"The Andy Griffith Show" premiered 50 years ago on Oct. 3, 1960. It was a week late, having been pre-empted the week before by the first Kennedy-Nixon debate.
We watch and rewatch "The Andy Griffith Show" because 30 minutes in Mayberry reminds us what it means to be human, Parnell observes.
When it finally aired, the first episode was about how Aunt Bee comes to join the Taylor household of Andy and son Opie.
In the first season, Griffith was not the Andy many of us remember; he was more of a bumpkin. In an interview given to The Virginian-Pilot in 2008, Andy Griffith said:
"I thought we'd be canceled and might not even make it through that first year. I look at that first year today, and I was so bad. I was so country, trying to be funny. It was pretty cornball. If it hadn't been for Don Knotts ..."
After that first season, Griffith changed from funny man to straight man. He realized Don Knotts was funnier, and the decision gave the show a new dynamic. Andy became its moral center, helping make the show a classic. But why does it endure?
Many would say it endures because of the episodes themselves. True – the writing and the acting were beyond compare, but was there something else?
Show writer Bill Idelson, on BarneyFife.com, gives this assessment:
"You know what the secret of the show is? You know why everybody loves it? It's about man's humanity to man rather than man's inhumanity to man. He's a sheriff, the police – the symbol of oppression, brutality and ignorance throughout the world – and here's a guy who treats his neighbors and the people on the street as if they were human beings. I think people hunger for that so much that it transcends all of culture."
Where does this kind of humanity come from? What is it in Andy Taylor and the doings in a small hamlet called Mayberry that make us want to watch and rewatch?
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I think some of the humanity comes from the decision, be it conscious or unconscious, to attempt to make real, in TV form, the ideal of Micah 6:8:
"He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?"
Even in season one, you could see this. In episode 11, titled "The Christmas Story," Andy and company embody this ideal of doing justice … in loving kindness.
In the episode, Ben Weaver has Andy throw Sam Muggins, a local moonshiner, in jail. Weaver sells taxed alcohol and Muggins is the competition. Andy winds up throwing the whole Muggins family in jail, telling Ben that the family knew about the illegal operation and was therefore just as guilty. Andy doesn't really believe the mother and children helped in the moonshine production, but he doesn't want the family separated during the holiday.
Andy and company put together a Christmas celebration in the jail for the Muggins family. Weaver, meanwhile, is spying through the window and gets struck by the Christmas spirit. He comes later to the jail bearing gifts and is made part of the celebration.
We see how loving kindness moves beyond ulterior motives, beyond accuser and accused, and envelopes community. The celebration of God come to earth to reconcile humanity becomes indeed a day of reconciliation for Weaver and Muggins. This is the humanity of which Idelson speaks.
We watch and rewatch the show because 30 minutes in Mayberry reminds us what it means to be human. An ideal is presented, and it's not unlike what Jesus did with his parables.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.