liked you, he really liked you and would be there for you." [TV Guide, July 14-20, 2001]

Fourth season, 1990-91

Cynthia Deming and William J. Royce were made main story editor(s).

The season opens with a two-hour movie entitled "Brotherly Love" and the birth of Virgil and Althea's twins. While Althea is waiting to go into labor, Tibbs' friend and ex-colleague from the Philadelphia P.D. is found dead, and it's at first labeled as a suicide. Tibbs heads up to the big city to attend his funeral, only to learn his friend's death was not by his own hand, but murder. Tibbs soon recognizes there is corruption going on within the police department, and his friend was framed for the murder of a drug dealer. In the process of trying to clear his friend's name, he first becomes a target, then framed for murder himself. Chief Gillespie travels to Philly to get Virgil out of jail, help him solve the mystery of what happened to his friend and seek justice for him, expose the corrupt officers and make it back home to Sparta in time for the twins' birth. William and Sarah Tibbs were welcomed into the world on September 18, 1990.

Other stories include a visit from Althea's parents; Virgil's Aunt Etta moves in to help care for the twins; a heartbreaking episode about a mild-mannered teacher being accused of child molestation by a neglected student; and a remorseful parolee's recent discharge from prison upsets many in Sparta. In "Family Matters", Virgil's cousin is a suspect in a string of robberies. Virgil promises his Aunt Ruda that he wants to bring the family back together again and that her son Tyrell will not get hurt. When the boy ends up shooting himself while fighting with Virgil for the gun used in the robberies, Ruda angrily cuts herself off from the rest of the family. There is a Christmas clip show, a show about a bounty hunter, a storyline in which the Sparta P.D. has to save a wrongly convicted man from death row; Bubba rekindles a romance with an old high school flame who is now a widow, and will do anything to hang on to the wealthy life she married into; Parker falls for a witness who is blind, and finding the source of some spiked moonshine. Bubba goes to Los Angeles to extradite a Sparta resident responsible for a fire that killed two people, which was actually the first of two backdoor pilots for a series that featured Alan Autry, but neither were picked up by the network.

Harriet DeLong's ex-husband Vic Glendon returns to Sparta plotting to rob his former employer in a revenge scheme ("A Problem Too Personal"). On a misty Sunday morning, three men break into the Lambry Industries plant with the intent to steal the payroll waiting to be paid out on Monday morning. They succeed, but a security guard is shot and killed in the process. Two of the men, one of them Glendon, are apprehended by Parker and Sweet. The other gets away and in the confusion, Sweet sustains a gunshot wound to his leg. Harriet is worried about how the news will affect her 17-year-old son, Eugene, who is a track star at Sparta High. The case brings her and Bill closer together, while it drives a wedge between her and Eugene. Eugene, who is observant of the friendship between his mother and the chief, reminds his mother that "Aunt Natalie was killed by a white man", while Bill brushes off the boy's not-so-foolish notions about him and his mama for now. He tries to remain neutral in this case, as he doesn't want to appear to have a personal stake in what happens to Vic. Virgil, on the other hand, isn't fooled and can see that there is an unmistakable but unspoken attraction between Bill and Harriet. Later Eugene, who is aware of what his father and his friends' plans were, tries to help out the guy who escaped but nearly loses his life behind it and ends up in the hospital.

Towards the end of the season, Vic Glendon goes on trial as the main conspirator of the robbery and murder of the security guard at the Lambry plant ("No Other Road"). The story is retold in flashbacks. The suspect that got away is later found and shot down by Virgil when the suspect fires at him. Later the third man, who was shot during the robbery, dies from his gunshot wound, leaving Vic to take sole responsibility for what has happened. Harriet is uncertain of the position she is supposed to take in all of this. After quick deliberation by the jury, Vic is found guilty on all charges and is sentenced to death by lethal injection. He is later imprisoned at Parchman. Eugene, overwhelmed by everything happening to his father, loses hope for a normal life and wants to give up on everything and leave Sparta. Virgil and Sergeant Jamison, who has been mentoring Eugene, both try to convince him that he can still achieve his goals for the future in spite of what is going on. With Lonnie vouching for the boy, he ends up on parole for being in possession of some of the stolen Lambry money and being an accessory after the fact to the robbery.

The season closes with Althea upset over the stress of Virgil's job on the police force after he is almost killed by a stray bullet which he does not tell her about. She is worried that her children will grow up without their father. She begs him to try something different. Chief Gillespie burns up the wires to get 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 non-alcoholic champagne together.

Fifth season, 1991-92

The fifth season begins with the revelation that Chief Gillespie has a 19-year-old 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. Lana was conceived during a period where her mother was separated from her husband, and she and Gillespie had an affair. However, she was never divorced from her husband, Ken Farren. Georgia asks Bill to help her put some of her affairs in order and to keep all of her "boyfriends" as well as her estranged spouse 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 to be given to her by her mother. In the meantime, Georgia returns to Gulfport and is murdered. The chief, who still cared about Georgia, is devastated and takes this very personally. He sets out to find her killer, who turns out to be Ken, who has returned to Sparta. He evidently learns that Bill Gillespie is Lana's real father, which is his motive for the murder. While the Sparta P.D. tails Ken, Gillespie tries to get to know the daughter that he never met. By the end of the episode, Lana figures out who Bill really is, but does not want to have anything to do with him because he never took responsibility or attempted to have a relationship with her while she was growing up. This hurts Bill deeply, and he has a hard time dealing with it.

