If you’ve read my blog for a while, you probably know I love ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’ The show premiered 60 years ago!
Saturday marks a major milestone for longtime TV favorite The Andy Griffith Show. The program, which featured Andy Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor, premiered on Oct. 3, 1960.
At least, that’s when the series itself premiered. Viewers visited Mayberry once before that date. That visit came during an episode of Danny Thomas’s Make Room for Daddy. That episode introduced the concept of Mayberry, North Carolina and the small-town sheriff.
In that episode, Thomas gets stopped for running a stop sign. He argues that there’s no crossroad where the stop sign is. The sheriff says the town approved a road years earlier, but had so far only raised enough money for the stop sign.
They introduce a funny gimmick that ran through most of Griffith’s series. Thomas demands to plead his case to the justice of the peace. Andy sits behind the sheriff’s desk and switches the desk sign from “Sheriff” to “Justice of the Peace.”
But the Sheriff Andy Taylor we see in this “pilot” show boasts one major difference from the sheriff we came to know and love. When he sees Thomas’s bankroll, he instantly ups the fine, revealing a dishonest streak.
But in addition to being sheriff and justice of the peace, Taylor also serves as editor of the Mayberry Gazette. In an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Griffith said he disliked that part of the early concept.
“They had me as sheriff, as justice of the peace, editor of the paper, and i tell little funny stories about people around town,” Griffith said in the interview. “That would have lasted maybe two weeks.”
A phone call changed television history.
After that pilot aired, Griffith received a phone call from an old friend, Don Knotts.
“Don’t you need a deputy?” Knotts, who was newly out of work, asked.
Griffith immediately told Knotts to call producer Sheldon Leonard.
The first episode of the actual series, called “The New Housekeeper,” told the story of Aunt Bee coming to live with Andy and his son, Opie, when their former housekeeper gets married and moves away. Though Knotts appeared in that episode, his role was rather small.
The second episode, “The Manhunt,” featured Knotts, as Deputy Barney Fife, in all of his bumbling glory.
That’s when Griffith made a critical realization:
“I knew by that episode, I knew that Don should be the comic and I should play straight for him and that made all the difference.”
Mayberry became “a living town” at that point, Griffith said. Producers rushed to bring in comic characters like Howard McNear (Floyd the barber) and Hal Smith (Otis the town drunk) with the same winning formula.
Mayberry became a place you wanted to visit. There’s a mysterious quality about the first five seasons of the show. They were produced in black and white and though people wore contemporary clothes, you wouldn’t find the unrest of the 1960s on display. The show seemed to be more from the era of small-town America in, say, the 1920s. Life was simpler then and the show reflected that.
Picking favorite episodes can be a big challenge for fans.
I’ll admit struggling to complete my post of my 10 favorite episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find 10 shows that seemed worthy to be included. I had a hard time eliminating so many shows to narrow the list to just 10.
But I had no trouble choosing my absolute favorite.
The show, called “Man in a Hurry,” premiered on Jan. 14, 1963. A businessman who’s on his way to an important meeting when his car breaks down on a Sunday morning just outside Mayberry. Like any good Southern town back then, everything — including the garage — is closed on Sunday.
The businessman, Malcolm Tucker, is keyed up. He must get where he’s going. He needs his car fixed now. he needs to be on the road right this second.
He’s a Type A personality in a Type B town. Here’s an example of him completely losing it over Mayberry’s slow pace:
But Mayberry’s way of life slowly begins to have an effect.
You really must watch the uncut version of the episode to fully appreciate the beauty of the writing. Midway through, while Tucker waits for word on his car, there’s a scene in which Andy attempts to peel an apple in one long strip. He asks Tucker if he’s ever tried that. Tucker annoyingly answers no.
But in the final scene, the epilogue that reruns usually omit to squeeze in more commercial time, the transformation is complete. Andy, Barney and Tucker sit on the front porch.
Andy and Barney discuss going out for a bottle of “pop,” and wonder whether Tucker wants to join them. We don’t see Tucker’s face because the camera is behind him facing Andy and Barney. So we don’t see Tucker’s face. When Andy leans in to invite Tucker to come along, the camera cuts to him. He looks relaxed. He’s dozing off. The camera tilts down to show an apple and knife in his hand. We see he began trying to peel the apple in one long strip.
Mayberry worked its magic.
When you see that full episode, you understand what makes The Andy Griffith Show so special.
Happy 60th to the greatest show on TV.
If you haven’t visited Mayberry, you owe it to yourself to watch!