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.

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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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wrighmb 10 hours 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 2 days ago
I thought Heat was an "ok" show but to me he was Sheriff Archie Bunker.
Kelley1 2 days 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 2 days ago
All in the Family was taped not filmed. The words taped and filmed are not synonymous.
UTZAAKE 4 days 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 4 days ago
Funny, nobody complained that the Senator, Casca, in "Cleopatra" sounded too Noo Yawk:

tinyurl.com/2k73w6f6

jvf 4 days 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 4 days ago
This is why they call it "acting".
MichaelSkaggs 5 days ago
In the long run, he did a pretty good job.
Addison55 5 days 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 6 days 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.”
I cringe when watching British shows and one of the characters is from America. I can always tell the actors are not American.
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 5 days ago
I feel the same way when a non-Italian does Italian accents. They sound so phony. I can always tell.
Adanor RadioMattM 3 days 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 6 days 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.
Andybandit 6 days 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 6 days 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 6 days 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).
stephaniestavr5 6 days ago
I think one of the reasons Fred Silverman chose CO, is because he presented a slight resemblance to Rod Steiger, the original Gillespie. They were both about the same height and build But, {unless I'm remembering wrong.} RS played Gillespie with a bit more harder edge to him bit more rough around the edges. whereas CO, had a bit more softness to him. Like on the show, we were seeing a bit more of a mellower side to him. I haven't read the book, so maybe the way CO portrayed him, is the way he is in the book {Or RS's portrayal is.} Looking back on that time, I'm hard pressed to think of anyone else who could've pulled off the roll. Sure, there might have been some unknown "up and comer" who would've "fit the bill," but its obvious that's not who FS wanted. Also, who's to say for certain whether or not an unknow, would've made the show the success that it was.
The story mentions whether or not people believe his southern accent. I don't recall hearing/reading about people questioning CO's NY accent. I don't know where in NY he was born and raised, but a lot of you probably know, NY accents are different across the state. If you've ever heard CO talk as himself, his accent was almost nothing the way Archie sounded. The sound/tone of his voice was the same, but the accent was a bit different.
The question METV should've raised is whether or not CO could've managed a Mississippi southern accent. not just blanket/lump all the southern accents together. Someone from Sparta, Mississippi, sure, is going to have what is labeled a southern accent, but theirs will not sound identical to somebody from say...Mount Airy North Carolina. Because, just like in NY, not all southern accents are created equal.
In case anyone thought I was referring to NY southern accents, I wasn't. One won't find {I sincerely doubt,} an NY native talking like someone from Mississippi. I meant that through the entire state of NY, you'll come across a Bronx accent, Brooklyn accent, etc.
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 Thomas0263 2 days 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.
role, not roll. (You can roll down a hill after eating a cinnamon roll).
And it's obvious, not its obvious.
Its Role, not role. Its obvious you don't know that the first word of a sentence begins with a capital letter. So you're a fine one to be judging others on their spelling and punctuation, when you can't even begin a sentence the right way. I know I made those mistakes, I didn't feel like going back and correcting them, so what? We all do, there's nothing wrong with that. A lot of folks have voiced their disapproval of the Grammar Police, of which you seem to be a proud, card carrying member. {With your blatant, obvious mistake, they should revoke your membership!}
I will never role down a hill after eating a cinnamon role. I don't like them. I don't care what you think about what I've said. Like I said, we all make mistakes, and I myself in the past, I try not to pass judgement on those that do. I am still guilty of doing so, but I try not to do it as often.
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