|In the Heat of the Night|
|Format||Crime / Drama|
|Created by||John Ball|
|Developed by||James Lee Barrett|
Howard E. Rollins Jr.
Geoffrey A. Thorne
Crystal R. Fox
|Theme music composer||Quincy Jones
|Opening theme||Performed by Bill Champlin|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||8|
|No. of episodes||150 (List of episodes)|
|Running time||60 minutes per episode|
|Production company(s)||The Fred Silverman Company and A Jadda Production/A Juanita Bartlett Production
In Association With MGM/UA Television Pictures
|Original channel||NBC (1988-1992)
|Original run||March 6, 1988 – May 16, 1995|
In the Heat of the Night is a television series based on the motion picture and novel of the same name. 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.
Heat starred Carroll O'Connor as William Gillespie and Howard Rollins as Virgil Tibbs. In the premiere episode, Tibbs had traveled to Sparta, Mississippi for his mother's funeral. He was persuaded to remain by the city government, which wanted to make its police department more diverse.
The show dealt with a variety of issues. These included racism, drug abuse, rape, murder, incest, government corruption, and drunk driving, among others.
The first season of the show was filmed in Hammond, Louisiana. There were many conflicts between the first executive producer, Juanita Bartlett, and series star Carroll O'Connor. A total of 8 episodes (the two hour pilot and six regular episodes) were filmed. O'Connor threatened to walk at the end of the season if he remained executive producer so he was released from his duties. The episodes in this season did not really have a "theme" and were mostly what O'Connor called recycled material from other crime shows. He was promised the role of story editor but the scripts would come back marked FINAL NO REWRITES. Episodes often focused on grisly murders or crimes and not the lives of people in the new south that viewers would later come to appreciate. Anne-Marie Johnson, who played Virgil's wife Althea, summed up what it was like to film the show in the little town of Hammond: She says "My high school was bigger than this town".
The second season of In the Heat of the Night began airing in December 1988 due to a writers strike. When the new season began, the show had a new look and a new set of executive producers. The show was moved from Louisiana to Covington, Georgia. The two-hour kickoff movie was titled “Don’t Look Back” and involved a copycat murder that Gillespie worked on twenty years earlier. In this episode, we are introduced to Joanne St. John, the chief’s girlfriend and owner of the local diner. We are also introduced to the character of Doc. Robb played by Dan Biggers.
Other episodes this season involved a prominent citizen being murdered due to sexual abuse in his family, Virgil’s ex-partner and Althea’s ex-lover coming back to Sparta and being discovered as a killer, Chief Gillespie having to arrest the fellow sheriff of the neighboring county for committing murder in his jail, Bubba getting caught up in a love triangle, Althea’s niece visiting from Philadelphia, Virgil and Althea going to an all-white church, Joanne having been a prostitute out of necessity in the past, the arrest of council woman White’s son, Chief Gillespie witnessing an execution, a plant strike that leads to murder, and Bubba being accused of rape. Interesting to note that in the episode about the plant strike, O.J. Simpson plays the role of a Sparta City Councilman who is murdered by being almost decapitated with a camper's wire saw. The episode "The Creek" saw the introduction of the first new police character "Officer Randy Goode" (1988-1993) played by Randall Franks following the show's move to Georgia introducing the second prominent Georgia performer to claim a regular role on the series. Franks was already an established bluegrass music star performing for the Grand Ole Opry pursuing a new path.
During the last four episodes of the season Joe Don Baker had to fill in for series star Carroll O’Connor due to open heart surgery. The chief was said to be at a police conference for a month. It seems that his replacement Tom Dugan was a spy working for the government in an attempt to stop the assassination of a civil rights preacher. The second season ended in a cliffhanger: Chief Gillespie returns to the force only to be kidnapped by two men wearing pig masks. Inexplicably, the next season opened without any explanation or reference to this, as if it never happened. Only later in the season was any mention made of it, and at that very briefly. Carroll O'Connor wanted his open heart surgery to be written into the story line but the writers refused to comply and came up with the kidnapping plot. The kidnapping episode is resolved in the third season premiere Anniversary which aired later in the season because Carroll wanted Althea's rape to be the season opener.
