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It should have been a surefire recipe for success in 1970 - take Andy Griffith (a star so big the show he wasn't even on anymore was in the top five), make him the headmaster of a prep school for teenagers, and introduce some of the serious, 'relevant' themes that were becoming so popular on shows like Room 222 and The Mod Squad.
With CBS phasing out their down-home comedies, Andy Griffith needed to make the transition to a younger, hipper audience if he wanted to be a presence on television during the seventies. Griffith's longtime producer Richard Linke stated in 1970, "They signed us for a half-hour weekly series even though we had no script, not even a format in mind. They were willing to take Andy in anything. We could have given them a dirty picture if we wanted to." He did worse. Linke gave CBS a boring picture.
Headmaster debuted in September, 1970, and centered around Concord High School and its dean Andy Thompson (Griffith). Claudette Nevins played his wife Margaret and Jerry Van Dyke (My Mother The Car) was featured as the dorky gym teacher - a role almost identical to the one he would play eighteen years later on 'Coach.'
The stories were generally serious in nature. On the first episode guest-star Butch Patrick (aka 'Eddie Munster') had to choose between taking drugs or facing the big freeze from all the major burnouts in his class. What would Aunt Bee say!?!
The theme song for the series was a folksy tune by Linda Ronstadt, the mood of the show was low key and dull, with just a trace of the folksy 'sheriff Andy Taylor' the public had come to love. In fact, Andy seemed to have been added as an afterthought in many scripts, on hand merely to give his populist sermon on the topic of the week.
The Andy Griffith Show was the most popular show on television when Griffith walked away three years earlier. Its replacement, Mayberry RFD, was still in the top ten in 1970. In spite of that, Headmaster attracted few viewers to its Friday night timeslot, ultimately sinking to number 67 (out of 79 shows) after a strong first week sampling.
CBS and the star quickly realized the 'relevancy' concept was wrong for Andy Griffith - even with weak competition on NBC (the last season of High Chaparral), they were getting creamed by The Partridge Family on ABC.
"The man I was playing was of the academic world." Andy confessed about Headmaster, "That is not my world. I was out of my bag. We offered to come up with a whole new show, and (CBS) told us to go ahead." In November, CBS announced the start of production on the show they probably should have done in the first place - The New Andy Griffith Show.
This time the setting would be a small North Carolina town called Greenwood (Greensboro?), with Griffith portraying Andy Sawyer, a returning hometown boy who becomes the town's new mayor. The show costarred Lee Meriwether (Time Tunnel, Barnaby Jones) as his wife, with Marty McCall and Lori Rutherford as the 2.5 kids, and country comic Glen Ash as councilman Buff McKnight.
It was obvious from the start that this 'new' production was trying hard to be the original Andy Griffith Show (in a slightly larger context), but the scripts were noticeably weak and viewers were not buying this warmed-over premise.
The show came off a little too slick, and had little of the original series' charm. Besides, you don't parade around with two different wives in the same season, at least you didn't back then.
The New Andy Griffith Show even brought in Don Knotts (as an enterprising restaurant owner) together with Mayberry residents George Lindsey as 'Goober' and Paul Hartman as fix-it man 'Emmett Clark' in a memorable (but confusing) first episode that reunited the former co-stars of the original Andy Griffith Show.
"Headmaster was a very bad show." Griffith stated in 1971, "And because of Headmaster, The New Andy Griffith Show simply did not have an audience." There was definite interest in the show, Nielsen ratings for the first episode of The New Andy Griffith Show hit number 12 - then quickly slid back down into the sixties.
Sandwiched between the CBS Friday Night Movie and another flop youthful "relevant" show, The Interns, Andy Griffith didn't stand a chance attracting a audience against ABC's groovy Friday night lineup (Brady Bunch, Nanny and the Professor, Partridge Family, Love American Style and Tom Jones). After a four-month run, CBS dropped The New Andy Griffith Show and finished out the summer with Headmaster reruns. Andy Griffith (and Mayberry RFD) were both gone by fall.
New Andy Griffith Show
The first (and best?) of CBS's hit rural comedies, The Andy Griffith Show epitomized excellence in episodic television. Proof of that can be found in the proliferation of Andy Griffith Show memorabilia and the popularity of the program in the 21st century on the TV Land network.
The loss of Don Knotts as Barney Fife in 1965 took a lot of the life out of the series, but even the loss of the show's namesake (Andy Griffith himself) in 1968 couldn't stall the soaring ratings.
Only when Frances Bavier ('Aunt Bee') left the production in 1970 did the series (then renamed Mayberry RFD) finally slip from the top-ten. Maybe not so ironically, Bavier retired to a reclusive life in a small town in North Carolina.
Here is the theme song from the very first episode of The Andy Griffith Show exactly as broadcast on the CBS network at 9:30, Monday evening, October 3, 1960.
The well-known theme song was only slightly different as broadcast in it's original form. Remember at the end of the theme when Opie throws a rock into the lake? In the original run, you would see the rock splash and the sponsor's logo would then come up.
In this added scene from the first episode, the plotline is weaved into the sponsor's message at the end of the show. You'll also see the end theme as it was originally broadcast that first night.
Every major sitcom of the 50s and 60s had a main sponsor, and the stars of the show were expected to do commercials for their products. Cereal makers were big TV advertisers, and Post also sponsored The Andy Griffith Show.
Here is another spot for Post Cereals.
One of the most entertaining newsletters (and websites) around - devoted to The Andy Griffith Show. Get info at www.tagsrwc.com. Tell 'em TVparty sent y'all!
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