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In the Heat of the Night

By Darren C.

In 1987, TV Producer Fred Silverman met with veteran actor Carroll O'Connor about making a television series based on a 1967 movie classic. "In The Heat Of The Night" would star O'Connor as "Chief William O Gillespie" of the small southern Mississippi town of Sparta. "Howard Rollins" (Ragtime, A Soldiers Story) was cast out of over 250 other good African-American actors to portray the role of "Detective Virgil Tibbs".

In 1988, "HEAT" was aired on NBC for the first time. "Virgil Tibbs" originally from Sparta, MS, comes home to attend his mother's funeral. Mr. Tibbs is offered the position of "Chief Of Detectives" by the Sparta Mayor. Mayor Finley offers Virgil $5,000 more dollars a year than he is currently making in Philadelphia. After Virgil accepts, sparks fly between Chief Gillespie and himself. All of the Sparta Police Department is of white decent, and racial tensions fly high. It basically takes Virgil a lot of hard work and proving to his fellow officers, he is truly the man for the job.

The series shows us how the relationship between the Chief and himself grows overtime. Only after one season, the series moved to CBS and the production moved to the small southern town of Covington, Georgia. It is from the years of 1989-1994 we learn of all the established characters such as Bubba Skinner (Alan Autry), Parker Williamson (David Hart), Wilson Sweet (Geoffrey Thorne), Lonnie Jamison (Hugh O'Connor), Luann Corbin (Crystal Fox), Doctor Frank Robb (Dan Biggers) and Dee Sheppard (Dee Shaw).

The series dealt with most issues in police work such as murder, rape, robbery, DWI, domestic violence, etc; but it also touched on the lives of most of the main characters. We saw before the series ended in 1994, most of the characters got promoted, and some new ones replaced some old ones.

Howard Rollins had a problem with alcohol and drug use off the set, and this eventually led to problems near the series end. He actually served a 70 day jail sentence in a nearby county in 1993 for his third DWI/drug arrest. But the most tragic incident was the suicide of Hugh O'Connor (Carroll's adopted son) in March 1995 after the series ended in 1994.

Howard Rollins tried to get his life back together, but died from Lymphomia in December 1996. Carroll O'Connor died from a heart attack in June 2001. "In The Heat Of The Night" was a wonderful series which will always be remembered by many fans across the globe. A lot of the remaining actors are still working steady today; and Alan Autry (Bubba Skinner) is now the Mayor of Fresno, California.


Share Your Memories!

Do you have a favorite episode of In the Heat of the Night? What do you remember about the series? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"My mom and I loved this show. I was in elementary when it began and in high school when it went off the air. Before we knew it, it was a part of us. We sat on the couch every week and watched it together. We still watch it in reruns. Every episode may not have been fantastic, but each episode was memorable. I will always love this show. It had positive black role models, and an excellent cast. It was one of few shows that dealt with racism from the black and white perspective, yet showed each trying to help one another learn more about their culture. I just wish that the three main characters on the show, Caroll O' Conner, Howard Rollins, and Hugh O' Conner were still here with us. It would make the memories more bearable. Though I watch the show still, I can't help thinking about each of them being dead."


"I think that In the Heat of the Night was a fabulous show. I'am a huge fan of Carroll "Archie Bunker" O'Connor, and also of Denise Nicholas. I've been Carroll O'Connor's fan since "All In the Family", and of Denise Nicholas since Room 222. I've all the shows the two of them were in. I think they made a remarkable couple, and I love the both of them. My favorite episode is "A Dangerous Engagment"."


"I have often wondered if the episodes, A Frenzied Affair and its sequel, Discovery, were modeled after the Amy Fisher trial in New York. The year was 1992. These two episodes, however, were my favorites. Tragic, heartwarming and superbly acted."


"Howard Rollins was a wonderful actor and beat out Wesely Snipes for the role of Virgil Tibbs. In the Heat of the Night was a very special show that took on many challenges. By the third season half the cast was hooked on coke. This is one of the best shows of the Awesome80s plus O.J. Simpson was a guest star on one episode and was killed in it - can't beat that."