Season 5 sees the return of Virgil's Aunt Ruda in "Ruda's Awakening". Ruda is the only witness to a struggle that ends in the death of a young robbery suspect, and Bubba is blamed. D.A. Darnelle wants to prosecute, but only Ruda can clear Bubba since the young man shot himself in the struggle, the same way Tyrell Gibson, her son, did. Her prejudice against the police and against Virgil clouds her memory of the incident. But after visiting Tyrell in prison, whereupon he tells her that the shooting that left him wheelchair-bound was not Virgil's fault, her memory of the incident returns, and the episode ends with Virgil and Ruda happily reconciled.

In the episode "The More Things Change", Gillespie and Harriet share their first kiss after he drives her home after attending a party, and he finally reveals his affections for her. They both lament the very likely possibility that a relationship between the two of them would not be accepted by most in Sparta. Their time alone together is initially interrupted by Harriet's son, Eugene, who harbors a deep dislike for the Chief, whom he blames for his father's imprisonment, and doesn't want him around his mother. In "Moseley's Lot", one brother plots the death of his irresponsible alcoholic and compulsive gambling younger brother after two thugs from New Orleans follow him home to Sparta, looking for repayment for debts owed to a gangster.

Other storylines include a taxidermist who is obsessed with a flirtatious schoolteacher; a game of high-stakes poker that ends in murder; D.A. Darnelle's daughter is kidnapped; Bubba's finding out that Sheriff McComb's deputy is growing pot on the side; Althea's preoccupation with a college-bound student whose unstable mother is dating a drug dealer causes division between her and Virgil; Sweet is determined to discover the truth about the murder of his grandfather in 1948 and those responsible for it (a story loosely based on the murder of Medgar Evers, "Sweet, Sweet Blues"[6]) and the widow of V.J. Trundel returns, trying to get custody of the son that her husband had with Harriet's murdered sister, who has been living with his aunt since the murder occurred. The recap of the Season 3 season finale, "Citizen Trundel", is shown in flashbacks.

Two teens vandalizing mailboxes in Sparta for fun somehow become entwined in a murder investigation; Lonnie discovers that an old high school crush is not only an alcoholic but also a negligent single mom. Racists sabotage a celebration honoring a Sparta civil rights pioneer in "Odessa", the first of six scripts that Denise Nicholas wrote. She enjoyed her role as Harriet, but was bothered about the lack of black writers on the show. She complained to Carroll O'Connor about it, and he had to admit she was right. He asked her to write a script, which she did. When she submitted it to him, he liked it so much that he encouraged her to write others for the series.[7]

In the two-part season finale "Sanctuary" and "The Law on Trial", Sheriff McComb has Gillespie and Tibbs brought up on obstruction charges and harboring a fugitive after an escaped prisoner, who is an El Salvadoran immigrant seeking asylum, is given sanctuary in a monastery and the two don't arrest him when he refuses to give himself up. The prisoner is later shot to death in a standoff with the sheriff's department. Althea fears that if Virgil is convicted, it will be the end of his career as a cop and will hinder his chances of being an attorney. Judge Sims presides over the case, and a reluctant D.A. Darnelle has to prosecute his two friends. Ted Marcus represents Gillespie and Tibbs in the trial, and Father DiMarco (Cesare Danova), the abbot who harbored the fugitive, represents himself at trial. Father DiMarco's heartfelt summation to the jury contributes to the case being dismissed (though that is not revealed until the start of Season 6). In between court appearances, Harriet pays Gillespie an inconspicuous visit and the two share a tender and romantic moment.

The conflict between Sheriff McComb and Chief Gillespie lingers on throughout the following season, and that conflict affects every crossover dealing with subsequent interactions between McComb's deputies and Gillespie's officers. It isn't until the arrival of Chief Hampton Forbes (Carl Weathers) in Season 7 that we see Sheriff McComb and Chief Gillespie as friends again.

The episode and the season end with both Gillespie and Tibbs awaiting the verdict in their respective residences the evening the case is given to the jury. At the end of the original and final broadcast on NBC, it was revealed that the jury couldn't reach a verdict, a mistrial is declared and the two men are freed. Bill and Harriet spend the night together for the first time.