The third season saw a number of changes to the show. O'Connor was finally in charge and got to do the show that he wanted to do. The character of Joanne St. John was eliminated to make room for councilwoman Harriet Delong. Althea Tibbs received a lot of character development this season, particularly as she grapples with the effects and aftermath of rape. Cast member Howard Rollins' drug problems escalated, forcing him to miss 6 episodes due to his stay in rehab. In "First Girl," Gillespie hires the Sparta PD's first female black officer. Her life is tragically cut short, making room for her replacement Luanne Corbin. Dee Shaw also joined the cast as officer Dee Sheppard. We learn that Parker was a Vietnam veteran, and someone abandons a baby on Bubba's doorstep. In perhaps the most important story of the year, Harriet DeLong's sister is murdered. Gillespie knows who committed the crime, but can he bring him to justice? This story line was very special for Denise Nicholas, who portrayed DeLong. When Carroll O'Connor approached Denise about the story line, she had to send him a note explaining how real this was for her: The actress's real sister had been murdered ten years previously. She agreed to do the story to bring some closure for herself and her family. At the time, no one on the set except for Carroll O'Connor, Denise Nicholas, and director Leo Penn knew the circumstances surrounding this episode. It is important to note that this episode set the foundation for Gillespie and DeLong's future relationship and eventual marriage. 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.
The fourth season of In the Heat of the Night begins with the birth of Virgil and Althea’s twins. William and Sarah Tibbs were welcomed into the world on September 18, 1990. While Althea was waiting to go into labor, Tibbs's friend from the Philadelphia police force is murdered and he heads up to the “big city” to clear his friend's name, only to be arrested himself. It is now up to Chief Gillespie to find out the truth, clear Virgil’s name, and make it home in time.
Other topics this season include the murder of a prostitute; a teacher accused of molesting a child, who commits suicide due to inflammation of the story from the press; a woman with an intellectual disability getting pregnant and burying her child; the introduction of Bobbie Johnson, after his brothers are killed in a drug shootout; a scam involving another one of Virgil’s friends; a bounty hunter; and a serial rapist stalking Sparta.
One of the two most important stories of the season involves Virgil arresting his cousin, who shoots himself in the struggle for a gun, becomes a paraplegic, and goes to prison. The boy's mother, Virgil's Aunt Ruda, blames Virgil for the incident and cuts herself off from the rest of the family, insisting, “There ain’t no family. Not for me...not no more”
The other story involves the conviction of Harriet DeLong’s ex-husband Vic for plotting to rob his former employer in a revenge scheme. Three men, on a misty Sunday morning, shoot a security guard at the Lambry plant and steal a bundle of money waiting to be paid out on Monday morning. Harriet’s son Eugene also gets involved when he tries to assist his father and almost loses his life. The case brings Bill and Harriet closer together, while it drives a wedge between Harriet and Eugene. As the relationship between Harriet and Bill begins to evolve, all of Sparta wonders how a relationship like that could exist and be accepted in the South. Harriet’s ex-husband eventually gets the death penalty for his crime, leaving Harriet and her son at odds. They continue to resent each other because of conflicting loyalties to Vic and Bill.
The season closes with Althea almost having a breakdown over the stress of Virgil’s job on the police force after he is almost killed by a stray bullet and does not tell her about it. On top of that, she is also worried that her children will grow up without their father, and she begs him to try something different. Chief Gillespie burns up the wires and gets 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 wine together.
The fifth season of In the Heat of the Night began with a shocking twist. Chief Gillespie has a daughter by the name of Lana Farren. The Chief was a one-time love interest and is now good friends with her mother Georgia. Georgia is asking Bill to help her put some of her affairs in order, and to keep all of her ‘boyfriends’ as well as her ex-husband away from her assets which she intends to leave to Lana. Bill immediately puts Ted Marcus on the case. In the meantime, Georgia returns to Gulfport and is murdered. The chief takes this very personally and sets out to find her killer. At the end of the episode, Lana finds out that Bill is her father but doesn't want to have anything to do with him. This cuts deeply into Bill and he has a hard time dealing with it. Note: The character of Lana won’t be seen again until the season six episode “Random’s Child”.
