For Andy Griffith, the writing on his hit television comedy had to be spot-on, or it just wasn’t good enough. That’s according to Ken Berry, who joined the show’s cast late in the series’ run.
The actor, who would eventually replace Griffith as the show’s lead, particularly once it morphed into Mayberry, R.F.D. said the star “would spend a long time at that table.”
Show creator Sheldon Leonard ‘secured some of the best writers in the business’
The Andy Griffith Show book author Richard Kelly quoted the hit comedy’s creator as he revealed his strategy for gathering the crew of writers that would lead the show to its success.
“An essential part of the Griffith team was the writer,” Kelly wrote. “[Sheldon] Leonard explains how he secured some of the best writers in the business: ‘You acquired writers then the same way you acquire writers for any show today, and the way you’ll do it far into the distant future.
“‘You secure your writers by giving test assignments to writers you believe have an aptitude for the show. Sometimes you’re right; sometimes you’re wrong. When you’re right, you give them further assignments, and you gradually build up a pool of writers upon whom you draw for the kind of material you need. Keeping one’s eyes and ears open to available talent is a necessity for a producer.'”
Andy Griffith spent ‘a long time’ on scripts
Actor Ken Berry joined The Andy Griffith Show in its eighth and final season, and this was intentional, Berry told the Television Academy Foundation (TAF). Griffith, he recalled, wanted viewers to get used to his character, Sam Jones, as he would be replacing Griffith as show lead in the spinoff series Mayberry, R.F.D.
The former F Troop star, who died in 2018, confessed that Griffith’s method of reviewing scripts each week was not something he was accustomed to.
“Andy liked to spend a lot of time on the script,” Berry said. “And so we’d go to the read-through that would normally only last an hour for a half-hour show, and then you’d get up, and then you’d start blocking. But with Andy, he’d sit at that table for a long time. He’d be sure everything was right and everything was on the page. I wasn’t used to working that way.
“I thought, ‘If I want to change a word or a phrase here and there, I can do it on the set.’ Sometimes I would do it when the cameras were rolling. Because I knew I wouldn’t get away with it if I asked him if I could change something. That’s another thing about working in those days. In my experience, you had to be word for word. And the minute that they said, ‘Cut,’ the director would check to see that you said all the words right and they checked with the continuity person and if it was OK, then they’d print it.”
The only script that Griffith got into an argument about
In his own chat with TAF, Griffith kind of proved Berry’s point that the show star was a stickler for details.
The Andy Taylor actor opened up about the one instance when he quarreled with Sheldon Leonard over a script.
“The only fight Sheldon and I ever had in my whole acquaintanceship with him was over a story idea,” Griffith said. “He wanted to introduce a character that I knew wasn’t going to work. And it didn’t.
“They wanted me to have a boss figure,” he added. “That’s a good idea for the lead to have a boss figure. Like Lucy’s boss figure was her husband. They wanted to introduce a mayor as the boss figure. I told them before we started, ‘That can’t work because the mayor cannot be the boss to the sheriff. A sheriff is a county official. A mayor is just a little local town official. So, it didn’t work.”
And so, while Mayberry had two mayors, played first by actor Dick Elliott and then Parley Baer, by the show’s fourth season, the town was mayor-less and would remain that way for the duration of the series.