Synopsis by Hal Erickson
The pilot for the long-running CBS sitcom The Andy Griffith Show was seen on February 15, 1960, as an episode of The Danny Thomas Show, "Danny Meets Andy Griffith." As originally conceived, Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) was not only the sheriff of the sleepy North Carolina town of Mayberry, but he was also the mayor, justice of the peace, and newspaper editor. Child actor Ronny Howard (who, as Ron Howard, would in adulthood enjoy a spectacularly successful career as a film director) was seen in the pilot as the widowed Andy's son Opie, but Frances Bavier played an entirely different role than she would in the actual series, while Frank Cady rather than Hal Smith was cast as town drunk Otis Campbell. While there would be changes in concept and casting, the laid-back character of Andy Taylor "clicked" with TV audiences, ensuring that The Andy Griffith Show would join the Monday night CBS lineup come October 3, 1960. Introduced as regulars during season one were of course Andy Griffith, Ronny Howard, and Frances Bavier (now as Aunt Bee, housekeeper for Andy and Opie Taylor), with the significant and salutary addition of Don Knotts as Andy's tightly wound deputy Barney Fife. The rapport between Andy and Barney contributed mightily to the series' success during its shakedown season, with nominal leading character Andy often voluntarily taking a back seat to Barney's overzealous antics. Subsequent additions to the cast included Jim Nabors as bucolic gas station attendant Gomer Pyle (later spun off into his own series, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.); George Lindsey as Gomer's cousin, Goober Pyle; Howard McNear as dithery barber Floyd Lawson; and Hal Smith as the aforementioned Otis Campbell. Taking advantage of Andy Taylor's widower status, the series' writers tried to pair the character off with a number of eligible young ladies, beginning in the first season with Elinor Donahue as drugstore sales clerk Ellie Walker. But only when Aneta Corsaut joined the cast as Opie's schoolteacher Helen Crump did Andy find the "right" girl. Indeed, Andy and Helen would become engaged during the series' final season. Conversely, Barney Fife had but one steady girlfriend, Thelma Lou, played by Betty Lynn. Don Knotts left the series at the outset of its sixth season (the show switched from black-and-white to color at the same time); it was explained that Barney had accepted a deputy position in Raleigh, permitting Knotts to make a handful of memorable return guest appearances. Barney was briefly replaced by Deputy Warren Ferguson, played by Jack Burns; later on, Goober Pyle became Andy's unofficial deputy. The post-Don Knotts episodes brought forth several other new recurring characters: Jack Dodson as town clerk Howard Sprague, Paul Hartman as handyman Emmet Clark, and Hope Summers as Aunt Bee's best friend, Clara. During the Emmy-winning series' eighth season, Andy Griffith decided to leave the show. At this point, Ken Berry was added to the cast as widowed farmer and later town councilman Sam Jones, with Buddy Foster as Sam's son Mike and Arlene Golonka as Sam's girlfriend, Millie Hutchins. After the final telecast of The Andy Griffith Show on September 16, 1968, the series continued for three additional seasons under the title Mayberry RFD, with Ken Berry taking over as star and with most of the familiar Andy Griffith Show supporting characters still in attendance. One of the most consistently popular sitcoms of all time, The Andy Griffith Show lasted 249 half-hour episodes, and also spawned the high-rated 1986 TV movie Return to Mayberry.