American situation comedy

Created in 1960 as one of the first TV spin-off series, and based on an episode of the popular Danny Thomas Show where entertainer Danny Williams gets a ticket while passing through a small southern town.

The show was based on the antics of Sheriff Andy Taylor (portrayed by Andy Griffith) and by his deputy Barney Fife (played by Don Knotts). Sheriff Taylor had the enviable position as Sheriff and Justice of the Peace in a small town with no serious crime and very little of the more minor sort. His time was spent solving the problems of the town's inhabitants, many caused by his deputy (who was also his cousin). Andy was a young widower raising a son with the aid of his Aunt Bee Taylor, and was as stable and straightforward as can be. Barney, however, was a different breed of cat. His overzealous dedication to law enforcement coupled with his inherent spastic behavior fueled much of the comic interaction.

Barney was intent on projecting himself as an aware, hip, knowledgeable and competent lawman, an obvious case of self-delusion exceeded only by his ability to totally wreck any task he was given. Andy was almost always given the job of pulling Barney's chestnuts from the fire. The show's appeal was in large part based on its gentle humor. Andy never rubbed Barney's nose in the mess he had created but rather rescued Barney along with his pride and ego. The entire town of Mayberry, North Carolina (the fictional setting of the show) was populated with characters who were all aware of Barney's foibles, but never took him to task in any major way. Of course, most of these characters had their own idiosyncrasies.

Many of the characters were to become part of the national lexicon. Almost every small town had one cop who was characterized as a Barney Fife, either overzealous or incompetent in the performance of their lawman duties.

Andy's son Opie was a very young elementary student age when the series began. Many of the show's themes dealt with Andy's efforts to guide Opie without the help of his wife. Opie was a good kid, hardly ever willfully misbehaving, yet as all kids do he occasionally needed a little direction.

Another long -running character was Gomer Pyle (played by Jim Nabors), a shade tree mechanic and gas station attendant long on manners and heart but woefully short of intelligence.

Howard Sprague (the town clerk) is a snapshot of every small town official impressed with his own office. Howard was the prototypical nerd, being immersed in the minutia of his office while having no concept of the big picture. Howard was single and still lived at home with his mother.

Floyd Lawson, the town barber, was another gentle character who was frustrating because of (or in spite of) his simplicity and sweetness. He often contributed a bizarre kind of logic.

Aunt Bee Taylor (played by Francis Bavier) was surrogate mother to both Andy and his young son Opie Taylor (played by a very young Ron Howard). She stood ready to offer home cooking, care, and advice whenever needed, and sometimes when it wasn't desired. Sometimes she'd get in a jam but she always managed to survive with her good nature intact.

Other residents were:

  • Otis Campbell (the town drunk), who had a penchant for checking himself in to his jail cell whenever he imbibed a bit too much.
  • Goober Pyle (played by George Lindsey), who replaced cousin Gomer when he decided to join the USMC in another spin-off series Gomer Pyle, USMC.
  • Andy's long time girlfriend, and Opie's teacher, the attractive Helen Crump provided a romantic spark for Andy.
  • Thelma Lou, Barney's romantic interest, who along with Barney usually double dated with Andy and Helen.
  • Ernest T. Bass (played by veteran actor Howard Morris) was another character who found an enduring place in the affections of the fans of the show.

A troop of other characters came and went, some with recurring appearances such as the Darling family, others for a single turn.

The Andy Griffith Show aired on October 3, 1960 and ran until April 1, 1968. Andy Griffith left the show and it continued with new Sheriff Sam Jones (played by Ken Berry) as well as a new name, Mayberry RFD. This incarnation of the series enjoyed an additional 3 seasons.

The Andy Griffith Show earned 6 Emmy Awards in its eight seasons as well as a host of other awards and nominations. The program was never below # 7 in the Nielson ratings and was # 1 when it ended.

The unbridled success of the show led the way into TVs 'rural revolution', inspiring more such simple fare based in rural settings such as Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Hee Haw. This wave lasted until the turn of the decade when the networks purged such homespun shows in favor of more 'relevant' programming such as All in the Family.


Though the show is more than 4 decades old it still enjoys a large viewership in syndication. Many fans of the show are of my generation. We grew up alongside of Opie, shared his problems and simple concerns. For us, The Andy Griffith Show is a time machine, one which transports us back to a time when life (for us as children, anyway) was much simpler and slower. The time machine unfortunately seems to operate only in half-hour segments, then drops us rudely back into our 21st century hurry up lives. As a kid I sometimes was jealous of Opie who obviously had a Dad who didn't yell, go off the deep end, break out the old leather belt, or visit any of a number of horrors upon us for our misdeeds. In our own simplicity we found something to identify with, and that may be the finest legacy of any TV program. That legacy being a desire in the heart of the viewer, young or aged, to be allowed to be part of the setting and tone, to be washed in the gentle waters portrayed by the program. The Andy Griffith Show will probably have a dedicated fan base as long as there are viewers who desire to be transported to a gentler, slower place than the one in which they now reside. There will always be such dreamers.

Sources:
http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/A/htmlA/andygriffith/andygriffith.htm
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053479/
http://www.tvparty.com/andy.html

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