Sixth season, 1992-93

At the beginning of Season 6, In the Heat of the Night moved from NBC to CBS. It was not publicly known at the time when Season 5 ended whether or not the show would continue. NBC had decided not to renew the series, although the ratings were still respectable and there were still some open ended plots that hadn't been resolved. A deal was made with rival network CBS to keep the show on the air. Originally, CBS opted to pick up the series for only 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 see the secret romance between Gillespie and DeLong intensify. They frequently meet in a studio apartment that doubles as Harriet's art studio. Their relationship is temporarily interrupted by a crack war involving Eugene Glendon, Harriet's son. Eugene witnesses the death of his best friend and a small-time Sparta drug dealer in a drive-by shooting by other dealers from Jackson. Virgil and Lonnie are frustrated with Eugene's refusal to cooperate. Later on, he decides to comply with the police as a witness after seeing so many of his peers affected by what's going on. However, Harriet is strongly against it, which causes friction between her and Bill. She is frightened for the life of her son, but Bill tries to assure her that Eugene will be protected. Harriet is not convinced and in her fear and frustration, she decides to put distance between herself and Bill for a while. He is hurt, but he honors her wishes and agrees to take a step back.

Althea Tibbs witnesses the gruesome suicide of an obsessive and emotionally disturbed student, Garth Watkins (Walton Goggins), causing her to suffer a near mental breakdown in a two part episode. Virgil's Aunt Ruda is in the hospital, fighting cancer. Virgil worries about her safety when several terminally ill patients who share the same physician as Ruda end up dying before their time, and murder is suspected.

Other highlights this season included a visit from LuAnn's ex-convict brother (Designing Women's Meshach Taylor), a faded country music singer (Robert Goulet) who ends up committing murder; the reconciliation between Gillespie and his estranged daughter Lana; Bubba's being stalked by an obsessed admirer; Sweet's falsely accused of soliciting a bribe by two racist used car salesmen; a law school classmate of Virgil's is suspected of foul play when an ex-girlfriend of his is found dead in a river. A friend of Althea's who is being sexually harassed by her employer takes matters into her own hands, with grave consequences. A two-part episode directed by Larry Hagman involves a white supremacist politician whose visit to Sparta has a couple of ulterior motives, including aspirations for a presidential run ("The Leftover Man").

In another two-part episode written by O'Connor and Cynthia Deming, titled "Even Nice People" and "Lake Winahatchie", the mob, led by their real estate connection Lewis Alvin Epp, tries to force Gillespie's daughter Lana and her odd neighbor, Randy Calhoun, off their land, as they've done with others in the area. They first made offers to buy it, but when Lana refuses, they try more desperate measures to drive her out by attempting to set the house on fire so that they can build the "Sparta South Development", a huge shopping/upscale housing development that would be the ruin of the small business establishments in Sparta. This was first mentioned briefly in the Season 5 finale, "The Law On Trial". Burgess Meredith (in one of his last acting roles) appears in both episodes as an eccentric judge overseeing the case (he would return for a brief cameo in Season 7.)

The season ends with Bill and Harriet forced to confront the impending execution of Harriet's ex-husband and Eugene's disapproval of their relationship. Bill goes house hunting and throws out hints to Harriet that he wants her to move in with him. A prison bishop working with Eugene trying to help Vic get his conviction commuted becomes the target of a gunman seeking revenge for his father, who was on death row and was executed. Harriet, after seeking advice from Gillespie, reluctantly goes to visit Vic at Parchman Prison. But the visit isn't what she feared it would be, and she agrees to help join the fight to save his life along with her son by securing a new lawyer for him.

Howard Rollins' firing

Rollins was dropped from the show due to health reasons plus three outstanding warrants in Rockdale County and the city of Covington, GA.[8] He was replaced for season seven by Carl Weathers. Filming began on April 28, 1993. Rollins had not been seen on the set since January 1993, when season six wrapped. Despite numerous attempts by the media to contact Rollins, who was believed to be living in New York City, only series star Carroll O'Connor was in contact with Rollins during this period. It was hoped that Rollins would get his legal and personal issues resolved and return to the series full-time as Virgil Tibbs to both to practice law and to assist the Sparta P.D. with cases, but unfortunately, this was not the case.

After season 6, Anne-Marie Johnson and Geoffrey Thorne left the series alongside Rollins. Rollins would return occasionally as a guest star, while Johnson took a starring role on the final season of Fox's sketch comedy series In Living Color. Thorne left to pursue a career as a novelist and screenwriter; his character simply vanished from the series without any explanation.

Seventh season, 1993-94

Season 7 opens with Bill Gillespie being forced out of office and former Memphis, Tennessee Police Department Inspector Hampton Forbes (Carl Weathers) is hired as the new police chief by the city council. After nearly three decades on the Sparta police force, Gillespie does not receive a new contract from the council because his romance with Harriet is now out in the open, although other excuses are made for his dismissal. He seems to be accepting of the outcome, while Harriet doesn't hesitate to show her fury over the decision. The transition from Gillespie being in charge to Forbes taking over is slightly uneasy at the very start, but soon things smooth out. However, Gillespie is soon appointed as the acting Sheriff of Newton County when Nathan McComb suffers a heart attack and is too ill to continue his duties. This new appointment for Gillespie angers several on the city council. They want an investigation, which is upsetting and hurtful for Harriet. Gillespie also buys a new home, which he recruits Harriet to decorate in hopes she will move in with him, but she is hesitant.

