Skip to main content

Why we need our slice of Mayberry

By Diane Werts, Special to CNN
July 4, 2012 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Diane Werts notes "The Andy Griffith Show" was No. 1 in 1968
  • In an era of upheaval, Americans turned to Mayberry, she says
  • Who wouldn't choose Mayberry over crime, war and societal chaos? she says

Editor's note: Diane Werts is managing editor of TVWorthWatching.com and writes about TV for Newsday.

(CNN) -- Looks like we'd all like to live in Mayberry.

Fifty years later, we're still watching "The Andy Griffith Show." The '60s hit continues to air twice a day in TV Land's weekday schedule, at noon and 12:30 p.m. ET. (TV Land also has a July 4 marathon, Wednesday 8 a.m.-1 p.m. ET/PT; and a weekend tribute to its recently deceased star July 7-8, Saturday-Sunday 11 a.m.-8 p.m. ET/PT.)

Andy Griffith created a mighty special place in his small-town TV comedy, which seems to have aired continually every day someplace since it left the CBS network in 1968. When the show ceased production, it ranked as prime-time's No. 1 series, after spending all eight of its network seasons in Nielsen's Top 10.

Mayberry was a town so comfortable and calm that Griffith's down-home Sheriff Andy Taylor hardly ever got to do any sheriff-ing. He mostly dispensed folksy wisdom to his motherless son, Opie, rode herd on his jittery sheriff, Barney Fife, and helped his Mayberry townsfolk keep on the straight and narrow and neighborly.

What we love about Andy Griffith

Diane Werts
Diane Werts
Andy Griffith, famous for his starring role in "The Andy Griffith Show," was an actor, director, producer and Grammy-winning Southern gospel singer and writer. He died Tuesday, July 3, at 86. Click through the gallery to see a glimpse of his career and life. Andy Griffith, famous for his starring role in "The Andy Griffith Show," was an actor, director, producer and Grammy-winning Southern gospel singer and writer. He died Tuesday, July 3, at 86. Click through the gallery to see a glimpse of his career and life.
Andy Griffith through the years
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
Photos: Andy Griffith\'s life and career Photos: Andy Griffith's life and career
2006: Griffith, Howard recall their show
A co-star's crush: Andy Griffith dies
2011: Town where Andy Griffith grew up

Wait. This was TV's No. 1 series -- in 1968?

Hasn't the Vietnam era-1968 gone down in history as the year synonymous with social upheaval? Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy and civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. The "generation gap" widened. Hippies turned on and dropped out. Fists were raised at the Olympic Games. War protests raged.

And folksy Andy Griffith drew viewers in staggering numbers.

Perhaps it's really not so strange at all.

Who wouldn't rather live in the serene Mayberry of "TV land" than in Realtown USA, beset by crime, corruption, war, taxes and societal chaos? No wonder "The Andy Griffith Show" endures, far beyond the nostalgia for more "pivotal" TV landmarks such as "All in the Family" and "Roseanne."

There's even a "real" Mayberry, and it continues to draw vacationers. Griffith's hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina, to this day operates the seven-days-a-week Andy Griffith Museum, filled with the actor's memorabilia, props, video and other attractions. (Be there for September 27-30's annual Mayberry Days!) Come sit a spell, take your shoes off, y'all come back now, y'hear?

OK, so we borrowed that last line from "The Beverly Hillbillies" theme song. Same difference. In fact, during "Andy Griffith's" run of 1960-68, "Hillbillies" was twice the nation's top-ranked show. The other years' Nielsen titles went to "Gunsmoke," to "Wagon Train," and (three times) to "Bonanza." Which just goes to show how much Americans wanted to be anywhere rather than Here and Now.

Those other top series still run on TV, but "The Andy Griffith Show" has turned out to be in a class by itself. Did citizens ever really live in idyllic small towns like Mayberry? Maybe we wish we did. Maybe we still want to. What was Connecticut's fictional Stars Hollow, the small-town setting for that 21st-century WB fave "Gilmore Girls," but a more elegantly and literately constructed Mayberry? Everybody knew everybody, and got along, and meant well, and everybody was witty and sophisticated.

'Andy Griffith' theme song also part of Americana

But Americans still seem to crave the more primitive version of Americana, as evidenced by the fact that everybody's favorite episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show" are the ones in black-and-white. The show was filmed monochrome its first five seasons, the ones with Don Knotts as Barney Fife. Then when Knotts left the cast for the big screen ("The Incredible Mr. Limpet," anyone?), the show transitioned to color and lost much of its charm.

We liked Mayberry more as a timeless Everyplace than a DayGlo wannabe.

Here's another reason "The Andy Griffith Show" endures: It may be TV's first dramedy. There's a laugh track, yes, because it was filmed single-camera, rather than in a studio like most other Desilu-produced series after studio pioneer "I Love Lucy." Griffith insisted he wanted to be able to include exterior shots, remembering what the outdoors meant to him as a North Carolina kid. Indeed, what's the first image of the show that comes to mind? The whistling-theme opening credits, when Andy and son Opie are heading out to do some fishin' (no "g" here).

The "drama" quotient amped up, too, as Andy's initial portrayal of Sheriff Andy Taylor as a country bumpkin (watch the series' backdoor pilot as a 1960 episode of "Make Room for Daddy") quickly evolved into the town sage -- a dispenser of common-sense wisdom to the quirky characters who crossed his path in search of rational justice and cogent advice.

Don Knotts won the Emmys as wacky deputy Barney Fife. Andy Griffith gained legend as the straight man who made it all possible.

Think of Andy Griffith this way: Can you imagine a 300-channel TV universe without "The Andy Griffith Show" airing someplace every day?

Enough said. We all need our little slice of Mayberry.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Diane Werts.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 2132 GMT (0532 HKT)
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1917 GMT (0317 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1927 GMT (0327 HKT)
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT