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UNION PERSPECTIVE: A tribute to Andy Griffith, an American legend

JACKSON, Tenn.July 5, 2012 – The flags at the Mayberry courthouse will forever hang at half staff. Somewhere wandering loose around town is a loaded goat. The Darling family is playing “Dooley.”

Andy Griffith died July 3 at age 86 in his native North Carolina. He leaves behind a television legacy that, along with Lucille Ball’s, is the most enduring in the history of the medium.

In the final 17 years of his life, Andy largely enjoyed retirement in his home of Manteo, N.C. He came out of retirement to do a couple of CBS “Andy Griffith Show” retrospectives.

Many would argue that “I Love Lucy” is television’s signature series. Lucy was there at television’s beginning. Her series wrote the rules for three-camera situation comedy with a live audience.

As much as we loved Lucy, I will inject my Southern bias that “The Andy Griffith Show” will go down in history as television’s most enduring series. Most of us remain angry at TV Land for consigning “Andy” to the morning hours merely because its audience is older and the entire series is now available on DVD. “Andy” is TV Land.

Why do we still return to Mayberry so much, even though we know virtually every line in the dialogue? We see so much of us in that town. Andy, Aunt Bee, Opie, Gomer, Goober, Barney -- we all know people like them.

Even if you were born in New England or Seattle, if you are from a small town, you are from a culture where everyone knows a little of everyone else’s business. We loved that half-hour of Mayberry, whether the weekly visit during the original series, or our daily trips since because that stop is like sitting in on a little juicy tidbit of gossip.

Whether Andy was telling Barney during an unexpected visit by the Fun Girls to “git them women outta here,” or covering up his visit to a “lady lawyer” by telling Helen, “I trust you because you don’t lie to me. I lie to you because you don’t trust me,” we were energized by our excursions to the courthouse or the house on Elm Street.

My personal favorite is “The Sermon for Today.” That episode is reflective of my Christian roots and the difficulty all of us have in following biblical principles. A guest minister at the All Souls Church in Mayberry pleads with the congregation to stop its hurried life patterns and “slow down………relax…. What's your hurry? Indeed, my friends, what’s your hurry?”

Of course, in the frenzy to put together an impromptu band concert in a matter of six hours, every catastrophe erupts. The Mayberryites violate every plea from the morning’s sermon to take life easier. Every time I see “The Sermon for Today,” I am reminded of Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Andy Griffith never won an Emmy. He was never even nominated as Andy Taylor. My argument why is that Griffith was so good as a straight man in an ensemble of outstanding actors that he masqueraded how good he was. The Television Academy just ignored him.

My friend Russ Myerson, current executive vice president of the CW Network, was chair of the Iris Awards for the National Association of Television Programming Executives in 1992. Under Russ’s watch, Griffith was given the NATPE Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Andy was very touched,” Myerson said. “It was the first time the industry had saluted him. Such a nice man. Great actor. He will be missed.”

Andy Griffith may be gone, but Andy Taylor will never die. Somewhere today, Barney is on the front porch pondering whether to go over to Thelma Lou’s to have a bottle o’ pop. Goober is saying, “Judy-Judy-Judy-Judy-Judy!” Ernest T. Bass is throwing a rock through a window. Gomer is making another “citizen’s arrest.” Earle Hagen is whistling that enduring theme song. Some chorus somewhere is singing that alma mater Andy made famous:

Mayberry Union High,
Victory is yours well-nigh.
We'll hit the line for points every time,
The Orange and Blue will try, try, try, try.
And when the victory’s won,
You'll be our favorite son,
Proud waves your banner in the sky,
Mayberry Union High.

By Steve Beverly
Associate Professor of Communication Arts

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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