‘Andy Griffith Show’: Moral but not preachy

Fifty years later, analysts point to laffer's nuance

For devoted fans of “The Andy Griffith Show,” the program’s 249 episodes translate to 249 lessons learned.

The series, which ran from 1960-68 and spanned B&W and color, centers on smalltown sheriff-widower Andy Taylor, raising firecracker son Opie and overseeing bumbling deputy Barney Fife. It’s a formula you’re likely familiar with (as well as that haunting whistley theme song), but “The Andy Griffith Show” spun deeper truths out of this simplicity.

“Other shows would go for a quick laugh, but (‘The Andy Griffith Show’) did stories that meant something,” says Joey Fann, author of “The Way Back to Mayberry: Lessons From a Simpler Time.” “Each episode had a moral or lesson, and it didn’t come across as preachy.”

That last point is most important. Sure, the show had an obvious moral center: Jokes were good-natured ribbing, and there was palpable love between all of Mayberry’s residents.

But audiences became invested in “The Andy Griffith Show” because of its nuance. A modern-day parallel is “Modern Family.” The ABC sitcom also shows nontraditional families (Griffith, after all, was a widower) and milks specific comedy from relationships and unsnarky, unabashed caring for one another.

“?The Andy Griffith Show” was “a comedy, and the humor came out of the characters,” says Neal Brower, a North Carolina minister and “Andy Griffith Show” expert. “It lent itself to stories that would teach a lesson.”

In season three’s “Man in a Hurry,” a type-A suit has car trouble in easygoing Mayberry. The town could have fixed the jalopy with a smile and sent the man on his way; instead, they conspire to keep the man around and demonstrate the value of slowing down, appreciating the small things in life.

The show’s gentle moral nudging was often open to interpretation — so much so that it has inspired analysis to this day. Fann teaches a course that parallels 12 classic episodes with corresponding Bible verses. Brower occasionally lectures on “Andy Griffith” and has penned “Mayberry 101.”

It should be noted that though Griffith studied to be a preacher and scenes sometimes take place coming out of church, the show isn’t overtly Christian. It’s simpler than that.

“Andy used to say that when you start with love, the show can be nothing but a feeling — that’s your foundation,” Brower says.

And thanks to “The Andy Griffith Show,” we now have 249 interpretations of that basic truth.

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