Like many folks over this past week, I’ve been reminiscing about Andy Griffith, and more specifically, my memories of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
I grew up not all that far from here, in Roanoke, Va., and while Mount Airy certainly is ground zero for all things Mayberry, folks who live in Roanoke seem to have a special affinity for the show. It has always been a big hit in my family — one of my sisters has a standing challenge to anyone for a face-off in the Mayberry version of Trivial Pursuit, and few can match her knowledge of the show.
I wasn’t old enough to have any memories of the show during its original run on television, but I have watched the show for years. Of course, it has been a mainstay in reruns on many stations across the country, as well as used widely by cable television operators.
But, as I recall, one of the local television stations in Roanoke began airing the show regularly in its weekday 5 p.m. time slot, and again at 5:30 p.m. back when I was in high school, even before my parents had cable (we lived out in the country, so it was a long time before enough prospective customers lived out our way to justify the local cable provider’s expense of extending service there).
That was probably around 1978 or 1979, and the show still airs during those time slots every day. That’s a run of nearly a quarter of a century. Were it any other show, my suspicion is the local population would have tired of the reruns and they would have been replaced long, long ago, and that replacement would have been replaced, and that replacement would have ceded the time slots to still another show, and so forth.
But not “The Andy Griffith Show.” It’s almost as if the show is sacred there. Years after I grew up and moved away, I began to learn of its popularity elsewhere. I did a big story on Mayberry Days and a sidebar on David Browning, The Mayberry Deputy, for a magazine a number of years ago, before I ever considered taking the job as editor of The Mount Airy News. Speaking to Browning, and to Surry Arts Council Executive Director Tanya Jones, who put me in touch with several fan clubs around the nation, I began to realize just how widespread the show’s popularity was, even decades after its initial run ended on television.
And while I still like to think of my own native community as unique in many ways, turns out it’s not so unique in its love of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
So, the question is why? Many others have given opinions that hit on the theme of the show’s wholesome, timeless traditions. How it can be funny and touching without any of the crass or vulgar elements so common in modern entertainment. That it shows the best in people, the town we all want to live in, the people we all want to be. I think those reasons are all right on the money.
I also believe there is another element at work, and that is simply the quality of the show. You watch Don Knotts and he is just flat-out funny in any time period — my own kids, who range in age from 11 to 20 and are very definitely of the Youtube and Xbox generation, find his antics as Barney Fife hilarious.
Watch the shows, how the story lines unfold, the sharpness of the writing, the strength of the acting. Many, many shows from that period are laughable today, but in wholly unintentional ways. A few weeks ago I was showing my kids the first two episodes of the original Star Trek series, and they found the show funny both in the poor quality of the special effects, but also in the relative weakness of how the stories played out (and I am a HUGE Trek fan — some here in the office just swear I must have a pair of Spock ears hidden away somewhere).
Yet “The Andy Griffith Show” holds up, even by today’s standards, in virtually all areas. I never met Mr. Griffith, although I have talked with a number of people who worked with him over the years, and many have told me the same thing — he knew what he wanted, and he accepted nothing less. Not because he was pigheaded or vain, but because he set the bar high for himself, and tended to surround himself with others of that level of commitment.
So, next time you’re watching a few episodes of the show, look beyond the nostalgia and pay attention to the level of quality in nearly all aspects of the production, and add that to the list of things we admire about the show and the man behind “The Andy Griffith Show.”
John Peters is editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.