The Andy Griffith Show, set in the fictitious western North Carolina town of Mayberry, offered both poignancy and hilarity in its first three years. Sheriff Andy Taylor (Griffith) and his deputy, Barney Fife (played by the inimitable Don Knotts) made Mayberry a safe haven in the era of unsettling social change and in the shadow of nuclear annihilation. The characters were so real, people we would like to be acquainted with. The stories were well-written and absorbing. The many virtues of this show are so well known I will not expand beyond these few words.
Unfortunately, like many television programs which were a big commercial success, it went on way too long. I generally divide the series into episodes filmed before and after November 22,1963, the day President Kennedy died. Practically every episode filmed before that date was excellent to superior while the series steadily declined thereafter. Dull, unlikeable characters such as Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut) and Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson) were added and the nerve-center of the show, Barney Fife, departed. Andy's quick-witted, ebullient character descended into a doleful, angry funk from which he never emerged. Those episodes filmed in color, with a few exceptions, are best avoided.
One thing I've yet to learn for certain is the reason for the unexplained disappearance of Ellie Walker, played by Elinor Donahue. As Ms. Donahue was top-billed, her departure demanded some form of farewell story. My suspicion is that Andy Griffith wanted to portray the South in a positive light and just before the exile of Miss Walker the infamous marriage of rocker Jerry Lee Lewis to a child-bride hit the fan. Ms. Donahue was nearly twenty years' Andy's junior, she was to play his romantic interest, many people remembered Ms. Donahue as a teen girl in 'Father Knows Best' and Andy did not want to reinforce that Appalachian Pedophile stereotype. So, Ellie had to go, quietly. Later, Andy underscored this when he uttered the line, "Do you actually think I want to marry a silly, giggling girl fifteen years younger than I am?" when hillbilly superstition demanded a union with Charlene Darling Walsh.
While it was probably too much to expect in the pre-Civil Rights era, I believe only one black actor ever spoke a line on the Andy Griffith Show. There were a few black extras in some outdoor scenes but apparently Jim Crow was alive and well in Mayberry, N.C. Curiously there was at least one gay character, Gomer Pyle (played by Jim Nabors).
The Andy Griffith Show, now more than forty-five years after its debut, is still shown on a few UHF broadcast stations and on TV Land on cable or satellite. Regrettably it has several minutes of each episode cut out so the broadcaster can cram in a even more commercial advertisements. So get the first three seasons on DVD or VHS and enjoy The Andy Griffith Show as it was originally broadcast.