1 9 8 8 – 1 9 9 4 (USA)
40+ x 60 minute episodes
Any attempt to film John Ball’s novel for TV was bound to suffer in comparison with the 1967 Oscar-winning movie, but this version held up tolerably well.
Cast in the role of (white) Police Chief Bill Gillespie of Sparta, Mississippi, was Carroll O’Connor from All In The Family, with Howard Rollins as returned-home (black) detective Virgil Tibbs.
Obliged by the local mayor – who was hoping to win more black votes in a coming election – to work together on the murder case of a teenage white girl the two policemen related abrasively but (unlike novel and film) this was less racial in nature than generational.
In particular, Gillespie resented the new-fangled techniques advocated by Tibbs.
Dubbed “the show with nine lives” by television industry insiders, the series came and went over six years and shifted from NBC to CBS. When Carroll O’Connor was forced to leave the series temporarily during the 1988-89 season to undergo heart surgery, Joe Don Baker filled in for him as Chief of Police Tom Dugan.
Anne-Marie Johnson played Tibbs’ wife, Althea, who was less than pleased with her husband’s relocation to a white-dominated southern town.
The Hugh O’Connor on the cast list was Carroll O’Connor’s son. Larry ‘JR’ Hagman was among those on the director’s roster.
Chief Bill Gillespie
Detective Virgil Tibbs
Sgt Bubba Skinner
Deputy Lonnie Jamison
Joe Don Baker