Andy Griffith passed away at the age of 86. Griffith was the star of one of the most beloved programs in television history, The Andy Griffith Show.
Griffith’s legacy was not limited to that, however. Prior to Andy Griffith, he was a solid movie actor with He had a second great series two decades after in Elia Kazan’s masterpiece, A Face in the Crowd (1957) and the comedic classic No Time for Sergeants (1958). Then nearly two decades after Andy Griffith ended, Griffith spent nine years as high priced yet thrifty great suited lawyer Ben Matlock, and then after Matlock ended he enjoyed a state of semi-retirement as a character actor who could still create magic in movies like The Waitress.
That said, none of Griffith’s other work has had near the impact on his fellow citizens than those eight years in Mayberry. In 1998, 5 million people daily tuned into reruns of the Andy Griffith show. I doubt that number has declined much. Along with I Love Lucy, Andy Griffith remains one of those few shows that have not been forgotten by the sands of time.
What makes Mayberry stay strong?
Barney Fife: Any analysis of the show has to begin with Barney Fife. His five seasons on the show were the best of the series. He brought home four Emmy Awards for the role. And won another as a guest star. Barney was the lovable buffoon and braggart who provided the show’s greatest comedic moments in shows, “Barney Joins the Choir” and “Citizen’s Arrest.” However, he could occasionally pull off the great dramatic moment as he did, “Andy on Trial.”
Gentle Human Comedy: If I could use one word to describe the Andy Griffith Show’s comedy, it’d be “gentle.” Comedy today is often about put downs, denigrating women, denigrating men, denigrating different religions or political viewpoints, but Andy Griffith was about the foibles of frail human beings just like us who made mistakes and had their flaws.
It’s a show that makes you laugh without leaving you to question whether what you laughed was really funny or just cruel. On Andy Griffith, the comedy often came from efforts to spare people’s reputation and feelings. The Andy Griffith Show made more people laugh with its efforts to be kind than most shows that have tried to obtain laughter through cruelty.
Love and Music: The show in the midst of its hilarity would often create a beautiful dramatic moment that would touch the hearts of viewers as parents, as children, or just as plain humans who could relate to what the characters were going through.
Music was an important part of Southern life and played a significant role in the program with Sheriff Taylor, the Darling Family, Rafe Hollister, or others. It gave the show a feeling of authenticity.
The Truest Show on Television: Our trips to Mayberry would invariably come with a moral. The insertion of morals into the show was quite intentional. One man even used it as Curriculum for a Bible Study and a Baltimore pastor used it to create a sermon series when he observed that every one of the gifts of the Spirit could be illustrated by an Andy Griffith show.
The program taught good morals while rarely being “preachy.” You’d laugh at the events, but then turn off the TV and then you’d come away with a nugget of truth.
Of course, the show is often considered unrealistic with its often idyllic portrayal of small town life. Yet The Andy Griffith Show was more about truths that endure rather than the passing reality of the moment.
The strongest criticism of Andy Griffith was the lack of black characters. There was only one Black character with a speaking role in the eight year run of Andy Griffith. We should note that the problem was not limited to Mayberry. In the far more urbane Dick Van Dyke Show, I recall only two Black Characters with speaking roles in the five seasons. I’ve also seen the first three seasons of Green Acres and again no black actors. This problem has more to do with a Hollywood culture that had failed to cultivate black stars and character actors than it does any racism on the part of the producers of Andy Griffith.
More to the point, it doesn’t matter in the long run to the show’s staying power of the program as Rochelle Riley wrote for the Detroit Free Press:
“For me, and for many generations before me, ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ was about our lives, regardless of color or background…
“My family didn’t watch ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ to count black people. We watched to see our way of life, one that included spending hours picking plums in the plum orchard, then sitting under a chinaberry tree eating them, or walking along ponds to collect cattails.”
And many generations after will continue to enjoy the simple lessons of life in Mayberry.