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Longing for a town that only existed in black and white

POSTED: October 3, 2010 4:30 a.m.

I was barely 3 months old when the first episode of "The Andy Griffith Show" premiered on CBS, so I probably slept through the first one.

But I'm pretty sure over the past 50 years I've seen them all.

I've watched them evolve. The first year, Andy was more of a country bumpkin, but in the ensuing years that role was handed off to others as Andy emerged as the stabilizing force of Mayberry.

There have been the writing hiccups. The busy-body neighbor, Clara, has been both Clara Johnson and Clara Edwards. Barney, in one episode, sings beautiful harmony with Andy on the front porch. In another, the whole show revolves around his inability to sing. In real life, Don Knotts was a pretty good tenor, so I've read.

Many folks don't know that the Griffith show was a spin-off of the Danny Thomas Show. Danny was motoring through Mayberry when Andy stopped him for speeding. He goes to the courthouse to find that Andy is also the Justice of the Peace.

But that first episode on Oct. 3, 1960 introduced us to Aunt Bee, Andy's aunt who came to help out when Rose, who had been helping the widower as a housekeeper, was getting married and leaving town. This was quite upsetting to Andy's son, Opie, who discovered that Aunt Bee couldn't play ball or do any of the things that Rose could do.

Mayberry was the picture of every little town. It had its mix of bizarre characters and seemingly normal folks. It had folks who loved to spread a little gossip and those who would weigh in on the issues of the day.

But every show had a little moral lesson that doing the right thing paid dividends. There have been Bible studies based on episodes of the show. We've seen the reruns so many times that we can almost mouth the words as they are spoken on screen.

Of all the shows that were on TV in 1960, only Gunsmoke and Bonanza are still shown regularly, but none as often as Andy Griffith.

In Macon, the leading TV station, WMAZ, runs Andy Griffith at 5:30 p.m. against the other stations' newscasts and wins overwhelming ratings with a 50-year-old rerun. A friend of mine who is the advertising manager, says clients line up to have their commercials on the Griffith show because it is so wildly popular.

It is a television phenomenon that is hard to explain. I watched some of it as a child in first run. But like so many Americans, I grew to love the show in reruns. There aren't many books that I have read for the fifth or sixth time, but I have probably seen some Andy Griffith episodes a dozen times or more and will still watch them again and again.

I guess that we see ourselves in some episodes. In others, we see a simple life that doesn't exist anymore. A place without cell phones, where a call was placed by asking Sara, the operator, to connect me to "my house," as Andy would say.

We have been connected to a little fictional town for 50 years. It's a place I long for and only exists in a black and white memory on TV.

Harris Blackwood is a columnist for The Times. His column appears every week in Sunday Life.



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