There’s a true and telling story told about the making of the pilot of the “Andy Griffith Show,” the 1960s era television sitcom created by Sheldon Leonard that remains a beloved classic even today.
First aired on October 3, 1960, the program was in some ways a spinoff of the “Danny Thomas Show,” another popular program featuring Thomas as a nightclub singer trying to navigate all the foibles and funnies of family life. Devout fans of the Griffith show will remember the pilot featured Danny Thomas getting stuck in Mayberry, detained by Sherriff Taylor (Andy Griffith) for speeding.
At the time of his show’s debut, Andy Griffith had been in a few movies and made something of a name for himself as a comedic monologist. He was best known for a record called, “What is Was, Was Football,” where he played a hayseed preacher trying to understand the game.
But after the filming of the first episode of his new television show, Griffith told Leonard that he was out – that television wasn’t for him. “Why?” asked the perplexed writer, who thought they had a hit on their hands. “Because everybody is always yelling,” Griffith lamented.
“Andy,” Sheldon Leonard told him. “That’s because Danny Thomas likes to yell. But this is your show. If you don’t want any yelling, there won’t be any yelling.”
And there wasn’t. In fact, if you were to have stumbled upon the sets at Desilu Studios or Forty Acres in Culver City, Calif., where the show was made between 1960 and 1968, you would have found a calm, serene, congenial and convivial atmosphere. In fact, during delays, with Andy Griffith at the guitar, Don Knotts and some of the other actors were known to sing hymns together.
Similarly, the parents in a home set its tone. Whether calm or chaotic, it’s usually going to be up to the expectations established by mom or dad at the beginning that everything flows from. The same is true for an office or even presidential administration. Of course there are challenges and spikes due to all kinds of issues and people with troubles that can threaten to derail the desired mood. But when you set goals and “inspect what you expect,” better outcomes usually follow.
In an interview long after the program was over, Andy Griffith was asked about the show’s reputation for being a clean, wholesome and heartwarming series.
“I wanted to keep the characters clean,” he said. “If a joke would make a lie out of the character, we’d throw the joke out. It became a basic rule.” He then added something very profound. “Morality just came right along with it. All those sweet shows just came with the territory.”
Listening to Griffith’s reflections, I was reminded of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Matthew.
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit,” said Jesus. “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:33-35).
The words out of our mouths reveal what’s inside our hearts. Everything affects everything else. It all flows together.
Some wonder why culture has collapsed so quickly and so tragically. While it has been tragic, it hasn’t been quick. Ever since man’s fall in the Garden, human beings have been battling with the insidious nature of sin. But culture’s accelerated recent decline can easily be traced back to when God was sidelined in the public square, the biblical sexual ethic was brazenly ignored, and the nuclear family mocked as some outdated vestige of another era.
Andy Griffith was no theologian, and he battled his own personal struggles, but he was right when he observed morality flows from strong and well-established foundations.