Series / In the Heat of the Night
In the Heat of the Night was a 1988–95 Police Procedural series set as a distant sequel to the 1967 film of the same name, itself based on a 1965 novel by John Ball.

The TV series picks up twenty years on, with a newly-married Detective Virgil Tibbs moving to Sparta, Mississippi after his mother's death. Turns out that at her funeral he was signed on as Chief of [nonexistent] Detectives by the town's opportunistic mayor. It's the 'New South', and everyone's anxious to seem racially progressive. Except, initially at least, his old pal Chief Bill Gillespie, and Gillespie's new (not to say considerably younger and hunkier) squad of flatfoots. Also, of course, several dozen bad guys. Like the parent film it pulls no punches with Southern racism, the seedy underbelly of small-town life, and the Culture Clash between big city detective Tibbs and The Sheriff Gillespie.

The series ran for five seasons on NBC before channel hopping to CBS for a further two seasons and four Made-for-TV Movies. It was kept interesting by brilliant casting choices, including Carroll O'Connor as Chief Gillespie and Howard Rollins as Tibbs.

The TV series contains examples of:

  • Chase Scene: Bordering on Once an Episode, to the extent where it's cheerfully lampshaded in later seasons.
  • City of Adventure: Sparta, according to one of the characters. "I should join the Marines...I'd see less dead bodies."
  • Culture Clash: A big part of the series. One episode has a local girl get murdered and you see the contrast between Tibbs' big-city detective approach and the small-town life: one of the deputies cuts the girl down when she's found hanged because he grew up with her and couldn't look at her like that, and Tibbs is furious at him for contaminating the crime scene. Tibbs then shocks the part-time coroner with his totally nonchalant inspection of the cadaver's privates to check for evidence of sexual assault.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Gillespie had an affair with a woman who married another man and left Sparta. She was pregnant and never told him. He meets his daughter when her mother is murdered.
  • Deep South: Played up even more than in the movie, by way of contrasting old attitudes with new.
  • Domestic Abuse: One episode combines this with Parental Abandonment. A woman kills her abusive husband, flees to another city where she changes her name and gets a new life, all while she left her daughter behind in an empty house. Also the episode "Love, Honor, Obey", which deals with the Stock Plot of a battered wife who's too afraid/ashamed to admit to it.
  • Driven to Suicide: In the episode "Fairest Of Them All", a young pageant contestant kills herself over threats from a rival's mother to reveal the girl's dark secrets (that friend's mom had engineered, as it happened). Another episode has a teenage girl's suicide attempt leading to the revelation that her grandfather had been molesting her, after years of doing the same to her mother.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Several episodes focus on this and how it's destroying Sparta (it was the 90's; see also Real Life Writes the Plot below). The most blatant example is probably "Cracked", wherein a clean-cut, rather naive thirteen-year-old girl tries crack, rapidly gets hooked, and dies horribly over the course of only a few weeks.
  • The Only One: The local police force vs. FBI variant is the central plot of one episode, in which the Sparta DA's daughter is kidnapped and Gillespie's force—using their small-town savvy—competes (almost literally) with by-the-book FBI agents to locate her.
  • Pædo Hunt: Deconstructed. In one episode an older male teacher is accused of molestation by a child; the Sparta PD are forced to take it seriously when it turns out the teacher has a previous conviction as a sex offender. Despite the lack of evidence, and partially thanks to an overzealous reporter, a witch-hunt ensues, with people harassing him and shooting at his house (Deep South, remember?) Eventually he is Driven to Suicide... whereupon it's discovered that the previous charge was about his mooning someone as a teenage prank, and the child in this case had only accused his teacher to cover up actual molestation by his father. Tragic stuff.
  • Put on a Bus: Eventually, Rollins' addiction-fueled unreliability became critical, so Tibbs became a lawyer and left Sparta to pursue his new career. He returned a few series later as an occasional guest star, having decided to join a practice in town.
  • Rape as Drama: Althea is brutally assaulted by a misogynistic coworker. The rape isn't forgotten about after one episode—although she recovers and moves on, it remains a permanent part of her psyche and years later, contributes to an offscreen separation from her husband.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: An unfortunate series of interruptions in both leads' careers — O'Connor's heart surgery, Rollins' struggles with addiction — led to one or the other of their characters frequently being away at 'conventions' or 'seminars'. Given that O'Connor's son Hugh, who played Sgt. Lonnie Jamison, was also a heavy drug user (leading directly to his suicide shortly after the show ended), it's not difficult to find the apparent inspiration for the show's numerous Drugs Are Bad-themed episodes and general heavily anti-drug stance.
  • Serial Rapist: In "Rape" Chief Gillespie's hunch that Althea's rapist has done it before (he thinks the particulars of the crime scene show signs of experience) proves key to cracking the suspect's alibi.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: Averted as Althea is a social worker and many episodes involve her helping the police with talking to the family members of victims, helping the kids at Sparta High, and random people in the community. Social Services is called in (from the big city of Jackson) as the plot requires, usually in the case of abandoned children.
  • Stage Mom: The aforementioned "Fairest of Them All" features one of these so determined that her daughter win a local pageant that she arranges for someone to drug the girl's chief rival, take nude pictures of her, then threaten to leak the photos to the press unless the girl drops out of the pageant.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: In the episode "The First Girl", Sparta gains and loses it's first black female police officer within a matter of days when the inexperienced officer is killed in a shoot-out. By the episode's end, her replacement is another black female who looks very much like her.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: The "angel of death" doctor in one episode — he truly wants to end his "victims"' pain, and he only acts if they consent first.
  • Teen Pregnancy: one episode has a girl concealing her pregnancy and when she has the baby, throws it in a dumpster and it dies.
  • Throwing the Fight: Subverted in S3E10, "King's Ransom". Ex-boxer Conrad "King" Baylor told some friends a story: Mobsters approached him the night of a fight, and gave him $2,000 to throw his match. He took the money, then bet it on himself, intending to go out there and screw over the mobsters. Unfortunately, his opposition was a little better than he thought, and he wound up losing. The mobsters met him post-fight, and gave him another $3,000 "for making the knockout so real".
  • Victim of the Week: It's a Police Procedural. That's a standard of the genre.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: After Ainslee, Althea's rapist, gets bailed out of prison, he goes and bothers Althea again at a church. Virgil storms out, beats the crap out of him, and nearly strangles him, only for Gillespie to pull him off of Ainslee and ream him out because it's not going to help and an assault charge against Virgil is only going to make it harder to nail Ainslee to the wall.