In The Heat Of The Night-Classic TV Show series

Heat of the Night film poster

considered fair use to use in critical commentary on the film
considered fair use to use in critical commentary on the film

Carroll O'Conner

 fair use of poster justified in use for an article about the author.
fair use of poster justified in use for an article about the author.

This classic television police show, as well as the movie, is about the people of the Southern United States toward the end of the 20th Century. I found it interesting in its portrayal of the transition from the “old South” to the “new South.” This old TV show is also one of the classic television series.

Perhaps I have little right to in this regard since I have spent very little time in the South and am a product of Northern attitudes. Thus I have to take the show somewhat at face value, but I think it helps me to better understand the Southern culture.

Believable characters supported by good actors helps to give this series a feel of realism. Carroll O’Connor especially impressed me because I think the part is so very different from his role as Archie Bunker. Archie was a man stuck in his world and yet sort of lovable. Gillespie on the other hand is a strong, wise authority figure, with some flaws.

The first season of the show that ran 1988 until 1995, had no particular thematic cohesion being a somewhat conventional crime show of the time. Eventually, although the show dealt with most of the problems of police work--murder, rape, robbery and other crimes it also became a study in the lives of the characters.

The film from 1968 was the story of an African-American police detective from Philadelphia getting involved in a murder investigation when he is visiting his hometown of Sparta, Mississippi --(although there is a real Sparta, that is not the setting.) It was, in fact filmed in Sparta, Illinois. There were two sequels to the original movie They Call Me Mr. Tibbs in 1970 and The Organization in 1970

In the films Sidney Poitier played the part of Virgil Tibbs. Rod Steiger played police chief Bill Gillespie, who is strongly prejudiced and arrests Tibbs for a murder. In the TV series Carroll O’Connor plays Gillespie and Howard Rollins plays Tibbs. Eventually the two learn to respect each other and work together. Although racism is a major theme here, I think another is the themes often seen in American folklore and Westerns of city vs. rural or highly trained professional policeman vs. common sense rural policeman. The later contrast is less important as the series continues.

The TV series was filmed in various locations. One of the things I like about the series is that the characters, such as Bubba Skinner, played by Alan Autry, manage to break away from the stereotypes. My first impression of the character is that he was a redneck--possibly the name implies that. Yet Bubba, although tough, shows genuine empathy and concern in the stories. Between Tibbs and Gillespie we find both men tend to see a stereotype in the other until, working together, they learn to know each other on a different level. Hugh O’Connor, I think, plays a somewhat “boy next door” young cop. Sadly the actor committed suicide and the show ended after that. He was the adopted son of Carroll O’Connor who died in June of 2001. Howard Rollins died in December 1996.





© 2010 Don A. Hoglund

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Comments 14 comments

billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Nice of overview the movie was a classic for Poitier and Steiger - lots of stereotypes as you said. A good lesson on the times and police forces.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for giving the first comment. I still enjoy the reruns when I can get them.


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

I saw the 1960's movie and I used to watch the TV version when it was on prime time TV. I found the TV version entertaining and thought provoking. I Enjoyed reading your article.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Actually I never saw the movie until about a year ago when I looked it up to see how it campared to the TV show. Thanks for your comments.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

I remember the TV show when it was first being run. Have not seen the movie. How DID the movie compare to the television series?


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I liked them both. There was good acting in both. The movie was more cutting edge because the topic was hot at the time it was produced,I think the leads were sofened up in the TV series and the racial conflict not as intense. A southerner might see it differently. Althiough I've heard negative comments most of my life on race, bu not as intense as it may have been in the south.

Thanks for you comments.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Thanks for the critique. If I get a chance I'll look for it someday. BTW...DO write about Rock Island and then we can link our hubs together!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for the comment.I'll give it some thought. I was researching Col Davenport--the Davenport house in on the island. I believe he founded the city of Davenport snf was murdered. makes for a good story.


KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

Great write up about a great classic show. I think my husband has seen every one of the shows at least 4 to 5 times each. I know I've seen every episode ever made. Great job.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I appreciate the positive comment.I was a classic and sad it ended so tragically with the death of O'Connor's son.


wilbury4 profile image

wilbury4 6 years ago from England I think?

A good classic film, long time since I have seen it though. Another excellent film starring Sidney Poitier was "To Sir with Love", to which I recall a follow up that wasn't to the same standard.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for the comment and input.I haven't seen the film you mention.


trusouldj profile image

trusouldj 5 years ago from Indiana

Great show. I remember for a while they were showing 2 reruns back to back on Sunday mornings on TNT. It was was a good way to spend a Sunday if you missed church.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I thought it was an excellent show.Thanks for commenting.

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