Also, Bubba gets involved with yet another baby, a teacher is stalked by an obsessed taxidermist, a game of high stakes poker leads to murder, Bubba gets reunited with Pat Day, Bill and Harriet share their first public kiss, and Sweet solves the forty year old murder mystery involving his grandfather and a 1948 Packard.
Other episodes include Sheriff McCombs deputy growing marijuana, Darnell’s daughter being kidnapped, a wife who kills her husband for beating her, a doctor who kills his wife and his mistress to keep them from talking to each other, a real estate developer being killed in an insurance scam, the return of Emily Trundel, and one of the best episodes of the series “Family Reunion” in which, an insurance investigator is on the trail of stolen money and is murdered. Roy Paxton is reunited with his estranged family in an attempt to recover the money that the matriarch has run off with and it ends up in Sparta.
In the final two-part episode of the season, which was originally advertised as the series finale, Gillespie and Tibbs are brought up on charges when they help an escaped road gang prisoner of McCombs and he is offered sanctuary in a local monastery. After he escapes McComb feels betrayed by Gillespie and Tibbs for not upholding their sworn duty. The gang corners the escaped prisoner but he runs the road block and deputy Ferrell shoots him. Gillespie and Tibbs are put on administrative leave.
Judge Simms presides over the case. After hearing both sides the jury is not able to reach a verdict and Gillespie and Tibbs were freed.
Of note, a sub-plot in this episode sees Councilman Waters and Alvin Epp teaming up to keep Gillespie and Tibbs off the police force because Gillespie vehemently objects to them overtaking Sparta’s south side. This plot is explored further in the season six two part episode “Even Nice People and Lake Winahatchie”.
The episode and season end with Althea and Virgil celebrating and Bill and Harriet spending the night in each others company thus moving their relationship to the next level.
As Season 6 began In the Heat of the Night moved from NBC to CBS. Originally, CBS opted only to pick up the series for a set of six two hour movies. However, it was eventually picked up for a full 22 episode order. The first two episodes of the season saw the affair between Gillespie and DeLong intensify only to be interrupted by a crack war waged on Sparta involving Eugene. Althea Tibbs saw new trauma this season as she witnessed the suicide of one of her students (played by Walton Goggins), causing a near mental breakdown. Only with the help of a tough psychologist recommended by Dr. Day is Althea able to come out of her “funk” and return to teaching at Sparta High School. The story arc involving Virgil and his Aunt Ruda Gibson comes to a bitter-sweet end as she is diagnosed with cancer and he does all he can to help her, leading to their reconciliation. Her recovery is implied in season seven when Etta mentions that, after Virgil and Althea left Sparta, she comes to visit and sometimes stays the whole weekend.
Also of interest this season, Bill Gillespie’s daughter returns for a three-episode stint to resolve the case started in "A Women Much Admired." She is testifying against the New Orleans thugs that her mother was involved with before her death. The case finally comes to a conclusion as the mob led by their main Sparta connection Lewis Alvin Epp orders Lana’s farm house burnt down after she refuses to be bought out giving them access to Sparta’s south side. In “Random’s Child,” this episode also becomes a musical feature performance for "Officer Randy Goode," as Franks performs "The Sparta Impound Blues" with actor Thomas Byrd in a scene written specifically by O'Connor to feature Franks musically after letters flooded in from viewers.
Other highlights this season included the return of Luanne’s brother (played by Designing Women’s Meshach Taylor), a faded country music singer who ends up committing murder, Bubba being stalked by an obsessed admirer, Sweet being falsely accused of accepting a bribe, and a two-part episode involving the “white supremacy” that still exists in the new South.
The season comes to a close when Eugene works hard to get his father’s death sentence stayed by the state of Mississippi, only to have his efforts stopped by a mad man who runs the prison pastor off the road. Harriet also makes a critical decision at this point: not to let Eugene influence her relationship with Bill anymore. He may disapprove, but as she tells him, “One of these days you’re going to walk away from me, and I’m just going to tell you to keep on going”.
