The Andy Griffith Show is an American sitcom first televised by CBS between October 3, 1960 and April 1, 1968. Andy Griffith portrays a widowed sheriff in a fictional small community of Mayberry, North Carolina. His life is complicated by an inept but well-meaning deputy, Barney Fife (Don Knotts), a spinster aunt and housekeeper, Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier), and a young son, Opie (Ron Howard, billed as Ronny). Local ne'er-do-wells, bumbling pals, and temperamental girlfriends further complicate his life.
Though neither Griffith nor the show won awards during its eight season run, series co-stars Knotts and Bavier accumulated a combined total of six Emmy Awards. The series was a smash hit, never placing lower than seventh in the Nielsen ratings and ending its final season at number one. The show spawned a spinoff series Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1964), a sequel series, Mayberry R.F.D. (1968), and a reunion telemovie, Return to Mayberry (1986). The show's enduring popularity has generated a good deal of show-related merchandise. Reruns currently air across the United States, and the complete series is available on DVD.
Sheldon Leonard, producer of The Danny Thomas Show, developed an episode for the Thomas show about a character who was sheriff, justice of the peace, and newspaper editor in a small town. At the time, Broadway, film, and radio star Andy Griffith was interested in attempting a television role, and the William Morris Agency told Leonard that Griffith's rural background and previous rustic characterizations were suited to the part. After conferences between Leonard and Griffith in New York, Griffith flew to Los Angeles and filmed the episode. On February 15, 1960, "Danny Meets Andy Griffith" was telecast on The Danny Thomas Show. In the episode, Griffith played fictional Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, North Carolina, who arrests Thomas for running a stop sign. Future players in The Andy Griffith Show, Frances Bavier and Ron Howard, appeared in the episode as townspeople, Henrietta Perkins, and Sheriff Taylor's son, Opie. General Foods, sponsor of The Danny Thomas Show, had first access to the spinoff and committed to it immediately. On October 3, 1960 at 9:30 p.m., The Andy Griffith Show made its debut.
Frances Bavier was cast as Andy's housekeeper, Aunt Bee, and Ron Howard as Andy's son, Opie. Don Knotts, who knew Griffith professionally and had seen The Danny Thomas Show episode, called Griffith during the developmental stages of the show and suggested the Sheriff character needed a deputy. Griffith agreed. Knotts auditioned for the show's creator and executive producer, Sheldon Leonard, and was offered a five-year contract. He joined the cast as Barney Fife. Griffith, Knotts, Bavier and Howard all made their series debut in the premiere, "The New Housekeeper."
The show's production team included producers Aaron Ruben (1960–1965) and Bob Ross (1965–1968). First season writers (many of whom worked in pairs) included Jack Elinson, Charles Stewart, Arthur Stander and Frank Tarloff (as "David Adler"), Benedict Freedman and John Fenton Murray, Leo Solomon and Ben Gershman, and Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum. In the sixth season, Greenbaum and Fritzell left the show and Ruben departed for Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., a show which he owned in part. Writer Harvey Bullock left after season six. Bob Sweeney directed the first three seasons save the premiere.
The show was filmed at Desilu Studios, with exteriors filmed at Forty Acres in Culver City. Woodsy locales were filmed north of Beverly Hills at Franklin Canyon.
The show's theme music, "The Fishin' Hole", was composed by Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer, with lyrics written by Everett Sloane. Whistling in the opening sequence was performed by Earle Hagen. One of the show's tunes, "The Mayberry March", was reworked a number of times in different tempi, styles and orchestrations as background music.
The show's sole sponsor was General Foods, with promotional consideration paid for (in the form of cars) by Ford Motor Company (mentioned in the credits).
Plot and characters
The series' plot revolves around Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) and his life in sleepy, slow-paced fictional Mayberry, North Carolina. Sheriff Taylor's level-headed approach to law enforcement makes him the scourge of local moonshiners and out-of-town criminals, while his abilities to settle community problems with common-sense advice, mediation and conciliation make him popular with his fellow citizens. His professional life, however, is complicated by the gaffes of his comically inept deputy, Barney Fife (Don Knotts). Barney is portrayed as Andy's cousin in the first and second episodes, but is never referenced as such in the later episodes. Andy socializes with male friends in the Main Street barber shop and dates various ladies until a schoolteacher becomes his steady interest in the third season. At home, Andy enjoys fishing trips with his son, Opie (Ronny Howard), and quiet evenings on the front porch with his maiden aunt and housekeeper, Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier). Opie tests his father's parenting skills season after season, and Aunt Bee's ill-considered romances and adventures cause her nephew concern.
Andy's friends and neighbors include barber Floyd Lawson (Howard McNear), service station attendants and cousins Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) and Goober Pyle (George Lindsey), and local drunkard Otis Campbell (Hal Smith). On the distaff side, townswoman Clara Edwards (Hope Summers), Barney's sweetheart Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn) and Andy's schoolteacher sweetheart Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut) become semi-regulars. Elinor Donahue made twelve appearances as Andy's girlfriend in the first season. In the color seasons, County Clerk Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson) and handyman Emmett Clark (Paul Hartman) appeared regularly, while Barney's replacement deputy Warren Ferguson (Jack Burns) appeared in the sixth season. Unseen characters such as telephone operator Sarah, and Barney's love interest, local diner waitress Juanita, are often referenced. In the series' last few episodes, farmer Sam Jones (Ken Berry) debuts, and later becomes the star of the show's sequel series, Mayberry R.F.D..
Griffith's development of Andy Taylor
Initially, Griffith played Taylor as a heavy-handed country bumpkin, grinning from ear to ear and speaking in a hesitant, frantic manner. The style recalled that used in the delivery of his popular monologues such as "What it Was, Was Football". He gradually abandoned the 'rustic Taylor' and developed a serious and thoughtful characterization. Producer Aaron Ruben recalled:
"He was being that marvelously funny character from No Time for Sergeants, Will Stockdale a role Griffith played on stage and in film...One day he said, "My God, I just realized that I'm the straight man. I'm playing straight to all these kooks around me." He didn't like himself in first year reruns...and in the next season he changed, becoming this Lincolnesque character."
As the sheriff developed into a man of common sense, it was impossible for him to create his own problems and troubles in the manner of other central sitcom characters such as Lucy in I Love Lucy or Archie Bunker in All in the Family, whose problems were the result of their temperaments, philosophies and attitudes. Consequently, the characters around Taylor were employed to create the problems and troubles, with rock-solid Taylor stepping in as problem solver, mediator, advisor, disciplinarian and counselor. Aunt Bee, for example, was given several wayward romances requiring Andy's intervention, Opie suffered childhood missteps that needed a father's counsel and discipline, and Barney engaged in ill-considered acts on the job that required Sheriff Taylor's professional oversight and reprimand. Andy Griffith has also said that he realized during the earlier episodes of the program that it was much funnier for him to play the straight man to Knotts' "Barney," rather than his being the originator of the comedic scenes between them.
The show comprises 8 full seasons and 249 episodes — 159 episodes in black and white (seasons 1–5) and 90 in color (seasons 6–8). Griffith appears in all 249 episodes with Howard coming in second at 209. Only Griffith, Howard, Bavier, Knotts, and Hope Summers appeared in all eight seasons.
Knotts left the show at the end of the fifth season to pursue a career in films but returned to make five guest appearances as Barney in seasons six through eight. His last appearance in the final season in a story about a summit meeting with Russian dignitaries "ranked eleventh among single comedy programs most watched in television between 1960 to 1984, with an audience of thirty-three and a half million."
The color episodes of the show in its later years are markedly different from the black and white episodes of the first five seasons, and are generally far less popular with fans of the show. New writers took over the scriptwriting for the post-Knotts color seasons, and they generally abandoned the character-based sitcom format in favor of dry humor revolving around rather mundane aspects of life in a small town. Additionally, some of the characters added to the show for the color episodes, including new deputy Warren Ferguson and county clerk Howard Sprague, are generally not popular with contemporary fans of the show. Finally, it has also been observed that Griffith's character underwent another metamorphosis when the show went to color. While the original "country bumpkin" Sheriff Taylor had already been replaced during the black and white years by a somewhat less country-acting character, the Sheriff Taylor of the color episodes is a sophisticated, almost urbane man, to the point that he often seems, contrary to the Sheriff Taylor of the black and white episodes, to be discontent, irritated and fed up with life in Mayberry (as Andy Griffith was in fact trying to figure out a way to leave the series). Many of the color episodes revolve around Andy's being agitated about something by one of the other characters (quite often Goober or Warren, but sometimes Howard, Aunt Bee or Opie).
Reruns, spinoffs, and reunion movie
In 1964, daytime reruns began airing and the show was retitled Andy of Mayberry to distinguish the repeat episodes from the then-new episodes airing in prime time; this alternate title continued to turn up in syndication over the ensuing decades.
At the end of the show's fourth season (May 1964), the backdoor pilot "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." aired, and, the following September, the spinoff series Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. debuted with Jim Nabors in his Gomer role and Frank Sutton as drill instructor Sergeant Vince Carter.
In the last episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, character Sam Jones was introduced and a sequel series, Mayberry R.F.D., was fashioned around him for the fall of 1968 (in essence, replacing Andy Griffith, who finally insisted the eighth season would be his last). Several performers reprised their original roles in the sequel, with Bavier becoming Sam's housekeeper. To create a smooth transition from his series to Mayberry, Andy and Helen were married in the first episode, remained for a few additional episodes, and then left the show, with a move to Raleigh being the explanation given the audience. After the sequel series' cancellation in 1971, George Lindsey played a Goober-like character over several years on the popular variety show Hee Haw.
In 1986, the reunion telemovie Return to Mayberry was broadcast with several cast members reprising their original roles. Absent, however, was Frances Bavier. She was living in Siler City, North Carolina in ill health, and declined to participate. In the telemovie, Aunt Bee is portrayed as deceased, with Andy visiting her grave.
Two cast reunions of the show were subsequently filmed and aired on CBS in 1993 and 2003.
Photograph Hand Color Tinted by artist Margaret A. Rogers.