Andy Griffith’s TV legacy: From Mayberry to ‘Matlock’
Andy Griffith, who died on Tuesday at age 86, never strayed far from his native North Carolina. He grew up there and returned there in his later years, but he’s most closely identified with a place in North Carolina that never existed.
“The Andy Griffith Show,” which aired on CBS from 1960 to 1968, was set in the fictional town of Mayberry, N.C., and starred Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor. (The series was actually shot in Los Angeles.)
Besides making stars of Don Knotts and young Ron Howard, the series was also a huge ratings hit and featured a distinctive theme song forever associated with Griffith. (Though Knotts and costar Frances Bavier won a combined six Emmy Awards, neither Griffith nor the show itself ever won.)
Griffith was born and raised in Mount Airy, N.C., where they celebrate “Mayberry Days” each September. The town’s Andy Griffith Museum features memorabilia and props from the sets of the"Andy Griffith Show” and his later hit series “Matlock.”
“The Andy Griffith Show” initially began as an episode of “The Danny Thomas Show” (a.k.a. “Make Room for Daddy”), with Thomas encountering Griffith’s rural sheriff and the residents of Mayberry in a backdoor pilot for the series.
Most of the original cast (minus Bavier, who was ill) reunited for the 1986 TV movie “Return to Mayberry,” which was the highest-rated TV movie of the year. Even Howard, who was by then a successful film director, returned to reprise his role as Opie.
Griffith left his own show in 1968. (It continued on as “Mayberry R.F.D.” until 1971.) Meanwhile, Griffith went on to star in a series of less-successful series, including “Headmaster,” which ran for 14 episodes in 1970. In the dramatic series, he went from his role as a country bumpkin to the headmaster of a prestigious California private school. Viewers weren’t ready to make the leap with him.
He followed up that series with “The New Andy Griffith Show” in 1971. This series was much closer in tone to “The Andy Griffith Show,” with Andy playing the mayor of a small North Carolina town (though not as small as Mayberry). However, viewers still weren’t buying it, and the sitcom lasted just 10 episodes.
Griffith tried again in 1975 with the drama series “Adams of Eagle Lake.” This time he returned to the role of sheriff in a small town, but the coast was different (Northern California instead of North Carolina), and the tone was much more serious. Griffith’s character, Sheriff Sam Adams, attempted to keep the peace in his mountain resort town. This attempt was even less successful than the others, with just two episodes airing on ABC.
Griffith went far afield with his next TV series in 1979, the science fiction show “Salvage 1,” which saw him playing the owner of a salvage company who builds a rocket ship to collect scrap metal from the moon. Despite having noted sci-fi author Isaac Asimov as a scientific advisor, the series lasted just 16 episodes.
Griffith got another series the next year. This time it was a family soap in the style of “Dallas"or “Dynasty.” The series, “The Yeagers,” followed Griffith, as the owner of a logging company, and his family. It lasted just two episodes on ABC before cancellation.
Persistence did eventually pay off, and Griffith finally had a hit in 1986 with the legal drama “Matlock.” The series cast Griffith as Ben Matlock, a folksy Southern attorney with a talent for confronting guilty parties in the courtroom a la Perry Mason. A ratings success, it ran for nine seasons on both NBC and ABC. It changed networks in 1992.
“Matlock” was nominated for several Emmy Awards, but Griffith himself once again wasn’t nominated. In fact, throughout his career, Griffith was only nominated for one Emmy, for his supporting role in the TV movie “Murder in Texas” in 1981.
PHOTOS, VIDEO AND MORE:
Inside the business of entertainment
The Wide Shot brings you news, analysis and insights on everything from streaming wars to production — and what it all means for the future.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.