Gillespie's last case as Sparta police chief is the finding the murderer of an unstable local man - whom he learns is a nine-year-old boy who the man had threatened for repeatedly trespassing on his property. The child shot him with his mother's gun. It is suggested that the boy was influenced by a story he had been following on the news of another child who had killed someone.

As Acting Sheriff, his first case is to solve the murders and robbery of one of the richest families in Sparta — the Barrons, and their housekeeper. Wade Hatton (Stacy Keach) is a former lawyer from New Orleans who has returned to his native Sparta to revisit his childhood memories for a book he plans on writing, and to romance attorney Sarah Hallisey. The prime suspect in the case is a 16-year-old black youth with an intellectual disability, Henry Ulmer, played by a young Wayne Brady in one of his first roles. Gillespie, Forbes, and the Sparta P.D. work together to capture and bring the real killer to justice, although District Attorney Darnelle, who feels the mentally disabled youth is the real guilty party and is being treated in a privileged status due to his handicap, wants to prosecute. Hatton declines to represent young Henry because he lost a similar case years ago and his client was executed. He, however, does agree to represent the real killer of the Barrons - if he testifies in court that Henry didn't participate in the killings, he was just on the premises when it happened and didn't comprehend the difference between what was real and what was make-believe. Sarah Hallisey agrees to represent Henry in court.

Other cases involve a friend of Bubba Skinner's being given the AIDS virus from a lover who knew he had it, a nine-year-old little girl being killed because of a drunk driver (Hagman-directed), a young interracial couple being stalked by a white supremacist (Brent Lunay, played by Charles Lawlor, seen in the Season 5 episode "Odessa"). Other cases include Parker's being accused of police brutality, and the return of Parker's stepfather, Roy Eversole (Pat Hingle, first seen in Season 6) and his lady friend Miss Roda (Anne Meara). Gillespie must once again confront his racist past when a new synagogue moves into Sparta and the rabbi (Jerry Stiller) detests Gillespie for being anti-Semitic back in the 1960s. This both shocks and angers Harriet, who is friendly with the rabbi. LuAnn experiences maternal feelings when she temporarily cares for an abandoned infant she finds in a crack house. Lana Farren also makes one final appearance as Bill's daughter in the Hagman-directed episode "A Love Lost", in which he must protect her from a former boyfriend who is involved in a gun-running scheme with someone in Sparta. Bubba goes to Atlanta to look after a nephew of his who is hospitalized due to a drug overdose.

Virgil Tibbs returns from Jackson with his juris doctor, which explains his absence, in his new capacity as attorney in three episodes ("Virgil Tibbs: Attorney At Law", "Good Cop, Bad Cop", "Conspiracy of One") and assists the Sparta P.D. with several cases after having moved into Ben Taylor's law office. Virgil reveals to Gillespie in "Virgil Tibbs: Attorney At Law" that Althea has left him and took their twins back home to Philadelphia to live, fed up with her life in Sparta and traumatized from all that had happened to her while living there. She didn't want to make the marriage work and later files for divorce, which a heartbroken Virgil does not contest, although he has difficulty accepting his new status as a divorced man. The episode "Conspiracy of One", where Virgil suspects that one of his law firm's clients orchestrated an "accident" which resulted in his spouse's death, marks Howard Rollins' final appearance on the show (air date February 2, 1994).

In the episode "Ches and the Grand Lady", Bobby Short reprises his role as Ches Collins, the blues musician from "Sweet, Sweet Blues" in Season 5. The episode also guest stars Jean Simmons as the dying grand dame of Sparta who also happens to be Ches's old flame and the overbearing great-aunt of Lonnie Jamison. Another episode involves Chief Hampton Forbes mentoring a young man who had several run-ins with the law (Claude Brooks) as a boxing coach, but the boy can't stay out of trouble; meanwhile, at the same time, Forbes' fiancee visits from Memphis, but the two of them realize that their life goals are very different. Harriet's son Eugene once again finds himself at odds with the police, endangering his parole trying to help a friend. Maybelle Chesboro (played by Elizabeth Ashley), the ex-madam, returns. (The role of Maybelle was initially played by Diane Ladd in Season 3's "Home Is Where The Heart Is".) 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. Chesboro decides to give up working in the business for good, but not before visiting Gillespie and sharing some intimate memories and times with him to attempt to ease her way back into his life. Harriet goes head to head with a lecherous land developer who wants to build over a plot of land where artifacts of slavery have been discovered.

Finally, in "Dangerous Engagement", Gillespie and DeLong tie the knot at the same sanctuary involved in the "Sanctuary" case from Season 5. Father DiMarco has since died, but the new abbot agrees to marry them. Chief Forbes serves as best man. In the meantime, a newspaper misprint makes Gillespie the target of an escaped killer from Texas whose father Sheriff McComb sent to death row. His son is now seeking revenge.

The season and the TV series wraps up with a two-hour movie of the week, "Give Me Your Life", starring Peter Fonda as Marcantony Appfel, leader of a religious cult in which the sexual abuse of children is rumored to have occurred. The story (by O'Connor and written by Cynthia Deming & William J Royce) is loosely based on the real-life drama in Waco, Texas in 1993 with the cult leader David Koresh and his followers.

