How The Andy Griffith Show Unleashed The Comics Main Force On '60s Television (2023)

On the night of February 15, 1960, actor Don Knotts and his wife Kay were at Pat Harrington's home in Los Angeles, California, playing bridge. Don and Pat became friends as cast members ofOh, show the Steve Allen, where Don achieved semi-fame as Angry Man. NBC wanted to quit Steve Allen, so Don and Pat started looking for jobs; Pat was up in the running for a guest roleDie Danny-Thomas-Show. At 9 p.m. He paused Tuesday night's card game so he and his guests could watch that night's episode.

The screen filled with a drawing of a man who looked like a sinister ventriloquist's dummy. "Tonight's special guest," intoned the announcer, "...Andy Griffith." The lens moved to a street where the special guest, dressed in a khaki sheriff's uniform, was seated in a Ford Galaxie 500 outfitted like a squad car. He accompanied the star of the show and his family to a theater town called Mayberry. Griffith's character, a backward lawman, catches Danny Thomas running a red light.

"You picked the wrong guy this time, Clem," Danny warned.

"The name isn't Clem," Andy replied with a big grin. I'm Andy, Andy Taylor.

The episode invented bydani thomasAs a cheap way to pitch a pilot for a series CBS was planning, producer Sheldon Leonard included bits and pieces of what would become a legend. The town drunk staggers and proclaims, "I'm under arrest!" and locked himself in a cell. But the drunk isn't Otis, and Hal Smith isn't toying with him. Frances Bavier comes to see Andy, but it's not Aunt Bee; she is the widow of Henrietta Perkins. Ronny "Opie" Howard is there, but Sheriff Taylor has no replacement.

Dom was intrigued. He and Andy met on Broadway in 1955 in the cast ofNo time for sergeants, the comedy that a hit movie should be based on, starring Andy. In the Broadway production, Don was an $85-a-week actor, but in their scenes together, he and Andy created an audience-pleasing hilarity. Backstage, between more than 400 performances, the two also got along personally, but after the end of the play they lost contact. Don had no idea Andy was working on a TV show. A role on Andy's show could revitalize both their career and their friendship. The next day, Don Andy called New York, where he was back on Broadway, starring in a revival ofDestroy rides again.

"Listen," Don said. "Don't you think Sheriff Andy Taylor should have a replacement?"

After a long pause, Andy's voice crackled over the line.

"That's a great idea!" he said to Don. "I didn't know you were unemployed."

"Yes, Steve has been cancelled."

"Knight!" said Andy. "Call Sheldon Leonard."

They decided that Andy's manager, Dick Linke, would forward Don's speech to the producer. Andy made it clear that he wanted Don. Just a week after the pilot aired, Don was on the Desilu Studios lot on Cahuenga Boulevard near Melrose. Founded by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Desilu would not only be responsible fori love lucybut many memorable series, includingMy Three Sons, The Dick Van Dyke Show, OfStar Trek. When Don walked into Sheldon's office, he was carrying a stack of old scripts to indicate he was overflowing with offers.

Sheldon took it easy. In an hour-long meeting, Don recalls, the producer "asked me questions about what I thought this character should be like." Don said he envisions him as a grown man with the mindset of a nine-year-old who's addicted to Tom Sawyer's high flights and tends to be open about his feelings.

There was no formal hearing. Sheldon told the unsettled actor that his idea was "being considered". He wanted to hire Knotts right away, but for tactical reasons he made Don wait three weeks while Don filmed his last oneSteve Allen-Show. Finally her manager called: the role was hers.

Sheldon had already cast six-year-old Ronny Howard, who played Andy Taylor's son Opie (named after Southern bandleader Opie Cates, a favorite of Andy's), and Frances Bavier, who had been performing since 1925. , Andy, Opie and future Aunt Bee melted hearts.dani thomasSponsor General Foods bought the series before it even aired. Executives loved the show's American appeal, Andy's warm smile and Mayberry's floating magic.

budgeted CBSbeatfor 32 episodes for $58,000 each, or about $1.8 million for the first season. Dick Linke knew that he and his client weren't big Hollywood names; want to influenceGriffiths Show, both would have to bet. Dick borrowed several hundred thousand dollars from Bank of America to give Andy half ownership of the show (the remaining shares went to Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas), gave Andy and Dick a controlling interest together, and gave Andy some level of control. artistic. , and over time he enriches himself and Dick.

Don Knotts had no property inGriffiths Show. Producers hid their enthusiasm for signing him, offering him a single season and then a five-year contract that started at $1,250 per episode, or about $35,000 per year. In 1960, that was good money for a TV actor, and Don wasn't taking any of the financial risks his friend was taking.

