Not everybody watching In the Heat of the Night was convinced by Carroll O'Connor's Southern accent

Famous for his New York accent, Carroll O'Connor had to work hard to sound like a police chief from Mississippi.

Carroll O'Connor was born to sit in Archie Bunker's recliner. A native New Yorker, he arguably defined for the world what New Yorkers sounded like in the 1970s while filming his popular sitcom All in the Family.

In 1976, The Detroit Free Press pondered whether O'Connor had dug himself into a hole by forever typecasting himself as a New Yorker and only a New Yorker, asking whether the public would ever accept him portraying a character from anywhere else. But when O'Connor stopped playing Archie in 1983, he was ready to change things up.

One of the first things O'Connor did was make his Broadway debut in an Irish play called Brothers. This required O'Connor to alter his New York accent to sound Irish, something that maybe came a little more naturally to him, because his grandparents were from Dublin and he had spent time living in Ireland.

O'Connor wasn't worried at all about audiences buying his accent or failing to see him as someone other than Archie Bunker.

"It's not just the accent being different," O'Connor told The Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1983. "Audiences are inventive in their imagination. They know they've come to see Carroll O'Connor in a play in which he has sons. It's a whole different thing from Archie."

By 1988, when O'Connor was ready to take his next TV starring role, he was still looking to be more than a backwards guy from Queens. So when NBC president Fred Silverman wanted to turn the Oscar-winning movie In the Heat of the Night into a TV series, he tapped O'Connor to play Mississippi police chief Bill Gillespie. This required O'Connor to do a Southern accent — and the hope was that audiences would accept it.

When In the Heat of the Night premiered, though, not everybody was convinced by O'Connor's Southern accent.

One critic, Mark Dawidziak for The Akron Beacon Journal, actually seemed somewhat offended, asking, "Was the four-time Emmy winner just too big a name to pass up? Or is this another case of that old and idiotic Hollywood line of thinking: 'Anyone can do a Southern accent. A Southern accent is a Southern accent.'"

"I thought that Carroll O'Connor, believe it or not, was the best choice," Silverman said, but the critic did not accept the TV exec's defense of the top TV star, calling it an "unfortunate miscasting." The critic took qualms with the regionality of O'Connor's supposedly Mississippi speaking patterns.

"It's as ridiculous to substitute any Southern accent as it is to assume that there is only one New York accent," Dawidziak said. "Would Hollywood allow a Boston accent to pass for the Bronx or Jersey for Northeast Ohio?"

For the role, especially when you watch the series premiere, you can tell O'Connor is making an earnest attempt to nail the Mississippi accent, but if you listen closely, you can hear what the critic calls "Archie's distinctive New York tones slipping through."

In 1983, when O'Connor first confronted being typecast as Archie Bunker, he wasn't worried about critics or audiences accepting him as someone else, and the same was true in 1988.

O'Connor took the part of Gillespie after being patient, knowing the pressure was on to continue impressing. Instead of stressing, O'Connor simply accepted there would be more good ideas for characters to come along that would give him a chance to prove he was an actor who could do much more than Archie.

"You never know what you're going to do," he told The Press-Gazette when asked in 1983 what would be next for the TV star. "Whatever comes to mind, kid."

"I'm not one of those guys to make plans," O'Connor said, and you can almost picture him settled into a comfy chair, even though he'd just stood up from Archie’s recliner for the last time. "I just kind of sit around waiting for idea guys to come up with something."

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Beta6 23 months ago
He does not have a Southern accent in the series. He tried. I ought to know, as I am Southern. He just talked slower and threw in a few Southernisms.
MadgeGayDewsThompson 23 months ago
He sounded just like my uncle from southwest Georgia.
38 months ago
Loved Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker, but just couldn't make friends with this show. Does anyone remember him as Casca, in Cleopatra?
wrighmb 38 months ago
Story is correct. All southern accents are NOT the same. I can still hear my Grandfather from Yazoo City Miss, who has been dead for over 30 years. People on the show sounded nothing like him !
sputnik_57 38 months ago
I thought Heat was an "ok" show but to me he was Sheriff Archie Bunker.
Kelley1 38 months ago
He sounded more like someone from South Georgia (aka the people around him while filming). People in the Presidential Pathways section of Georgia sound like that.
Wiseguy 38 months ago
All in the Family was taped not filmed. The words taped and filmed are not synonymous.
UTZAAKE 38 months ago
"So when NBC president Fred Silverman wanted to turn the Oscar-winning movie In the Heat of the Night into a TV series,..." Think you meant "former NBC president." Silverman was one of the series' executive producers but had left NBC in 1981.
F5Twitster 38 months ago
Funny, nobody complained that the Senator, Casca, in "Cleopatra" sounded too Noo Yawk:

jvf 38 months ago
Because of Carroll O'Connor's attempt at a southern accent, it was one of the reasons I didn't watch this show. Not believable.
kb7rky 38 months ago
This is why they call it "acting".
MichaelSkaggs 38 months ago
In the long run, he did a pretty good job.
Addison55 38 months ago
I loved this show then and now. Bill Gillespie was my favorite character I lived them all. I was sorry to see Howard Rollins go due to his personal life. My least favorite character was Althea. She was always whining and complaining about something When she left, I didn't miss her.
RadioMattM 38 months ago
My wife is from England. She can almost tell the postal code of a person from the UK by their accent. She cringes when she hears most American actors butcher an English accent.