TV movies and Hugh O'Connor's death

Four made-for-television movies were produced during the 1994-95 season, which was supposedly the continuation of the series. Once released on DVD, these combined movies were considered the eighth season of the show.[9] The movies were:

  • A Matter of Justice
  • Who Was Geli Bendl? (directed by Larry Hagman)
  • By Duty Bound
  • Grow Old Along with Me

Carroll's son and series cast member Hugh O'Connor died by suicide nearly two months before the fourth film aired. He had been struggling with a substance abuse issue since his teen years which culminated in his demise.[10] When the film was broadcast in its original, two-hour format, a black screen was added in between the intro tag and the opening title; it read "In memory of Hugh O'Connor: 1962–1995".

Writing staff

  • Carroll O'Connor (1989–95) as Matt Harris
  • Mark Rodgers (1989–90)
  • David Moessinger (1988–89)
  • Jeri Taylor (1988–89)
  • Edward Deblasio (1989–90)
  • Nancy Bond (1988–90)
  • William J Royce (1989–94)
  • Cynthia Deming (1990–94)
  • Robert Bielak (1990–91)
  • Mitch Schneider (1990–94)
  • Joe Gannon (1991–94)
  • Denise Nicholas (1992–95)
  • Terri Erwin (1989–91)
  • Bill Taub (1991)