At Andy's requestO Show von Andy GriffithHe filmed Desilu with a single camera, treating episodes like movies, filming scenes out of order and with no audience.dani thomasand most other sitcoms used three cameras in front of audiences. This generated natural laughter and chemistry between the audience and the performers. But the actors on the three-camera shows acted for the crowd, which could distract them and the show's writers from developing character and plot. The one-camera form meant a synthetic laugh track that made Andy uncomfortable. He and the producers promised:beatI would use a soundtrack, but sparingly.

The locations of the first episode were simple: the courthouse, the backdrop for most of the interior shots; Taylor's living room, kitchen and porch; the barber shop the mayor's office; and the inside of the gas station. Locations were shot primarily on location at Forty Acres, a half-hour backyard lot in Culver City. Cecil B. DeMille first used the Culver City property for silent films in the 1920s; The property has also made an appearancemy kingjwhat the wind took.

IsGriffiths ShowThe minimalist theme music comes from the composer Earle Hagen. Hagen said that after he and the producers "beat our brains for a couple of months," he woke up one day and thought the tune should be easy enough to whistle. "And it took me about ten minutes to write it," he recalls. He whistled a simple demo with double bass and drums and brought it to Sheldon Leonard. Sheldon loved it. "Tell you what," he said. "I'll take Andy and Ronny to the lake with two fishing rods over my shoulders." Earle's original demo became the theme. "I've never whistled in my life before," he recalls. And never again.

On the first day of production, in the summer of 1960, the cast and crew gathered in a Desilu conference room to read the script for The New Housekeeper. Sheldon Leonard would direct, one of the two times he personally oversaw

Don arrived, nervous but excited to be working on a smooth one-camera production, not convoluted live footage. And felt the presence of a great talent. Andy has established himself as a benevolent leader. Don called the experience "one of the most glorious days of my life."

The following Monday, to film the show's opening, the crew drove through Franklin Canyon above Beverly Hills to a municipal reservoir surrounded by an unspecified flora that could just as easily have been North Carolina or California. The 20-second sequence required Andy and Opie to meander down a dirt path and Opie to throw a rock into the water. Assistant director Bruce Bilson yelled, "Get it done!"

"They came down the street," Bilson recalled. "The boy threw a rock... and missed the lake. So we took another shot and the kid threw the rock and it didn't end up in the lake. So I said, 'Okay, support guy, stand behind that bush over there and when I say shoot, shoot'.” Bilson fired a third shot. In the opening sequence, observant observers will notice a slight, gravity-defying delay between Opie's launch and impact.

Franklin Canyon would be home to manyGriffiths Showpicnics and hunts. Andy and Barney would occasionally launch a leaking rowboat into the reservoir and go fishing, a tricky job. They dipped worms in Angelenos' drinking water.

The cast established a formal but relaxed schedule. The main cast gathered at 9 a.m. Thursday morning to "read" the script for the following week's show while the script director kept time with a stopwatch. They then read the script for the following week to get an idea and, if the draft didn't work, what changes would be needed. Most cast members would be fired. Writer Aaron Ruben would stay with Andy, Don and the directors to work on rewrites. New scripts would be submitted on Friday morning and the cast would begin rehearsals in the studio. Filming would begin Monday at 8 a.m. and continue through Wednesday.

The first episode filmed, "The New Housekeeper", ostensibly written to please CBS and sponsor General Foods, had Andy as the handsome widower, featured Aunt Bee as his matronly housekeeper, and posited an affectionate father-father relationship. Andy dominated and usually played the fool. Barney Fife was absent, illustrating how the show could have been without Don.

Ron Howard later recounted his first impression of Barney Fife. “Andy and this man were talking very quietly. Andy was a lot taller than this guy. And they were talking, and I couldn't hear much, but I started searching," said the young actor. “Suddenly this very quiet man, Don Knotts, was a nervous wreck. The cameras were rolling. I think he fumbled in my pocket, waved, and took off my hat... I remember turning to my dad and saying something like, "Is this man crazy?" And he said, "No, no, no.” He's a very good actor. "

Don made the most of his first real scene, a 90-second exchange in the sheriff's driveway. "Barney Fife MP reporting with important message, sir," he says with a stiff salute.

"Barney, I told you you don't have to do this," Andy smiles. "It's not the army. You see, it's just you and me.

"Well wow Andy. I want to do well in this job. Even if it's just about delivering messages. I want to do good."

"Well I know you do and I admire your attitude."

"Look, Andy, I want the people of this town to realize that you chose me to be your deputy because ... Well, you screened all the candidates for the job and assessed their qualifications, character and skills, and You've come to the fair, fair and honest conclusion that I was the best fit for the job. And I want to thank you, cousin Andy.

The exchange illustrated the magic that could happen when Andy and Don shared a scene.

"There was so much power," Sheldon Leonard recalled. "When we saw it in the papers, we all looked at each other and were like, 'Well, that's it. Let's hook [Don] up to make sure he's part of the show.'