After the season, both Howard Rollins and Anne-Marie Johnson left the series. Rollins was dropped because of drug issues (although he would return occasionally), while Johnson took a starring role on Fox’s "In Living Color". Geoffrey Thorne and Randall Franks also left the series with no explanation, and their characters were never really written out of the show.
Season 7 of In the Heat of the Night kicked off with a bang. Bill Gillespie was forced out of office and former Memphis detective Hampton Forbes was voted in. After nearly three decades on the Sparta police force, the city council decided not to renew Bill's contract because of his open relationship with Harriet DeLong. It seemed as if Holly Colmer finally got his way, or did he?
Colmer’s celebration is short-lived however, and Gillespie is soon appointed as the Sheriff of Newton County because Nathan McComb suffers a heart attack and is too ill to continue his duties.
Hampton Forbes, meanwhile, is getting to know his new town and his new officers, who are not happy that Gillespie is gone. Gillespie's last official act on his way out the door is to give each of his officers a promotion.
The character of Virgil Tibbs was written out of the show due to the fact that Howard Rollins had continuing drug problems. He is often talked about but only seen in three episodes the entire season credited as a special guest star. Lonnie Jamison takes over the role of Chief of Detectives in Virgil’s absence.
Notable episodes this season include the daughter of a friend of Bubba’s contracting AIDS from someone who knowingly gave it to her, and the personal storylines involving Luanne, which include her singing nights in a sexy blues club and helping take care of an abandoned baby—with whom she falls in love. It is later revealed that she can’t have children of her own and she decides to sign up to be a full-time foster parent. Other episodes include Parker being accused of police brutality, Bubba trying to help his nephew deal with recovering from drugs, a deeper look at Lonnie’s life off the police force which is controlled by his cantankerous Aunt Cora, and Harriet DeLong taking a bigger part in the story lines. Series co-star Denise Nicholas wrote four episodes this season. Actor/director Larry Hagman directed several episodes.
Perhaps the most amusing episode of the season involved the return of Maybelle Chesboro the ex-madam. She has returned to operate a legal phone sex business. All is going well until one of her employees tries to blackmail one of Holly Colmer’s friends and ends up getting shot. Maybelle decides to hang it up for good, but not before visiting Bill and attempting to get romantic one last time.
While some wished the series were renewed for another full season, it was beginning to wind down, and with that came what has been a long time coming—the marriage of Bill Gillespie and Harriet DeLong. However, some in Sparta are not happy about the event and death almost does the couple part when a sniper mistakes Gillespie for Sheriff McComb.
The wedding goes off without a hitch, and in the final two-part episode of the season Bill and Harriet prepare to celebrate their honeymoon—only to be interrupted when a cult invades Sparta with deadly results.
The series wraps up during the 8th season with four two-hour made-for-television movies.
The show aired four made-for-television movies during the 1994-1995 season. This is considered to be the eighth season of the show. Each movie was two hours in length, making them equivalent to eight regular episodes. The movies were:
|Carroll O'Connor||Starred in the lead role of William O. "Bill" Gillespie. Gillespie was a crusty but honorable small town police chief. At first resentful of Virgil Tibbs, he would later become very close to Virgil and the rest of the Tibbs family. For the first six seasons he was the chief of the Sparta Police Department until he was fired at the beginning of the 7th season. He would then become interim Sheriff after the previous Sheriff became too ill to continue his duties. Gillespie was married at one time to Anna, who became pregnant - both she and their son would die in childbirth. He also had an older daughter, Lana, by Georgia Farren. Gillespie eventually fell in love with Harriett DeLong. 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 Rollins||Starred in the lead role of Virgil Tibbs. An African-American, he had grown up in Sparta but later moved north and became a police detective. He would later return to Sparta after being offered a job as chief of detectives with the city police department. At first Tibbs and Gillespie butted heads, but would soon become close friends - Gillespie even became a godfather to Virgil and Althea's twins. Even though some city council members wanted to make him chief, Tibbs firmly rebuffed their offers, preferring to work with Gillespie. 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. Tibbs would return as a guest star several times during the 7th season in his new role as an attorney before Rollins was permanently barred from the county where the series was filmed after another arrest.|