Carroll O'ConnorStarred in the lead role of William O. "Bill" Gillespie. Gillespie is a tough but honorable small city police chief. At first somewhat resentful of Virgil Tibbs, Gillespie later becomes very close to Virgil and the rest of the Tibbs family. Their relationship in the TV series is much less adversarial than it is in the film version. For the first six seasons he is the chief of the Sparta Police Department until he is fired by the city council at the beginning of the 7th season. He becomes interim County Sheriff after the previous Sheriff becomes too ill to continue his duties. Chief Gillespie is a World War II veteran and identifies himself as serving with a black man in the 227th Military Police (it is assumed the 227th was a colored unit and Gillespie was the commanding officer). Gillespie has a penchant for wearing high-powered sidearms such as the Colt Python and later 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; both she and their son would die in childbirth. He has an older daughter, Lana, played by Christine Elise. Gillespie eventually falls in love with and marries Harriet DeLong, the much younger black city Councilwoman. 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 RollinsStarred in the lead role of Detective/Chief of Detectives/Captain Virgil Tibbs. Unlike the movie where he was just a visitor passing through, in the series, Virgil was a Sparta native but later moves north and becomes a police detective in Philadelphia, PA. He returns to Sparta after the death of his mother and is offered a job as Chief of Detectives and the rank of Captain with the city police department. A meticulous and highly intelligent man, Tibbs initially has a supercilious attitude towards those in the department and frequently criticizes the force for not being more contemporary or tech-savvy. He and Gillespie butt heads at the start, but soon become close friends; Gillespie becomes godfather to Virgil and Althea's twins. Tibbs also clashed with Bubba early in the series, but after helping Bubba clear his name during a case where he is falsely accused of rape, they become good friends, as well. Though some city council members want to make him chief, Tibbs firmly rebuffs their offers, preferring to work with Gillespie. Virgil is a sensitive young man and expresses himself openly when something affects him. 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 AutryFirst cast as Officer, then later Sergeant, Lieutenant, and finally Captain V. L. "Bubba" Skinner. Bubba is initially portrayed as a redneck. Intimidating and physically powerful, he is never afraid to use force when needed, but despite his rough exterior, he is a good man. He is also a sort of ladies' man around Sparta, as he always seemed to have a new girlfriend. He is known to turn female heads, including that of Althea Tibbs, who refers to him as a "hunk". Bubba is 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. Through the course of the series, Bubba becomes more racially tolerant, referring to bigots and racists as "knotheads". Bubba is from a large family and is shown several times during the series to be an expert shot with a rifle. When the Sparta police need a sniper (such as when Captain Tibbs's wife Althea is taken hostage in the episode "...And Then You Die") it is Skinner who takes the shot with a scoped rifle kept in the trunk of his squad car. Bubba carries a Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver in his belt holster like most of the other Sparta police officers. In Season 1, Bubba's rank seemed to be patrolman but is never explicitly stated. By Season 2's premiere, he is a Sergeant. Eventually, he rises to the rank of Captain before Gillespie leaves the Sparta Police. In Season 5, it is revealed that Bubba's first and middle initials are V. L. Bubba also always wears "white socks" with his uniform. Bubba usually is the one who is asked to arrest the tougher suspects due to his large size and immense strength.
Anne-Marie JohnsonStarred for six seasons as Virgil's wife, teacher and counselor Althea Tibbs. She herself was born and raised in Philadelphia and had never been south before the death of her mother-in-law. As the daughter of a retired police detective, Althea's life in Sparta is difficult: she is held captive by a murderous fugitive at the end of the first season, terrorized by an unstable ex-boyfriend and a racist mob at her home in Season 2, raped at the beginning of the third season, and later suffered a mental breakdown after witnessing the suicide of one of her students. She is a caring individual who wants to assist her students and those in her community. At the end of Season 3, she announces her pregnancy, something she and Virgil had been trying for quite some time, and in the Season 4 premiere, it is revealed that not only is she pregnant, but pregnant with twins. She has a close father/daughter-type relationship with Chief Gillespie, and supposedly has a close friendship with Bubba Skinner, who discovers that she had been raped and transports her to the hospital. Althea did not reappear for the 7th season, and her character was written out as Althea had been separated from Virgil and moved back to Pennsylvania.
Lois NettletonPlayed Joanne St. John from 1988 to 1989. She is the owner of the Magnolia Cafe, a popular eatery in Sparta (as seen in Season 2's opening) and Gillespie's love interest. After it is revealed that Joanne was once a prostitute, she and Gillespie broke up and she eventually left Sparta out of shame, although she does appear in a number of episodes afterward, and was in the Season 2 finale with Gillespie when he was kidnapped. She is briefly mentioned in the Season 3 episode, "Anniversary", but does not appear.
David HartPortrayed Officer Parker Williams. He is a very perceptive character. He genuinely loves the people of Sparta, whom he has sworn to serve and protect, and he often senses when someone is hurting. Like his movie counterpart Courtney, he has a habit of eavesdropping on the conversations of others. Parker knows everybody in town and is able to get through to them because of his kindness. Parker generally sits behind the dispatcher's desk, handling the telephone and radio, although he is also assigned to patrol duty. In 1994, he rises to the rank of Senior Sergeant. Parker is a Vietnam veteran, as explained in the episode "My Name is Hank". As the comic relief of the show, Parker always has a Mason jar of sweet tea on his desk, including when he is at the Tibbs' house for Christmas in the episode "Blessings". Parker can be seen holding his tea jar with a Christmas bow stuck on it. He also has the distinction as the only cast member who never missed an episode during the entire run of the series.
Christian LeBlancCast as Junior Abernathy, a patrolman seen only during Season 1. Junior is a young and inexperienced policeman who often is chastised by Detective Tibbs or Chief Gillespie for not knowing proper police procedure. However, Junior often rises to the occasion to assist in arrests or at other incidents in Sparta.
Geoffrey ThorneJoined the cast as Officer Willson Sweet in the second season as the cocky, young rookie fresh out of the police academy. Aside from Tibbs, Sweet is one of the first black men to join Sparta's police force. He is very focused and detailed about what his goals were, as he spoke quite often of going to law school. He loves to read, mostly on topics that can assist him with his work as a police officer, as well as African American literature. With Virgil Tibbs as a reluctant mentor, he is well liked and a clever and driven asset to the department. A number of the racially conscious storylines on the show involved his character. His ambition is to rise in the ranks of the Sparta police force and become Sparta's first black Police Chief, a part which was eventually played by Carl Weathers. By Season 5, he had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant. His character was eliminated when Thorne chose to exit the show after the sixth season ended and his departure is never mentioned or explained.
Hugh O'ConnorRecurring Season 1, made a main cast member in Season 2. As Lonnie Jamison, he is an officer and later, acting investigator on the Sparta police force. Lonnie eventually rises to the rank of Lieutenant and Acting Chief of Detectives. Lonnie is a very capable officer and takes his job seriously. He usually has a serious and straightforward personality, with a dry humor that always fits the moment, and he is an amiable and friendly person overall. One of the many facets of Lonnie's character is a fierce, never-give-up loyalty to his friends. A prime example of that loyalty occurs over several episodes as Lonnie's friendship with Harriet DeLong's son Eugene. Lonnie is Eugene's track team coach at Sparta High, and it is Lonnie Jamison who is able to get through to the young man when Eugene's father is being tried for murder, episode "No Other Road". Lonnie is a crack shot with a rifle and is often selected by Chief Gillespie to handle a situation requiring a long range rifle shot, as in episodes "My Name is Hank", "An Eye for An Eye", and "Crackdown". Along with Bubba, the Sparta Police has a very lethal sniper team.
Carl WeathersJoined the cast in the final season as Police Chief Hampton Forbes. He is picked to lead the department after the controversial firing of Bill Gillespie. Forbes is the first black chief of the department and a 20-year veteran of the Memphis, TN, police department, serving in one of the four police districts in the city of Memphis. He retires from the MPD to become the new Police Chief in Sparta. Forbes becomes friends with Gillespie and often works closely with him when Gillespie becomes acting county sheriff.
Crystal R. FoxCast as Officer LuAnn Corbin in Season 3. After the first black woman to join the force, Officer Christine Rankin, died in the line of duty on her first day on the job, Corbin is recruited to take her place. LuAnn often drove Gillespie around and was the go-between for him and Harriet before the two of them went public with their relationship. LuAnn was also a singer and was given several opportunities to showcase her voice on the series, in such episodes such as "Odessa" and "Singin' The Blues".
Denise NicholasFirst joined the cast in a recurring role in 1989 as Sparta City Councilwoman Harriet DeLong. A divorcée, her relationship with Chief Gillespie is deeply adversarial in the beginning, and the two clash often when she first appears on the show. Gillespie once referred to her as "The Dragon Lady". But over the course of the series, Harriet sees Gillespie's softer, more caring side and begins to think more fondly of him. By the time Denise Nicholas becomes a series regular, Harriet and Gillespie are romantically involved, much to the disapproval of her son, Eugene, and others in Sparta who are opposed to interracial relationships. She is close friends with Virgil and is also a gifted artist. In the two-part episode, "Citizen Trundel", Harriet's sister, Natalie is the mistress of conniving millionaire businessman, V.J. Trundel, who later has her murdered. They have a son named Eric from their illicit affair. Harriet eventually gains custody of him after Trundel deliberately crashes his private airplane after a confrontation about the murder with Gillespie. Emily Trundel, V.J.'s estranged widow, attempts to gain custody of Eric two seasons later, but only succeeds in gaining visitation rights, something Harriet deeply opposes.
Randall FranksPlayed Officer Randy Goode (1988–1993) Randy Goode begins his work on the series as a partner to Wilson Sweet in "The Creek"; he soon begins driving Chief Gillespie and Detective Tibbs around.
C.C. TaylorOfficer Charlie Peake (Season 3-8)
Dee ShawOfficer Dee Shepard (Season 3-8)
Harvey E. Lee Jr.Played Officer Ken Covey. (Season 6-8)
Mark JohnsonPlayed Officer Luke Everett. (Season 6-8)

