A case of bad writing almost made Carroll O'Connor leave In the Heat of the Night
To O'Connor, In the Heat of the Night was not just another cop show and shouldn't have been treated as such.
What would In the Heat of the Night have looked like without Carroll O'Connor? We'll never know because the actor appeared on almost all 146 episodes of the crime-drama series. However, there was a time when O'Connor almost left the show because of what he called "bad writing."
The actor played Chief William O. "Bill" Gillespie and was one of the stars, so without him, the show probably wouldn't have had half of its' success. In an interview with The Washington Post in 1988, O'Connor talked about why he almost departed.
"I nearly left the show after last season," he revealed to journalist Michael E. Hill. You'd think those words would be said in a tiresome or upset tone, but O'Connor was calm, as if it wasn't a big deal.
"We were getting recycled crime-series scripts. I saw a dialogue I'd seen in other shows. Then Fred Silverman (the show's producer) broke into print, saying it's foremost a crime show. I told him he didn't need me to do another crime show with flashing lights and sirens going. That's bull," he added.
O'Connor was known for always speaking up behind the scenes, no matter what project he was working on, and In the Heat of the Night was no different. However, it was normal for him and Silverman to disagree with the show's direction. According to the actor, there were no hard feelings. He said, "We're cordial. I can tell him he's full of it, and he can say the same to me."
The show's material disappointed O'Connor, and he called the writing second-best. "I told them it would have to improve, or they would have to get someone else. They were taking big city stories and imposing them on a small town. It was like having Miami Vice plots forced into a little town setting."
Often, scripts would get passed around with the words "No Rewrite" stamped on them, but that meant nothing to the actor. "I'd rewrite anyway, and they got furious. I didn't care. We're burning up the fax machines."