The passing of actor Andy Griffith today at age 86 is a good time to remember his television legacy which impacted popular culture in such a positive way. Though I vaguely remembered watching repeats of “The Andy Griffith Show” as a kid, I came to appreciate the series much more when I rented a tape of episodes at my local Blockbuster while I was a college student. Though the show was 30 years old and black-and-white, it managed to be funny, charming, engaging, and – in a sense – timeless, while also being grounded in solid family values. This, after all, was a show about family on several levels.
Originally spun off from an episode of “The Danny Thomas Show,” the series introduced us to Andy Griffith’s character, Sheriff Andy Taylor, a widower who lived with his son Opie (Ron Howard) and Aunt Bea (Frances Bavier) – and worked with his bumbling cousin/best-friend, Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts). But really, everyone in the idyllic town of Mayberry seemed like they were family to each other, and the types of people that viewers would want as neighbors and friends. Some of them, like Floyd the Barber and Gomer Pyle, were eccentric, but they conveyed a kindness and moral center that isn’t always present on television today. Uniquely, Andy was a lawman who kept the peace without carrying a gun. The townsfolk listened to him because they respected him, not because they feared him.
It was important to Griffith that the show have entertaining stories and characters as well as integrity and a spiritual sensitivity that occasionally integrated God and church. He also wanted to portray fatherhood in the best sense of the word. In today’s world where many kids grow up without a father for a role model, here is a TV character viewers can still look to for a great example on parenting. Yes, he wanted to pal around with Opie, but he always knew a child needs loving discipline and guidance so being a friend to his son never superceded being a parent.
One of the best examples was in the episode “Opie the Birdman” in which Opie accidentally kills a mother bird by shooting rocks at it with his slingshot after Andy told him not to. Not intending to kill the bird, especially in light of the fact that it just had three baby birds, Opie feels devastated. When Andy finds out what happened, he tells Opie that saying he’s sorry isn’t going to fix things for the three baby birds who won’t have their mother to raise them. Andy opens Opie’s bedroom window so he can hear the birds chirping and think about what he’s done. The next day, Opie accepts responsibility for feeding the birds himself until they’re strong enough to take care of themselves. Andy then guides Opie through this new life lesson in responsibility.
A lot of entertainers leave their mark on popular culture, some in good ways, others not. Andy Griffith’s TV legacy offers a prime example of television at its best. If you haven’t watched the show in a while, take some time to head to the fishing hole with Andy and Opie real soon by watching TV reruns or picking up the DVDs which are readily available (the first five seasons are the best). And if you have kids, watch with them too. This blast from the past might teach them some lessons to remember in building their own future. Then say a prayer for Andy Griffith, the man who made it all possible.
Here’s a short clip of a classic musical moment from the show featuring an old hymn: