In the Heat of the Night

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"They call me Mister Tibbs!"
—Det.Virgil Tibbs

A 1965 novel by John Ball, In the Heat of the Night also spawned a film and a television series. The film version, directed by Norman Jewison and starring Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier, was the Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1967.

On his way back home after visiting his mother, Black Philadelphian Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) is arrested on suspicion of the murder of a prominent factory owner in Sparta, Mississippi. In his one phone conversation, he reveals that he's actually a homicide detective back 'up North', and is told by his superiors that he should assist the locals in solving the case -- partnered with the casually racist Police Chief Bill Gillespie (Steiger). It's a rocky start to the partnership, but the more Tibbs displays his detective prowess, the more Gillespie comes to respect him. Working together, and fighting together against the truly rabid racism of some of the local rednecks, they solve the case.

The TV series picks up twenty years on with a newly-married Virgil Tibbs moving to Sparta 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, Gillespie and his new -- not to say considerably younger and hunkier -- squad of flatfoots. Also, of course, several dozen bad guys.

Ran six seasons. It was kept interesting by brilliant casting choices Carroll O'Connor and Howard Rollins.

In the Heat of the Night is the Trope Namer for:
The film contains examples of:
  • Back-Alley Doctor: Mama Caleba, the town abortionist.
  • Book Ends: Virgil arriving in town by train, Virgil leaving town by train.
  • California Doubling: Set in Mississippi, the political climate necessitated the need to film in Illinois.
    • Specifically, Poitier refused to shoot south of the Mason-Dixon line. Why? Because of an unpleasant experience some months earlier involving himself, Harry Belafonte, and a group of friendly Klansmen. One of the few exceptions to the doubling is Endicott's cotton field, which Illinois couldn't provide.
  • Deep South: Played up in the TV series, by way of contrasting old attitudes with new.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Gillespie - seriously, don't, he gets scary.
  • Heat Wave: In the movie. It's summer in Mississippi, after all.
  • The Jimmy Hart Version: Jewison wanted the song on the jukebox to be "Li'l Red Riding Hood" by Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs, but they couldn't get the rights (licensing pop songs for movies was almost unheard of in 1967), so the film's composers (Quincy Jones, Alan & Marilyn Bergman) wrote the new but very similar "Foul Owl On The Prowl" for the diner scene.
  • "London, England" Syndrome: When they first meet, Tibbs tells Gillespie he's from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, not Philadelphia, Mississippi.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: Gillespie starts out as one. By the end of the movie, he can hardly even be called a bigot.
    • Tibbs briefly slips into this territory for a moment as well, enraged from being slapped by a plantation owner:

Tibbs: "I can pull that fat cat down and bring him right off this hill!"
Gillespie: "Oh boy... Man, you're just like the rest of us, ain't ya?"

  • Odd Couple: Gillespie and Tibbs.
  • Police Are Useless: Sparta police, anyway (unless you're interested in arresting the wrong man). No wonder Mrs. Colbert insists on keeping Tibbs around.
    • However, it's explained that Sparta hadn't had a murder in ages, and the small-town tactics they employ doesn't cover the severity of the case. Gillespie is competent in things like chasing down suspects, but figuring out a murder requires the forensics skills that Tibbs know by heart.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The novel's Mr. Tibbs was a polite, non-confrontational African American; the film's Mr. Tibbs, on the other hand, is much more assertive towards the bigots around him.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Tibbs' best-known line qualifies.
  • Red Herring: The racially charged environment had nothing to do with the murder. It was just a mugging gone wrong.
  • Salt and Pepper: Gillespie and Tibbs, again.
The Show Contains Examples of:
  • California Doubling: The TV series was still set in Mississippi, but was filmed in Louisiana for the first season, and then in Covington, Georgia for seasons 2-6.
  • Calling the Hero Out: Gillespie (Carroll O' Connor) has to pull Tibbs (Howard Rollins) off of a man after said man messes with Tibbs' wife Althea (Anna Marie Johnson).
  • Chase Scene: Bordering on Once an Episode, to the extent where it's cheerfully Lampshaded in later seasons.
  • 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'.
  • Recycled: the Series