|Alan Autry||Played "Bubba" Skinner. Skinner was something of a redneck. He was also a sort of ladies man around town. He eventually became close friends with the Tibbs family. Skinner was from a large family. Eventually he rose to the rank of Captain. In Season 5, it is revealed that Skinner's first and middle initials are V.L. Bubba also always wore "white socks" with his uniform.|
|Anne-Marie Johnson||Starred as Virgil's wife Althea Tibbs. She starred in that role for six seasons. Althea's life in Sparta was very rough, having been raped at the beginning of the third season, and suffering a mental breakdown later after witnessing the suicide of one of her students. Althea did not reappear for the seventh season, and her character was written out as Althea had been separated from Virgil and moved back to Pennsylvania. In reality, Johnson left the show for a role on the Fox Television sketch comedy show In Living Color.|
|Lois Nettleton||Played Joanne St. John from 1988 to 1989. She was the owner of the Magnolia Cafe, a popular eatery in Sparta (as seen in the show's opening). After it was revealed that Joanne was once a prostitute, she eventually left Sparta.|
|David Hart||Played Parker Williams. Parker generally sat behind the dispatcher's desk, although he would also be assigned to patrol duty. He finally in 1994 rose to the rank of First Sergeant. Parker was a Vietnam veteran. As a comic relief Parker would always have a glass of soda pop on his desk|
|Christian LeBlanc||Portrayed Junior Abernathy, a patrolman seen only during Season 1.|
|Geoffrey A. Thorne||Joined the cast as Wilson Sweet in 1988. Aside from Tibbs, Sweet was one of the first African Americans to join the force. His ambition was to rise in the ranks of the Sparta police force and become Sparta first black Police Chief-a part which was played by Carl Weathers.|
|Hugh O'Connor||Played the role of Lonnie Jamison, an officer on the Sparta police force. O'Connor was the adopted son of Carroll O'Connor. O'Connor had gotten his son this role as a way of keeping Hugh close to him, and in the hopes of keeping him away from drugs.|
|Carl Weathers||Joined the cast in the final season as Hampton Forbes. He was picked to lead the department after the controversial firing of Bill Gillespie. Forbes was the first African-American chief of the department. Forbes became friends with Gillespie, and would often work closely with him when Gillespie became sheriff. Weathers was a replacement for Howard Rollins, who had been dropped from the series after continued legal problems.|
|Crystal R. Fox||Played Luanne Corbin. After the first African American woman to join the force died in the line of duty on her first day on the job, Corbin was recruited to take her place.|
|Denise Nicholas||Played Sparta City Councillwoman Harriet DeLong. Harriet's relationship with Chief Gillespie was deeply adversarial in the beginning, due to his somewhat racist personality and the two clashed often when she first appeared on the show. But over the course of the series, Harriet saw Gillespie's softer, more caring side and began to think more fondly of him. By the time Denise Nicholas became a series regular, Harriet and Gillespie were becoming a couple, much to the disapproval of her son, Eugene. Harriet's sister was the mistress of conniving businessman, V.J. Trundle, who later murdered her. They had a son named Eric from their illicit affair and Harriet eventually gained custody of him after Trundle committed suicide by deliberately crashing his private airplane after a confrontation about the murder with Gillespie.|
|Randall Franks||Played Officer Randy Goode (1988-1993) Randy Goode began his work on the series as a partner to Willson Sweet in "The Creek"; he soon began driving Chief Gillespie and Detective Tibbs around. He was often found at crime scenes shooting crime photos, handling the police dog, dusting for finger prints, or following suspects. Back at the station, he served a jail turnkey, alternated with Parker Williams, Luanne Corbin and Dee Shepard manning the phones and the radio, played checkers with prisoners and with Bubba with whom he was often partnered in the field until the addition of Luke Everett and Everett became his partner on the show until Franks left the show. He also performed musically on the show playing guitar in season six. Franks often used the character to provide some comedy to the drama. Randy Goode is seen in almost every show from seasons two through six.|