--Big Zac

"As a Police Beat reporter for the past 15 years, I especially liked In The Heat of the Night for its honesty, and in most cases, its dead to rights accuracy about political problems within city government and police departments. You could take any character on the show and find a similar person in any small police department across the south. If I had to pick one character that was the best portrayed, it would be that of Parker Williams. There is a Parker, sometimes a lot of Parkers, in every department. What the world needs more of are the Bubba Skinners, but they are hard to be found. ITHOTN touched on topics that were taboo in the Awesome80s, such as AIDS, crack cocaine, and interracial relationships. But at the same time, they found ways to have hilarious episodes as well. I think the popularity the show still holds in syndication is indicative of its power. And I think most of us hard core fans still wish we could visit Sparta and have some of the meatloaf at the Magnolia Cafe. Sad to think Howard, Hugh and Carroll are no more, but their award-winning performances will live on."


"I love the show 'In The Heat Of The Night'. I've been watching it for years now and I still do - even though I seen all of them. Huge fan of Virgil Tibbs, Carol O'Conner, and Buba. GREAT SHOW!"


"The television series, In The heat Of The Night, has literally become a memorable part of my life. Being a real life law enforcement officer, I didn't even start watching the series until 1993. I was living in Winston-Salem,N.C. at the time, and just started catching the series on CBS about the time "Carl Weathers" was casted as "Chief Hampton Forbes". I will never forget the sadness I felt when "Hugh O'Connor" committed suicide in March 1995, and seeing the vey last, 2 hour movie air just shortly after that.

Thanks to stations like "TNT" I was able to start from the beginning. After a couple years of seeing every single, 142 episodes, I decided to take the trip to Covington, Ga where "HEAT" was filmed from 1989-1994. From the moment you walk into the square of the small southern town in Newton County Georgia, you actually feel like it was all real. I met some wonderful people in Covington.

The sad thing was that the first time I went to Covington was the very Saturday before the Monday in December 1996 in which "Howard Rollins" died. Since those days I still make the trip to Covington to see friends made. Over the past few years, I have made a wonderful friend in Mr. Dan Biggers, who portrayed Doctor Frank Robb on the series. Dan is a wonder friend, father figure, and tremendous actor. I regret I never got to meet Howard, Hugh, or Carroll, but I am blessed to have made friends with some of the remaining cast and wonderful people in Covington,Ga. The most touching episode for me will always be the episode where Howard Rollins returns to Sparta as an attorney. His touching scene with Carroll about Althea leaving him always reminds me of how I felt during my own divorce situation. I hope we can always keep "HEAT" alive in our hearts and minds."


"The show I liked best was where Bubba, had to help the girl out with coping with AIDS. You could see the care in his eyes. I think Alan Aurty made the show, and the rest of the cast did too! I miss seeing them on TV."


"I only fairly recently started watching the re-runs of "Heat." I never watched it when it was originally aired in the late '80s and early '90s; for some reason, the show just didn't interest me back then. Now, I can honestly say it is one of my favorite shows because of the sensitive and honest way it deals with interracial relationships. I cannot remember one episode during which I did not have tears in my eyes at least once. It is even sadder now because of Carroll's, Howard's, and Hugh's passing. However, I also enjoy the "down-home" humor and laid-back manner of Chief Gillespie, as well as trying to figure out "who dun it" along with the Chief and Virgil. I never saw the original 1967 movie with Steiger and Potier, and I'm afraid it would be anticlimactic after seeing the TV version."


"I watch In the Heat of the Night 2 or 3 times a day. It is the best cop show ever made in my book.As of matter fact I have it on now one of my faves called "Prisoner's" starring Ed Ames who played the sheriff who beat black prisoner's included Wilson Sweet. Three of the best Harold, Caroll, and Hugh are gone but I hope the show will be around forever."



I find myself quoting "The Chief" frequently. His wisdom is enduring. His humor can make me laugh anyday, anytime. The depth of every character reaches levels unseen on television. I cannot believe they are actually acting. It is too real.

Brilliant music. It is tailored to every scene. The details make the difference in picture and sound. The entire cast and crew should have been showered with Emmys.

To see "Heat" in its stride, "Sparta Gold" has everything. To see its impact, Aunt Ruda's bout with cancer or The Chief's witnessing a state execution are the ultimate examples.

The show is a testiment of The Chief's life and his beliefs. He once said, "Trains give me wonderful ideas. " That's why the trains appear often, as thanks for another great program. Listen for the train whistle in almost every show. "

--New Plymouth

"This show brings you such a warm feeling of memories of growing up in a small town in the south. I have two young kids that share with me now the experience of watching the re-runs. I wonder when TV Land Classic will pick up this wonderful show? "


"I wish Alan Autry would make more movies or even have his own show. I haven't seen him since he co-starred in Grace Under Fire, and the movie Intruders. He is really a great actor. I have also missed Carrol O'Connor greatly."


"It has been 10 years now since the last episode of "In The Heat Of The Night" was filmed in Covington, Georgia. It is amazing how time goes by. I had the awsome opportunity of personally knowing Mr. Dan Biggers, who portrayed "Doctor Frank Robb". Dan came to Charlotte, N. C. this past Febuary 2004 to be the Best Man in my wedding. It was an experience so many would loved to have.

Dan, my wife, my former roomate, and I had a wonderful dinner at "The Melting Pot" in Charlotte, N. C. on the evening before the weddding rehersal. It was so great having customers speak to Dan and relive all those great "HEAT" moments. Even though Dan and I have been great friends since the 90's, we had a great evening before the wedding talking and remembering his great moments on the set with Carroll, Howard, Alan, Hugh, and all the others. Dan will be in the 2005 Cameron Crowe Movie, ELIZABETHTOWN" starring Kirsten Dunst and Susan Surrandon.

I am greatful for Turner South airing episodes at 5pm and 6pm during the week. I hope we can keep the show alive for years to come. Covington, Georgia is the place to visit to relive all the HEAT moments and shooting locations. I hope we can all remember Howard Rollins (Virgil Tibbs) who died on December 06, 1996."

--Darren C.

"This was my favorite TV show for as long as it was on the air, and I still watch the reruns on Turner South Network today. Originally from Tennessee, I lived in Biloxi, Mississippi during the Awesome80s and enjoyed watching the show every week and identifying with locations mentioned in the episodes.

One of my fondest memories of watching the show is that my daughter (age 8-9) loved to sing the theme song and would sing along every week when the show came on. I really appreciated the way the show dealt with all the important issues of society. I thought everyone did an excellent job in presenting the issues like they really were and the consequences of participation in such activities as drug abuse, alcoholism, etc."


"I was about 22 in 1988, when the show first aired. I like the original cast best. The cast with Howard Rollings (Virgil Tibbs), Carroll O'Conner (William O. Gillespie), Anne Marie Johnson (Althea Tibbs), Geoffrey Thorne (Wilson Sweet), David Hart (Parker Williams), Hugh O'Conner (Lonnie Jamison), Crystal Fox (LuAnn Corbin), and Alan Autry (Bubba Skinner).

I don't really like the later ones with Carl Weathers in it. I think that they should have just cancelled the show in 1994. I think that would have been better than keeping it going with half of the original cast gone. In the 1993-1994 season, they took out half of the original cast members, and brought what had been background characters, into the forefront. I didn't like that.


--LM Williams

"I guess because I am from a small town in miss. this show still is popular with me. My wife thinks I am crazy for still watching this show and I can&'t really explain it. I guess when the show was on the air I was living back in Poplarville, Ms. and I was spending a lot of time with my dad[who is now in heaven] and Mr. o Connor sometimes reminds me of dad. I know some of the episodes were much better than others but there was an episode where the chief visited an inmate about to be put to death and helped him repent while quoting scripture. WOW"

--Rob T



Aired: March 6, 1988 - July 28, 1994

Cast: Carroll O'Connor, Howard Rollins, Anne-Marie Johnson

Network: NBC

Genre: Police Drama

Theme songIn the Heat of the Night sung by Bill Champlin

Image courtesy of NBC

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