Years ago we were watching “Return to Little House On The Prairie.” The neighbors were Scottish. When the husband spoke with his Scottish accent my wife said “He's Scottish.” When the wife spoke, my wife said “She’s not.”
MrsPhilHarris RadioMattM 38 months ago
I cringe when watching British shows and one of the characters is from America. I can always tell the actors are not American.
RadioMattM MrsPhilHarris 38 months ago
I once started to watch a series on Masterpiece Theater that took place on an American bomber base in WWII. Normally I would love that kind of thing. Then I saw the requisite enlisted man from Brooklyn with a name like Kowowski. When he spoke he may as well have said, “I say, old chap, what’s say we go down to Toity Toid Street for some tea and crumpets.” I turned it off.
LaDolceVita RadioMattM 38 months ago
I feel the same way when a non-Italian does Italian accents. They sound so phony. I can always tell.
Adanor RadioMattM 38 months ago
I watch a lot of Brit Wit and occasionally an American must make an appearance. The English always seem to do the same accent which sounds nothing like anyone from the States.
Moody 38 months ago
I'm a New Yorker who lived in the south for some years so I got accustomed to southern accents. I didn't find Carroll O'Connor's accent particularly authentic.

An interesting fact about the location of the series & the movie is that the town of Sparta, MS isn't actually a town but a small, unincorporated area. And, the movie was filmed in Sparta, IL.

I thought the movie was great. The series was okay, in my opinion.
Tommy777777 Moody 32 months ago
I didn't find the show authentic in any way but I liked the show a lot. The accents were the least of the issues.
Andybandit 38 months ago
He did a good job with the southern accent, being a New Yorker. Carroll's cousin lived next door to my Grandmother in Brooklyn. But I don't know if Carroll visited his cousin.
daDoctah 38 months ago
Pre-All in the Family, O'Connor attempted a Southern accent for an earlier (double) role in an episode of "Time Tunnel" where he played both a present-day character and his Civil War-era ancestor. That wasn't very convincing either.

One place where you'd expect genuine Southern accents was The Andy Griffith Show, but apart from Andy, Barney and the Pyles, nobody on that show was actually from what you'd call the South (not even Ernest T Bass or Briscoe Darling).
Mike daDoctah 38 months ago
I happened to see that Time Tunnel episode the last time MeTV ran it.
The story was set during the American Revolution.
Carroll O'Connor's dual roles were as a British Redcoat commander and his modern-day descendant, an RAF general.
Not the first time that O'Connor had done that dialect on film (that was considered one of his character acting specialties pre-AITF).
daDoctah 38 months ago
Almost all the crooks on TAGS sounded (and looked like) they were from Brooklyn or the Bronx. 100% pure B'nai Brith.
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38 months ago
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Thomas0263 38 months ago
Native Miss'ippian here. I think I watched the first couple of episodes when it first aired in '88 but didn't watch the rest of the series. Not so much because of Carroll's accent but because the setting of the show was EXACTLY like the podunk town I grew up in. I had relocated to another state (also in the South) and I just didn't want to relive the racist, bigoted stereotypes of the show's themes and setting. I regret that choice. After being in lockdown and working from home this past year, I watched every episode of ITHOTN and I am now a bona fide fan. The environs around Sparta is obviously Georgia, with its hills and granite outcroppings, but that's OK. Carroll's accent was good enough for me, as were the shooting locations, because I am able to suspend disbelief enough to enjoy a quality TV show. Oh, and the character of Bubba was definitely not Miss'ippian either; he sound more like a Texan to my ears, but he tried, too. All in all, Carroll was a very gifted actor who brought the show alive.
Wiseguy 38 months ago
The first season was filmed in Louisiana and I had gone to school with one of the co-stars (Christian LeBlanc, now on The Young and the Restless). When production moved to Georgia (I believe to a city of the same name, Covington) either he left or he was let go.
Wiseguy 38 months ago
role, not roll. (You can roll down a hill after eating a cinnamon roll).
And it's obvious, not its obvious.
38 months ago
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Tommy777777 32 months ago
There was nothing alike about the character in the movie and the TV show. The TV show's character had more depth and was a lot smarter and of course could you imagine the Rod Steiger character marrying a black woman? I think not. However, you need that when you are making 150 hours of television as opposed to a two hour movie.
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