|Mark W. Johnson||Played Luke Everett. Joined the show in the sixth season.|
|Jen Harper||Dr. Day|
|Thom Gossom, Jr.||Ted Marcus|
|Fran Bennett||Ruda Gibson|
|Karen Carlson||Sarah Hallisey|
|Rugg Williams||Eugene Glendon|
|Christine Elise||Lana Gillespie - Gillespie's daughter.|
|Bob Penny||Alvin Epp|
|Scott Brian Higgs||Randy Calhoun|
|Afemo Omilami||Jimmy Dawes|
|Burgess Meredith||Judge Cully|
|Stuart Culpepper||Judge Henry Sims|
|Joe Don Baker||Captain Tom Dugan - A retired 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 was placed in the department by the FBI to uncover a plot by white supremacists to assassinate a civil rights leader. Dugan was murdered by these same white supremacists at the end of the second season. His nephew, who had become involved with these people, later agreed to help the police.|
|Ron Culbreth||Sheriff Nathan McComb - the former county sheriff. Culbreth appeared on nine episodes as Sheriff McComb. In the 7th season, McComb became too ill to continue his duties, and Gillespie was appointed as acting sheriff in his place. Prior to his appearances as McComb, Culbreth also appeared on the episode Missing in another guest role.|
|Maureen Dowdell||Tracy Boggs|
|Pat Hingle||Roy Eversole - Parker Williams' father. Hot tempered, Eversole had a great deal of difficulty maintaining steady employment. Eversole was once a murder suspect after getting into a heated argument with a former employer, who was subsequently found dead a short time later.|
|Tonea Stewart||Virgil's aunt Etta|
Four of the actors who played main characters in the series have since died. Hugh O'Connor, who had played Jamison, committed suicide on March 28, 1995, after having had problems with drugs for many years. He was then followed by Howard Rollins on December 8, 1996, who had died of complications from lymphoma. On June 21, 2001, Carroll O'Connor, who had been suffering from diabetes, died after having had a heart attack. Finally, on January 18, 2008, Lois Nettleton, who played Joann St. John died at age 80 of lung cancer after years of heavy smoking.
During the series' seven and 1/2-season run, many unfamiliar actors and/or actresses have made guest appearances, and others were newcomers who have gone on to become well-known, among them appearing in Heat of the Night episodes: Frances Fisher, Mel Stewart, Nana Visitor, Gail O'Grady, Don Galloway, Dana Barron, Marco St. John, Ted Lange, Mickey Jones, Mitchell Laurance, Laura Johnson, Jordan Vaughn, Martha Byrne, Walton Goggins, Maury Covington, Earl Holliman, Randy Brooks, Wayne Brady, Art Evans, Lou Walker, Robert Goulet, Bobby Short, William Sadler, Michael Spound, Bill McKinney, Lisa Pelikan, Mark Rolston, Jennifer Bassey, Marc Macaulay, Jean Simmons, Thomas Jefferson Bird, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Matthew McConaughey, J.D. Hall, George C. Scott, Stephen Root, Bruce Kirby, Lisa Rieffel, Ernest Thomas, Ken Marshall, Laurence Fishburne, Ted Manson, Mariska Hargitay, Meshach Taylor, Francesco Quinn, Jeffrey Buckner Ford, Gary Anthony Williams, Richard McKenzie, Craig Shoemaker, Stephen Nichols, Mitchell Anderson, James Best, Sonny Shroyer, Byron Cherry, Whitman Mayo, among many others. 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 former football star later turned convicted felon O.J. Simpson in a cameo appearance.
The television series also took place in a fictionalized version of Sparta, Mississippi. While there is a real Sparta, the version of Sparta shown on television is very different from the real town. For example, the TV Sparta is situated along Interstate 20, while the real town is nowhere near any interstate. During the first season, Hammond, Louisiana was the site of the show's production. In the second season, the show was moved to Georgia, and it remained there for the rest of its run. The principal area of Sparta was in fact downtown Covington, Georgia. Rural scenes were filmed in a wide surrounding area, in the Georgia counties of Newton (where Covington is located), Rockdale, Walton, Morgan, and Jasper. 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 recorded by Quincy Jones, and 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.