On Friday night, Oct. 21, fans of things that bite in the night will congregate in the Downtown Historic Square for the premiere of the final season of The Vampire Diaries.
On the following day, Saturday, Oct. 22, fans of In the Heat of the Night will turn out for the Heat Gathering 2016. And while the Friday event will be relatively low key, according to Jenny McDonald, Director of Tourism for the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, the Heat gathering will be a little less low key.
McDonald said, unlike the finale, the screening of the premiere of The Vampire Diaries’ season is primarily for fans. Last year’s finale of The Vampire Diaries drew hundreds to the Covington Square.
“We do it pretty low key for the premiere,” McDonald said. “It will be the screening party with the downtown businesses participating. Jessica [Lowery of Vampire Stalkers] will be doing extended tours on Friday and Saturday. The Cork [Boutique and Gifts at 1109 Church Street] will probably do their tastings; this year. Paul Wesley, who plays Stefan, will have a charity table there.”
A new addition to the annual event will be the presence of a palm reader.
Throughout the finale season of The Vampire Diaries and beyond fans of TV shows and movies filmed in Newton County will be able to follow along in a new way.
McDonald said a new blog, Tourist Tales, will debut with a story about a fan from Italy who will be coming with her mother to attend the premiere. It’s part of a strategy to connect with international fans. While this is the final season of the series in the United States and Canada, international networks may only be broadcasting Season 4 or 5, McDonald said.
Tourist Tales will not only be a great way for the chamber of commerce to tell its story, but also to reach out to an audience that will broaden once The Vampire Diaries stops premiering new episodes.
“Only time will tell, but we think we’ll have at least three or four more years of specific Vampire Diaries tourism,” she said. “They’ll continue to come. That’s what we’re working towards — getting more ‘intel’ on when those [international] release dates are and to find out if there are fan groups in Brazil, Italy or Belgium.”
McDonald said the chamber is trying to creatively position Covington forever as Mystic Falls, home of the Salvatore vampires. “We’ll always be Mystic Falls, just like we’ll always be Sparta [the setting of In the Heat of the Night].”
Loyal Heat fans unite
Three years ago, five people came for the first In the Heat of the Night trolley tour the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce offered. They returned last October for the cast reunion and Heat Homecoming. Present for the event were former cast members Maureen Dowdell, who played Nurse Tracey Boggs; Dee Shar, who played Sgt. Dee Shepard; Randall Franks, who played Officer Randy Goode; Afemo Omilami, who played Jimmy Dawes; Grady Spradley, the late Carroll O’Connor’s stunt double; Wilbur Fitzgerald, who played District Attory Gerard Darnelle; and Alan Autry, who played Capt. Bubba Skinner.
This year, Dowdell and Shaw will be joined by Ron Culbreth, who played Sheriff Will McCombs on 11 episodes of the series, between 1990 to 1994.
Culbreth, who lives in South Carolina, will be coming to Covington after receiving medical treatments for prostate cancer. It’s the third time the former actor has battled cancer. The 73-year-old’s income comes solely from Social Security, so when he needed money for expenses to travel to Florida for the treatments, friend Mark Wilson let Heat fans know about the need.
Heat fans stepped up, donating $1,200 for Culbreth’s travel expenses and co-payments. McDonald said he just posted on a social media site that he’s grateful for their prayers and support and looks forward to seeing them at the reunion in Covington.
Organized by Laurie Lowman in Indiana and Ray Witt in North Carolina, extended tours will take fans around the filming sites used in the television series. On Saturday evening, they are hosting a dinner gathering at Bradley’s Real Pit Barbeque at 1190 Church Street at 6:45 p.m.