Forum wire reports, Published July 03 2012
Remembering Andy Griffith and his showsAndy Griffith was starring in the Broadway musical “Destry Rides Again” in 1959 when he told his agent that he was ready to try a TV series.
Sheldon Leonard, the producer of “The Danny Thomas Show,” teamed with a writer to develop an idea for a series that would exploit Griffith’s homespun image: having him play the small-town sheriff of a mythical North Carolina town called Mayberry.
Serving as the series’ pilot was a guest spot by Griffith in early 1960 on CBS’ “The Danny Thomas Show” in which Sheriff Taylor picked up nightclub entertainer Danny for speeding through Mayberry on his way to Miami.
“The Andy Griffith Show” made its debut that fall.
The addition of Don Knotts as the incompetent but full-of-bravado Barney Fife quickly shifted the balance of the show.
“I was supposed to have been the comic, the funny one,” Griffith told the Times in 1993. The series, he said, “might not have lasted even half a season that way, but when Don came on I realized by the second episode Don should be funny and I should play straight to him.”
The unflappable Andy and the all-too-excitable Barney became one of television’s greatest comedy duos.
The show’s laughs came not from the characters telling jokes back and forth but typically, as in real life, out of ordinary conversations.
One of Griffith’s favorite exchanges with Knotts came in an episode in which Barney had saved $300 to buy a car.
Barney: The last big buy I made was my Mom’s and Dad’s anniversary present.
Andy: What’d ya get ‘em?
Barney: A septic tank.
Andy: For their anniversary?
Barney: They’re awful hard to buy for. Besides, it was something they can use. They were really thrilled. It had two tons of concrete in it. All steel reinforced.
Andy: You’re a fine son, Barn.
Barney: I try.
As a TV Guide reporter put it in a 1963 article on the show’s popularity: “Such dialogue — read with sly amusement by Griffith, unflinching earnestness by Knotts — demands an extraordinarily high degree of comedy acting and a solid grasp of the subtleties of character.”
Plying the “Rotary Club circuit” as an entertainer with his wife, Griffith began doing humorous monologues on “Romeo and Juliet,” the opera “Carmen” and the ballet “Swan Lake.”
But he earned some of his biggest laughs with his football spoof in which a country preacher sees his first football game but has no idea what he’s watching:
“And I think that it’s some kind of a contest where they see which bunch full of them men can take that pumpkin and run from one end of that cow pasture to the other without either getting knocked down or stepping in something.”
A local record company recorded Griffith’s “What It Was, Was Football” and it began receiving so much radio air play that Capitol Records’ New York promotion man Richard O. Linke flew to North Carolina to buy the master recording and sign Griffith to a personal-management contract.
“The Andy Griffith Show” was in the Nielson Top 10 all eight seasons, and when its star voluntarily left the show in 1968 it was ranked No. 1.
“The Andy Griffith Show” was one of only three series in TV history to bow out at the top of the ratings. (The others were “I Love Lucy” and “Seinfeld.”) Griffith said he decided to end it “because I thought it was slipping, and I didn't want it to go down further.”
In 2007, he appeared in the independent film “Waitress,” playing the boss at the diner. The next year, he appeared in Brad Paisley's awarding-winning music video “Waitin’ on a Woman.”
When asked if the real Griffith was more wise like Sheriff Taylor or cranky like Joe, the diner owner in “Waitress,” Griffith said he was a bit of both, and then some.
“I'm not really wise. But I can be cranky,” he said. “I can be a lot like Joe. But I'm lot like Andy Taylor, too. And I'm some Lonesome Rhodes.”