‘In the Heat of the Night’: Why Was Joanne St. John Only in One Season?

by Caitlin Berard

In 1967, the thriller In the Heat of the Night hit theaters and found both critical and commercial success. Along with receiving seven Oscar nominations, the film is included in the American Film Institute’s 100 top film quotes, and the list of the 100 greatest moves in American cinema. And in 2002, it was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress.

The movie was such a success, in fact, that it inspired a television series as well. The classic TV show entitled In the Heat of the Night premiered 21 years later in 1988, starring Carroll O’Connor, Howard Rollins, and Alan Autry.

In the first season, the bulk of the characters was male. The primary story, after all, follows a male police chief and homicide detective. Once the second season rolled around, however, a greater variety of characters appeared in the series, one of whom was Joanne St. John.

Lois Nettleton, the actress behind Joanne, was already a Hollywood veteran at the time, with over 30 years of experience to her name. The award-winning actress performed in dozens of guest-starring roles in her career, including impressive titles such as The Twilight Zone, The Golden Girls, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza, making her a perfect fit for the series.

Lois Nettleton’s Role on ‘In the Heat of the Night’

Lois Nettleton’s character, Joanne St. John, was the owner of a diner, The Magnolia Café, and the love interest of the main character, Chief Gillespie. In a 1989 interview with The Leader-Post, Nettleton shared her excitement for the role and the series as a whole.

“Anne-Marie [Johnson, actress behind Althea Tibbs] and I are playing wonderful characters,” she said. “I’m glad to know the audience feels as we do about them.”

“What I love about this series, and what makes me feel proud to be a part of it, is that it deals so basically with human issues, social issues, with relationships between and among people,” she continued. “But it doesn’t preach. The show simply speaks to the human condition and how people deal with each other and relate to each other. And people will respond. They have to.”

Why Joanne St. John Was Such a Short-Lived Character

Given Joanne St. John’s seemingly important role and Lois Nettleton’s excitement to play her, one would assume she would become an integral part of In the Heat of the Night. The producers, however, felt differently.

After just 22 episodes, Joanne St. John was written off the show entirely. In her final appearance, the character is shot and never appears in the series again. According to the In the Heat of the Night fan club, the “official reason” for this was that the producers ran out of stories for the character.

Though it’s said that Lois Nettleton was disappointed by her short-lived role, it didn’t slow her down in the slightest. On the contrary, she went on to guest star in even more famous TV series. You can find Lois Nettleton appearances in Seinfeld; Full House; and Murder, She Wrote, just to name a few.