In the Heat of the Night

Best Gurl commemorates 30 years of business in May 2017 

Founder Thom Gossom Jr. “looks back” in a series of blogs

In The Heat of The Night, the long running television show from the late 1980s through the mid 1990s, kick started an unintentional acting career for me.

With my PR business, Thom Gossom Communications, running smoothly in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, and a good staff to keep the day-to-day running; I sampled the local theatre scene, something I’d always wanted to do but never got around to. Once I started, I did my first play at 29 years of age and began to flourish. A Soldiers PlayFences; My Children, My Africa; Ali; and later, Master Harold and The BoysA Christmas Carol; and my own play Speak Of Me As I Am all became successful hits on the theatre scene. For several years running, I was voted one of Birmingham’s best actors.

Then, the unthinkable happened!

After an inspirational evening performance, the next morning I received a phone call that would change my life. Out of the blue, I was offered a part in the film being shot locally. The director had happened into one of my performances and decided to write a part for me. It was a great break, but still one from which I had no deeper ambitions. The film struggled with distribution but it was a great experience. I learned a lot. I met several actors who became and still are good friends. I met my agent then, who is still my agent now. The thought began to roll around in my head that this could be a good way to make a living.

From that film, ShadowWaltz, a couple of television roles opened up for me in Georgia, and then it happened. I was offered a possible recurring role as the city councilman, Melvin Lemon, in one of television’s top shows, In the Heat of The Night.

I shot the job but the recurring part of the deal didn’t happen. I worked that one episode that year and that was it. Based on that, and being 37 years old, I decided no matter how the acting thing turned out I would keep my business. It was steady. It was fun, I was established and if other acting opportunities emerged, I’d do them both.

Still, like all actors, I wondered what happened to the city council recurring role. I questioned my agent. I questioned myself. Did I do something wrong? Did they eliminate the character?” With no intention of going any further and with steady clients in my business, it was back to local community theatre I went.

The following television season another phone call came. It was my agent; “You have an appointment with Carroll O’Connor to read again for the City Councilman’s role.” “What?” I questioned. This time the councilman’s name was Ted Marcus. I took off for Covington, Georgia.

In the outer room at the production office, several of us hopefuls waited for our turn to become Ted Marcus. The questions in my head continued. Should I do something different from last year? Why did they change his name?

My turn came.

I stepped into the room where Carroll and the other executive producer Ed Ledding awaited me. We exchanged pleasantries. Carroll asked, “Didn’t you play the City Councilman last year?”

“Yes.” I answered. Silence filled the room, as they looked me over. Silence in an audition is always uncomfortable. I then did something I’ve never done since. I seized the moment and blurted out, “So why are you trying to give my job to someone else?”

Carroll, smiling, fired back, “Then, I won’t give your job to someone else. It’s yours.”

I grin now thinking about it. For the next six years, Ted Marcus was mine. I was Ted Marcus on a top-ten television show, still living in Birmingham and running my business.

Life was good!

For many of us on that show, it was our first time on a series. We were a weekly top-ten television show and we all enjoyed the spoils. Around some of the Atlanta night clubs it was, “Whatever you want Ted.”

During the next six years I lived and learned episodic television. Carroll was a master. He knew what he wanted from this show. He knew what the legacy of a Southern Sheriff in Mississippi could be if he so desired. In full control, he wrote some of the episodes under the name Matt Harris.

It was a wonderful ride. My favorite actor from the show was Howard Rollins, one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with. I met many of the older stars, Carroll’s friends, Tippi Hedren, from The Birds, and Larry Hagman, from Dallas. Carl Weathers (Apollo Creed in Rocky) and I exchanged Christmas Cards for many years. Randall Tex Cobb, the heavyweight Boxer who took an awful beating from heavyweight champion Larry Holmes did a couple of episodes.

When The Heat phased out around 1995, I went back to my business full time and waited for the next phone call. It wasn’t long before it came. This time it was Miss Ever’s Boys with Alfre Woodard and Laurence Fishburne for HBO. I rode that one all the way to Hollywood.

Shortly thereafter, I became the title character Israel in the Emmy winning episode of NYPD BLUE: Lost Israel. I continued with Fight Club, Jeepers Creepers 2 and several recurring episodes of Boston Legal, Closer to Home, Jack and Bobby and recently Containment on top of many more episodes of television and hundreds of commercials.

It had all begun with an itch, a phone call, and the nerve to ask Carroll O’Connor, “Why are you trying to give my job away?”

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