Recurring cast

Thom Gossom Jr.Ted Marcus, Sparta city councilman and attorney (Seasons 2-8)
Tonea StewartVirgil's widowed aunt Etta Kibby. She resides with Virgil and Althea Tibbs and is caretaker of their twins, William Calvin and Sarah Ruth. (Seasons 4-7)
Dan Biggers Dr. Frank "Doc" Robb, physician and medical examiner (Season 2-8)
Wilbur FitzgeraldDistrict Attorney Gerard Darnelle (Seasons 3-8)
Rugg WilliamsEugene Glendon, Harriet DeLong's teenage son (Seasons 4-7)
Afemo OmilamiJimmy Dawes, ex-con who becomes a police informant (Seasons 2-6). He was also cast in a Season 7 episode in a different role as an Atlanta detective.
Christine EliseLana 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. (Seasons 5-7)
Bob PennyLouis Alvin Epp, realtor and attorney in Sparta with mob connections (Seasons 3-6)
Scott Brian HiggsRandy Calhoun, Lana's quirky and odd neighbor, although he appeared on the show as far back as Season 3, long before the storyline about Gillespie having an illegitimate daughter was created. (Seasons 3-7)
Wallace MerckEarl "Holly" Colmer, Sr., councilman and nemesis to Bill Gillespie, Virgil Tibbs and Harriet DeLong (Seasons 5-8)
Karen CarlsonSarah Hallisey, attorney (Seasons 5-8)
Adair SimonEmily Trundel, wife of millionaire V.J. Trundel, who impregnated Harriet DeLong's younger sister Natalie during an illicit affair. (Seasons 3, 5)
Burgess MeredithJudge Cully (Seasons 6-7)
Stuart CulpepperJudge Colter, Judge Henry Sims (Seasons 3, 7-8). He also appeared in other episodes during the run of the series playing other characters.
Joe Don BakerCaptain 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 is placed in the department by the FBI to uncover a plot by a white supremacist group to assassinate a civil rights leader during his visit to Sparta. Dugan is murdered by these same white supremacists at the end of the second season. Dugan's godson, who had become involved with these people, later agrees to help the police. (Season 2)
Ron CulbrethSheriff Nathan McComb, the former Newton County sheriff. Culbreth appeared on nine episodes as Sheriff McComb. In the 7th season, McComb becomes too ill to continue his duties, and Gillespie is appointed as acting sheriff in his place. Prior to his appearances as McComb, Culbreth also appeared on the episodes "The Hammer and the Glove" and "Missing" in guest roles. (Seasons 3-7)
Pat HingleRoy Eversole, Parker Williams' step-father. Hot tempered, Eversole had a great deal of difficulty maintaining steady employment. He was once a murder suspect after getting into a heated argument with a former employer, who is subsequently found dead a short time later. (Seasons 6-7)
Fran BennettVirgil's aunt Ruda Gibson (Seasons 4-6)
John Wesley (actor) Vic Glendon, Harriet DeLong's ex-husband and Eugene's father (Seasons 4-6)
Christopher Allport District Attorney Myron Dutton (Season 2)
Dennis Lipscomb Sparta Mayor Jim Findlay (Season 1)
Michael Burgess Tyrell Gibson, Virgil Tibbs' younger cousin and Ruda Gibson's son (Season 4-6)
Maureen DowdellNurse Tracey Boggs, Bubba's girlfriend. Also played Nurse Jill and Lydia Kinsey. (Seasons 5-8)
Jen HarperDr. Winona Day (Seasons 5-7)
Christopher LobbanBobby Johnson, a youngster that Gillespie takes in when one of his brothers murders the other, and his grief-stricken mother leaves Sparta and eventually passes away. Bobby wants to remain in Sparta so he can attend Sparta High once he's old enough. Althea Tibbs is a teacher and counselor at the high school and it was Bobby's slain brother's wish that Bobby be mentored by her. Althea initially wants Bobby to move in with her and Virgil, but Virgil is not sold on the idea. To quell the tensions between the Tibbses over this, Gillespie volunteers to keep the boy in his home. When Gillespie moves into his new home in Season 7, Bobby moves along with him. (Seasons 4-7)

