Last Saturday, Covington was pleased to host four returning stars from In the Heat of the Night, a popular television show that was filmed in our very city. Fans of the show also came out in droves, from all over the country. We even had a fan drive from Citrus County, Florida, an over 6 ½ hours drive. Normally, she told us, she wouldn’t ever drive that far. “But, I was motivated [to meet my favorite stars].” Talk about dedication!
The reunion began Saturday morning, on the Covington Square. Our fans, known as Heat Seekers, met and shopped at the fabulous stores on the Square and had a chance to participate in a special painting class at WildArt. Heat Seekers could create their own masterpiece that featured the Covington Clock tower and was signed by Alan Autry (Bubba Skinner), himself! Then, our fans strolled through Sparta and took photographs in front of their favorite Heat homes. A particular favorite was the Bill Gillespie House, located on Monticello St.
But, it was the afternoon dinner that truly captured how special this show is to its fans. Our Heat Seekers gathered at Bradley’s BBQ and were treated to a delicious meal. But, the food paled in comparison to the surprises we had in store. Four cast members of In the Heat of The Night returned to greet their adoring public. The first to arrive was Thom Gossom Jr, followed shortly by local resident Dee Shaw! Dee’s laugh rang out with glee as she greet Gossom Jr. We overheard her say “I just had to come up and say hello!” before joyfully embracing her long-lost cast mate. The two were soon lost in memories of old acquaintances and with meeting new fans. You could see the joy in the fans and the actors faces, as they talked over their favorite characters and plot lines. Soon, Maureen Dowdell and John Webb would join our happy gang, for an evening of good food, great memories, and amazing love.
Surely, the most special visitor of the evening was Ron Culbreth, who played Sherriff Nathan McCombs. Last year, Culbreth was unfortunately diagnosed with cancer. To help in his recovery and to help cover his treatments costs in Florida, a dedicated fan designed a GoFundMe page and posted it to the Covington Heat Seekers fan page. Thousands of fans pledged their funds to aid Culbreth and because of their efforts, he is now on the mend. Culbreth was also able to get in touch with his fan base and accepted their invitation to join the In the Heat of The Night reunion, this year. Culbreth said that he felt like “A kid at Christmas. I was unable to come to the reunion last year, so I was going to be here this year, no matter what.”
We also had a chance to speak with Thom Gossom Jr., who played Councilman Ted Marcus. Gossom Jr. was so excited to be back in the city that launched his acting career and said that filming in Covington “just fit” and that “Sparta is always alive here.” Did you know that Gossom Jr. was once one of the first African American football players to be accepted to Auburn University? You can check out his memoir Walk On and his other fantastic books, here. Gossom would go on to tell us that he almost lost out on his character in In the Heat of the Night. After a successful appearance in an episode, the role of Ted Marcus was suddenly open to casting. Gossom Jr. went to the audition and was approached by Carroll O’Connor, who said “Didn’t you play this character last year?” Gossom Jr. responded, “Yeah. So, why are you trying to give my job away?” Gossom Jr. told us “Carroll took care of Ted ever since.”
The whole day was filled with nothing but love and good memories. Thank you to Bradley’s BBQ, WildArt, and Laurie Lowman for hosting our In the Heat of the Night fans. And, a special thanks to Thom Gossom Jr., John Webb, Maureen Dowdell, Ron Culbreth, and Dee Shaw, who shared a wink with us during the evening. Dee, our hearts are still a flutter.