Andy Griffith dies

Andy Griffith at the dedication of a bronze statue of himself and Opie (left).

Fans are mourning the loss of television legend Andy Griffith, who died in his North Carolina home on Tuesday at the age of 86. His career spans multiple decades, several movies, and two long-running TV shows.

Griffith was born in Mount Airy, N.C. – the town that provided the inspiration for fictional Mayberry on The Andy Griffith Show. Griffith got his chops in as a stand-up comic, recording a popular comedy bit in 1953 (What It Was, Was Football), and made an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Griffith appeared in the Broadway play No Time For Sergeants and also appeared in the film of the same name.

Griffith was introduced as Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Danny Thomas Show and his appearance led to his own show, premiering on October 3, 1960 on CBS.

The Andy Griffith Show was built around a simple premise – A small-town sheriff who runs the fictional town of Mayberry, N.C. with his incompetent – but lovable deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts.) The town gave us memorable characters – who could forget Aunt Bea, Floyd the Barber, Goober, or Otis the Drunk?

The show clicked with viewers, ranking in the top ten in each of its eight seasons on the air, and even survived the departure of Knotts after its fifth season. In its eighth and final season (1967-68), Andy Griffith closed out its run by finishing first in the Nielsen ratings – a feat only accomplished by two other series in television history (I Love Lucy and Seinfeld.)

When Canada’s CTV officially launched as a privately-owned broadcaster in 1961, Andy Griffith was the first show to ever air on the network.

After Griffith concluded in 1968, the series continued as Mayberry R.F.D, with Griffith continuing on behind the scenes as co-executive producer. Despite ranking in the top twenty, Mayberry was canceled by CBS in 1971 in the “rural sitcom purge”, when the network decided to rid itself of its rural-based comedies.

Griffith did return to television in 1970 to CBS with the drama Headmaster, which was canned after three months. He returned to the sitcom format with The New Andy Griffith Show in early 1971, but lasted only ten weeks.

A made-for-TV reunion movie titled Return To Mayberry drew more than 40 million viewers for NBC on April 13, 1986 and was the highest-rated TV movie of the year.

After a fifteen-year hiatus, Griffith returned to the small screen full-time in 1986 as lawyer Ben Matlock in Matlock. The series became a surprise Tuesday night hit for NBC and ran for six seasons, but was canceled in 1992 along with The Golden Girls and In The Heat Of The Night as the peacock network felt the shows attracted too many older viewers (similar to CBS’ rural sitcom purge some twenty years earlier.) ABC picked up the series in early 1993 and ran on Thursday nights for three more seasons. Andy Griffith was the only actor on Matlock to appear in all of the series’ 195 episodes (Matlock even got love from The Simpsons as the series’ is often mentioned as Grandpa Abe Simpson’s favorite show. Oddly, Matlock would compete with The Simpsons in the same Thursday night time slot early in its ABC era.)

Syndication success

The Andy Griffith Show was a huge moneymaker for local stations when the series entered off-network syndication in 1971 and was one of the first off-net shows sold by Viacom, which spun-off from CBS due to the implementation of the financial interest and syndication rules a year earlier. The sitcom was a longtime staple of WGN-TV and WTBS, which aired Griffith for decades, going back to its WTCG (now WPCH-TV) days. Griffith ran on TBS until 1999, when it moved to TV Land.

Even today, Griffith continues to pack a ratings punch, particularly in Southern markets Рin Greensboro, CBS affiliate WFMY continues to air the show at 5:30 p.m. every weekday  and often ranks first in its time period. In Greensville, S.C., (which shares a DMA with Spartanburg, S.C. and Ashville, N.C.), Griffith runs at 12:30 p.m. weekdays. In Atlanta, WATL-TV recently began running Griffith in a key prime access (7:30 p.m.) time slot, replacing Jeopardy! of all shows. In Birmingham, WTTO airs an hour-long block of Griffith every night at 10 p.m.

In Chicago, Griffith airs on two stations: on MeToo every weekday at noon and 12:30 p.m.; and on WGN weekdays at 3:30 a.m. and in various overnight weekend time slots. WGN has aired Griffith since 1971.

Matlock has aired in syndication since 1990 and is still run on a number of outlets; in Miami for example, Fox affiliate WSVN continues to run the show every weekday at 2 p.m. Matlock is currently not on the air in Chicago; the show last aired on WGN in an overnight time slot a few years ago, and was a staple of WGBO’s lineup until its switch to Spanish-language programming.

Both The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock are syndicated by CBS Television Distribution.

Local connection

In 2008, former WWYW-FM (103.9) personality Jim Shea started a petition to restore the closing credits and the theme song on TV Land’s airings of The Andy Griffith Show, after they were being squeezed for promos. He received a lot of support from the station’s listeners – including from Andy Griffith himself, who he interviewed on-air (unfortunately, the link to the interview in this article no longer works.)

Marathons and Tributes

There are plenty of marathons and tributes planned this week in honor of Andy Griffith (all times Central, unless noted):

– Locally, MeToo is airing a marathon of Andy Griffith episodes Wednesday from Noon until 11 p.m.; and this Thursday and Friday from 7 to 10 p.m. MeToo can be found over -the-air on WCIU-DT 26.4, Comcast Xfinity 247/358, RCN 22, WOW 171, and AT&T UVerse 48.

– Even though MeTV doesn’t have the rights to Andy Griffith nationally, the Chicago-based diginet still plans to pay tribute by airing episodes of Hawaii Five-O, The Mod Squad, Make Room For Daddy, and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. where he made appearances on (Gomer Pyle spun-off of Andy Griffith in 1964.) The festivities begins July 4 at 11 a.m. and lasts until 2 p.m.

– In addition to its regularly scheduled airings, WFMY/Greensboro is also airing mini-marathons of Andy Griffith every day this week from 3 to 5 p.m., Eastern Time.

– TV Land plans an Andy Griffith marathon July 4 from 7 a.m. to Noon and this upcoming weekend (both Saturday and Sunday) from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

– WGN America plans an all-day Matlock marathon on July 4 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

– On July 18th, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) plans to air a four-film marathon featuring Griffith. The movies are: A Face In The Crowd (1957), Onionhead (1958), No Time For Sergeants (1958) and Hearts of The West (1978).

Updated at 8:40 pm on 2012-07-05.