Show Type: Police Drama

First Telecast: March 6, 1988

Last Telecast: July 28, 1994

Theme Music: By Quincy Jones and Alan & Marilyn Bergman; sung by Bill Champlin

Broadcast History:

March 1988, Sunday 9:00-11:00 on NBC

March 1988 – May 1988, Tuesday 9:00-10:00 on NBC

July 1988 – September 1988, Tuesday 9:00-10:00 on NBC

December 1988 – January 1992, Tuesday 9:00-10:00 on NBC

January 1992 – June 1992, Tuesday 8:00-9:00 on NBC

June 1992 – July 1992, Sunday 8:00-9:00 on NBC

October 1992 – August 1993, Wednesday 9:00-10:00 on CBS

August 1993 – January 1994, Thursday 8:00-9:00 on CBS

January 1994 – May 1994, Wednesday 9:00-10:00 on CBS

July 1994, Thursday 8:00-9:00 on CBS


Chief/Sheriff Bill Gillespie..... Carroll O'Connor

Chief of Detectives Virgil Tibbs (1988-1993)..... Howard Rollins

Althea Tibbs (1988-1993)..... Anne-Marie Johnson

Sergeant/Captain Bubba Skinner..... Alan Autry

Deputy/Sergeant Parker Williams..... David Hart

Deputy Junior Abernathy (1988)..... Christian Le Blanc

Deputy Horace Goode (1988)..... Peter Gabb

Deputy/Lieutenant Lonnie Jamison..... Hugh O'Connor

Officer Randy Goode..... Randall Franks

Mayor Findley (1988)..... Dennis Lipscomb

Deputy/Sergeant Willson Sweet (1988-1993)..... Geoffrey Thorne

Joann St. John (1988-1989)..... Lois Nettleton

Sergeant LuAnn Corbin (1989-1994)..... Crystal Fox

Harriet DeLong (1989-1994)..... Denise Nicholas

Dr. Robb (1989-1994)..... Dan Biggers

D.A. Gerard Darnelle (1990-1994)..... Wilbur Fitzgerald

Sergeant Dee Sheppard (1992-1994)..... Dee Shaw

Aunt Etta (1992-1994)..... Tonea Stewart

Officer Ken Covey (1992-1994)..... Harvey E. Lee, Jr.

Officer Luke Everett (1992-1994)..... Mark Johnson

Officer Peake (1992-1994)..... C.C. Taylor

Ted Marcus (1992-1993)..... Thom Gossom, Jr.

Dr. Winona Day (1992-1994)..... Jen Harper

Chief Hampton Forbes (1993-1994)..... Carl Weathers

Deputy Christine Surillo (1993-1994)..... Barbara Lee-Belmonte


A White Southern police chief and his new, black Chief of Detectives – forced on him by a Mayor seeking the black vote – found they had more in common than they imagined in this moody crime series. Chief Bill Gillespie was a gruff old-timer who knew the streets and people of Sparta, Mississippi like the back of his weathered hand. Virgil Tibbs, though he had been born in Sparta, had learned the latest techniques in scientific criminology as a big-city cop in Philadelphia. Now Virgil was back, and he found that Sparta was still living in another era in terms of police work and race relations. But his sleepy hometown was evidently a hotbed of crime (a murder or major drug bust every week, it seemed), so Virgil and the Chief – a fair man – learned to work together and ignore the rednecks in the town and on the force. Althea was Virgil's worried wife.

The series maintained a small-town feeling, and many of the crimes seemed to involve relatives or acquaintances of the regulars (such as wayward cousins and present and former lovers). The second season introduced a sophisticated black city councilwoman – Harriet DeLong – who often became involved in Gillespie's cases. Despite their different backgrounds, the Chief found himself attracted to Harriet, and by 1991-1992, they were having a discreet affair. Gillespie's enemies on the City Council got wind of this and in the last episode of the season tried to get him fired.

In The Heat of the Night moved to CBS in the fall of 1992, and the affair blossomed, as DeLong became a regular (previously she had been seen only occasionally). In the premiere episode of the 1993-1994 season Gillespie's enemies finally caught up with him. The City Council decided not to renew his contract and hired black former FBI Agent and Memphis police officer Hampton Forbes to replace him. Gillespie became sheriff of Newman County and continued to work with the Sparta police on cases that fell into their joint jurisdiction. Meanwhile, Tibbs had left to get his law degree. His marriage was on the rocks, and he was seen only occasionally during the final season.

At the end of the final season, in the spring of 1994, Gillespie married DeLong.

Based on the novel by John Ball and the Academy Award-winning 1967 movie starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, and filmed in and around Hammond, La. (later, Covington, Georgia). The role of Jamison was played by Carroll O’Connor’s son, Hugh.