Leonard offered Knotts a contract where his season five pay would exceed $3,500 per episode, or about $100,000 per year. The deal granted him airtime on 10 of the 13 episodes. (But soon I would be begging for a single week off.)

Most TV shows fail andbeatThe fate of would not become clear until the first episode aired in the fall. By then the crew would have shot at least 10 episodes. "We enjoyed it. It was fun. It was fun. Everyone was good," said Bilson. "But we worked in a vacuum."

After filming The New Housekeeper, the crew shot The Manhunt with Barney Fife. About six weeks into production, Andy found himself in the bathroom next to a studio electrician named Frank. In all those weeks the crewman hadn't said a word to Andy. Now he turned around and said, "In six months you'll be in the top 10."

The producers analyzed the episodes and tried to decide which ones to shoot first. The CBS boss chose "The New Housekeeper." Andy and much of the creative team preferred The Manhunt. The reason: Barney Fife. The Manhunt begins with Andy and Opie fishing. As they pull the boat onto shore, a patrol car roars.

"Sheriff! Sheriff!" Barney screams as he jumps. "You'll never guess what happened! Something big!

"Okay, what is it?" asks Andy.

Barney's bulging eyes. "The greatest thing that ever happened in Mayberry. very big big! Large!"

The cast and crew began to feel special with this episode, which won the 1962 Writers Guild Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy in a Television Series. Each time a scene focused on Andy and Don, Don's eyes would widen and his body tense as he transformed into Barney. Andy's eyes would glow with adoration and the two would unleash hilarious power. The Manhunt rearranged the Mayberry universe.

"In that episode, I knew Don was supposed to be the comedian and that I was supposed to be acting directly for him, and that made all the difference," Andy later recalled. “Don changed all the footwork on this show. Because we added all the weird characters that came up as quickly as possible, I played them straight away."

Andy Griffith played the sane man and brought Mayberry's poise and immortality to his series, his timing and seriousness elevating the artistry not only of Don Knotts but of talents like Howard "Floyd the Barber" McNear and Jim "Gomer Pyle" Nabors .

"Being a straight man is a wonderful position," Andy recalls. “You are more privileged than anyone: to be on stage and to see it. I could see Don Knotts and Frances and the others with a thousand times more pleasure than anyone in the audience because I'm between you and the camera for most shots and I'm closer to Don's eyes than I've ever been."

"Our time was similar," Don said. "He almost knew when Andy was going to come in and he said he could do the same to me. And Andy thought Barney was funny. I think that helped too. I could see something in Andy's eyes that he was trying not to laugh at, which would help me be even funnier. And Andy was like the best straight man. It was the best thing you could imagine."

Neither received credit for writing, but both made major contributions to the scripts almost from the start. Andy insisted that Don help tweak the episodes. When holes in a script needed filling, Andy turned to Don. "Why don't you see if you can write a fun little thing to put in there?" he would say.

Their collaboration produced the duo's first classical routine. The crew worked on the script for "Ellie Comes to Town," the fourth episode to air. As the producers flipped through the pages, Don doodled.

"Hey Andy, I just memorized the lawman's code," he said. "Prove it to me."

Andy confronted his accomplice. "Okay, Don," he said. "Advance payment."

Don handed Andy a scrolled sheet of paper, typed in the character, and asked the sheriff if he remembered the code. The team watched in fascination as Don guided Andy through the exchange he had just planned.

"'Rule number one,'" says Andy. "It's okay, go ahead."

Barney sits down, concentrates, frowns, clears his throat. He looks at Andy with a serious expression.

"Will you just give me the first word?" he asks.

"Gut. 'One'."

"On," Barney repeats. "Un. Un?" He looks at Andy curiously.

"Yes, one.'"


"I'm looking straight at him."

"Un. And..." Barney sighs "Uh, do you want to give me the second word?"

"'An officer.'"

"Oh yeah. An officer… an officer… an officer… an officer… an officer…” Barney puts his head in his hands and swivels in his chair, banging his forehead against a coat rack. .

The lengthy exchange, with Barney grimacing and his hair tousled in pain, builds to a comical crescendo as Barney yells the final words of "Code" moments after they've left Andy's mouth.

To keep Andy from losing his composure, the crew filmed most of the scene, with him and Barney narrating their lines separately. Only towards the end were the two men framed, Andy trying not to burst out laughing. As it airs, the camera cuts to a shot of Andy sober.

"Do you want to go over it again?" he asks. "Or do you think you do?"

"Got it," Barney replies.✯

Adapted fromAndy & Don: The Making of a Friendship is an American classic television series, by Daniel de Visè (Simon & Schuster 2015; paperback available June 2016). Daniel de Visè wrote tothe post office from washington, IsThe new herald, and other newspapers. His investigative journalism has twice resulted in the release of men wrongfully sentenced to life imprisonment; Shared the Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

This story originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of the magazineamerican HistoryMagazine. Subscribe toHere.

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