The Andy Griffith Show was one of the most popular and memorable comedy series of the 1960s. In its eight years on the air, from 1960 to 1968, it never dropped below seventh place in the seasonal Nielsen rankings, and it was number one the year it ceased production. The series pilot originally aired as an episode of Make Room For Daddy, a popular sitcom starring Danny Thomas. Sheldon Leonard produced both shows for Danny Thomas Productions.
An early example of television's "rural revolution," The Andy Griffith Show was part of a programming trend which saw the development of comedies featuring naïve but noble "rubes" from deep in the American heartland. The trend began when ABC debuted TheReal McCoys in 1957, but CBS became the network most associated with lt. The success CBS achieved with The Andy Griffith Show provided the inspiration for a string of hits such as The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, and Hee Haw. Genial and comparatively innocuous, these shows were just right for a time when TV was under frequent attack by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Congressional committees for its violent content.
Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas designed The Andy Griffith Show to fit the image of its star. Griffith's homespun characterizations were already well-known to audiences who'd seen his hayseed interpretations of Shakespeare on The Ed Sullivan Show and his starring roles in the films A Face in the Crowd (1957) and No Time for Sergeants (1958). On The Andy Griffith Show, he played Sheriff Andy Taylor, the fair-minded and easygoing head lawman of the Edenic small town of Mayberry, North Carolina. Neither sophisticated nor worldly-wise, Andy drew from a deep well of unpretentious folk wisdom that allowed him to settle domestic disputes and outwit the arrogant city folk who occasionally passed through town. When he wasn't at the Sheriff's office, Andy, a widower, was applying his old-fashioned horse sense to the raising of his young son Opie (Ronny Howard), a task he shared with his Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier).
Mayberry was based upon Andy Griffith's real hometown, and perhaps this was partially responsible for the strong sense many viewers got that Mayberry was a real place. Over the years the writers fleshed out the geography and character of the town with a degree of detail unusual for series television. The directorial style of the series was also strikingly distinct, employing a relaxed, almost lethargic tone appropriate to the nostalgic settings of front porch, sidewalk, and barber shop. The townspeople, and the ensemble of actors who portrayed them, were crucial to the success of the show. Most of these characters were "hicks," playing comic foils to the sagacious Andy. Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) and his cousin Goober (George Lindsey) came right out of the "bumpkin" tradition that had been developed years ago in films, popular literature, and comic strips. Town barber Floyd Lawson (Howard McNear) was a font of misinformation and the forerunner of Cheers' Cliff Clavin. Otis (Hal Smith), the unrepentant town drunk, was trained to let himself into his jail cell after a Saturday night bender and to let himself out on Sunday morning. Without much real police work to attend to, Andy's true job was protecting these and other citizens of Mayberry from their own hubris, intemperance, and stupidity.
Most of Andy's time, however, was spent controlling his earnest but over-zealous deputy, Barney Fife. Self-important, romantic, and nearly always wrong, Barney dreamed of the day he could use the one bullet Andy had issued to him. While Barney was forever frustrated that Mayberry was too small for the delusional ideas he had of himself, viewers got the sense that he couldn't have survived anywhere else. Don Knotts played the comic and pathetic sides of the character with equal aplomb and was given four Emmy Awards for doing so. He left the show in 1965 and was replaced by Jack Burns in the role of Deputy Warren Furguson.
The Andy Griffith Show engendered two spin-offs. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., was a military sitcom featuring Gomer in the Marines.Mayberry, R.F.D., was a reworking of The Andy Griffith Show made necessary by Griffith's departure in 1968. Like the parent show, the spin-offs celebrated the honesty, the strong sense of community, and the solid family values supposedly inherent in small town life.
By the late 1960s, however, many viewers, especially young ones, were rejecting these shows as irrelevant to modern times. Mayberry's total isolation from contemporary problems was part of its appeal, but more than a decade of media coverage of the civil rights movement had brought about a change in the popular image of the small Southern town. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., was set on a U.S. Marine base between 1964 and 1969, but neither Gomer nor any of his fellow soldiers ever mentioned the war in Vietnam. CBS executives, afraid of losing the lucrative youth demographic, purged their schedule of hit shows that were drawing huge but older-skewing audiences. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., was in second place when it was canceled in l969. Mayberry, R.F.D., and the rest of the rural comedies, met a similar fate within the next two seasons. They were replaced by such "relevant" new sitcoms as All In the Family and M*A*S*H.
The Andy Griffith Show remains an enduring favorite In syndicated reruns. New fan books about the program, including a cookbook of favorite dishes mentioned in specific episodes, continued to appear nearly thirty years after the end of the original network run. In 1986, a reunion show brought together most of the original cast and production team. Return To Mayberry was the highest-rated telefilm of the season.
Andy Taylor............................................. Andy Griffith
Opie Taylor.......................................... Ronny Howard
Barney Fife (1960-65)................................. Don Knotts