Guest stars

During the series' 7½-season run, many familiar, unfamiliar, and longtime character actors and actresses have made guest appearances, and others were newcomers who went on to become well-known. Some of those appearing in In The Heat of the Night episodes were:

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 O. J. Simpson (whom NBC executives originally wanted for the role of Virgil Tibbs, but O'Connor selected Rollins), who made a cameo appearance in Season 2. William Schallert, who played Mayor Schubert in the original 1967 film, also made an appearance on the show in Season 4.

Broadcast history and ratings

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.

1987–88Tuesday at 9:00-10:00 PM on NBC1917.015,639,200
1990–912114.9 (tied with Major Dad)N/A
1991–92Tuesday at 9:00-10:00 PM on NBC (October 1, 1991 - January 7, 1992)
Tuesday at 8:00-9:00 PM on NBC (January 14 - May 19, 1992)
3013.1 (tied with The Golden Girls)N/A
1992–93Wednesday at 9:00-10:00 PM on CBS46N/A10,630,000
1993–94Thursday at 8:00-9:00 PM on CBS (September 16, 1993 - January 6, 1994)
Wednesday at 9:00-10:00 PM on CBS (January 12 - May 11, 1994)


Both Carroll O'Connor and Howard Rollins received prestigious awards for their work on the show in 1989. O'Connor received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, and Rollins the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series, his second.

In the Heat of the Night won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Drama Series (formally Outstanding Drama Series, Mini-Series or Television Movie), two years in a row, 1992 and 1993. The 1992 win was specifically for the Season 5 episode, "Sweet, Sweet Blues".

Home media

TGG Direct released the first season on DVD in Region 1 on August 30, 2012.[11] The eighth and final season was released on June 11, 2013.[12]

On October 23, 2012, TGG Direct released an 8-disc best-of set entitled In the Heat of the Night - 24hr Television Marathon.[13]

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.[14][15]

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 - 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.


Like the original movie, 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 one 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 originally recorded by Quincy Jones, with Ray Charles on vocals and piano for the movie. It 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.

The original song itself is supposed to be from Virgil's point of view, being in a stranger in a hostile environment. In the case of the TV series, the lyrics refer to both main characters fighting crime in the tiny town of Sparta.

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.


  1. "In the Heat of the Night". Archive of American Television.
  2. Hill, Michael E. (December 11, 1988). "Carroll O'Connor Putting The Heat To 'The Night'". The Washington Post.
  3. Weinstein, Steve (February 15, 1989). "'In the Heat of the Night' Sends a Message : Popular NBC Series Gives Positive Role Model of Race Relations, Says Producer". Los Angeles Times.
  4. Park, Jeannie; Armstrong, Lois (May 7, 1990). "In the Heat of the Night's Eerie Parallels to Her Sister's Murder Allow Actress Denise Nicholas to Finally Conquer Her Grief". People.
  5. "O'Connor to Sue Tabloid for Rollins Story". Los Angeles Times. December 20, 1989.
  6. "In the Heat of the Night: Sweet, Sweet Blues - Season 5, Episode 8".
  7. Paisley, Laura. USC News (April 5, 2016). "The Civil Rights Experience of novelist Denise Nicholas inspired her artistry".
  8. Kloer, Phil (May 6, 1993). "Howard Rollins In Seclusion, His Acting Career In Jeopardy". Orlando Sentinel.
  9. "In The Heat of the Night Complete Season 8 (The Final Season)". Retrieved March 18, 2015.
  10. "Carroll O'Connor's Son Kills Himself at 33". The New York Times, March 30, 1995.
  11. "In the Heat of the Night: The First Season".
  12. In the Heat of the Night: The Complete Eighth Season: Carroll O'Connor, Carl Weathers, Alan Autry, David Hart, Hugh O'Connor, Crystal Fox, Denise Nicholas
  13. In the Heat of the Night DVD news: Announcement for In the Heat of the Night - 24 Hour Television Marathon | Archived 2012-09-24 at the Wayback Machine
  14. In The Heat of the Night Season 4: Carroll O'Connor, Alan Autry, David Hart, Hugh O'Connor, Howard E. Rollins Jr., Geoffrey Thorne: Movies & TV
  15. In The Heat of The Night Season 5: Carroll O'Connor, Alan Autry, David Hart, Hugh O'Connor, Howard E. Rollins Jr., Geoffrey Thorne: Movies & TV
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