‘The Andy Griffith Show’: How the Theme Song Became a Legal Issue 50 Years After the Show Ended

(L to R): Andy Griffith and Ron Howard in a scene from 'The Andy Griffith Show'
Andy Griffith as Andy Taylor and Ron Howard as Opie Taylor|CBS via Getty Images

Every episode of The Andy Griffith Show opened with its infectious theme song, “The Fishin’ Hole.” Its simple melody, topped by music composer Earle Hagen’s whistle, made it one of the most popular TV show themes of all time. 

But in recent years, the song has become the subject of a significant lawsuit. Here’s how The Andy Griffith Show theme ended up in the middle of a legal battle. 

‘The Andy Griffith Show’ premiered in 1960

The Andy Griffith Show aired for eight seasons on CBS, from 1960 to 1968. It starred Andy Griffith as Andy Taylor, Mayberry’s widowed sheriff. Don Knotts played Barnie Fife, Andy’s blundering deputy sheriff and cousin. And a young Ron Howard took on the role of Andy’s son, Opie. 

The Andy Griffith Show won six Emmys over its eight-season run. Knotts alone earned five Emmys for Best Supporting Actor. 

RELATED: ‘Happy Days’: A Monkee Would Have Taken Henry Winkler’s Role If He Wasn’t So Tall

Earle Hagen composed ‘The Fishin Hole’

Music producers Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer were hired to write the music and theme song for The Andy Griffith Show. The duo split before anything was produced. But when Hagen composed “The Fishin’ Hole,” Spencer also earned a credit on the song. 

When talking to the Television Academy Foundation, Hagen described how quickly he came up with the theme song, whistling it himself. “One morning, I got up, after beating our brains out for a couple of months, and I thought, that thing ought to be simple enough to whistle,” Hagen revealed. “And it took me about 10 minutes to write it.” 


RELATED: Why Henry Winkler Threw a ‘Horrid’ ‘Happy Days’ Script Against a Wall

“The Fishin’ Hole” appears at the beginning of every episode, as Andy and Opie walk back from a fishing trip. “It’s become one of those identification pieces of material,” Hagen added. “If you’re in your living room, and somebody is in the other room, and they hear of the Griffith theme, come on they say, ‘Hey Griffith’s coming on let’s go watch it.’”

Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer’s heirs sued CBS over the theme song

Hagen composed the music for 249 out of 268 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. He died at age 88 in 2008. And Spencer, who was credited for “The Fishin’ Hole” based on his partnership with Hagen, died in 1992. 

RELATED: ‘The Andy Griffith Show’: Why Andy Griffith Almost Didn’t Do the Show

Nearly 50 years after the show ended, CBS was sued by Hagen and Spencer’s heirs for using the theme song on DVD’s. According to The Hollywood Reporter, in a 2019 lawsuit, the Hagen Family Trust and The Diana R. Spencer Trust claimed that the network exploited the theme without a license to sell it on DVDs. They argued that CBS is relying on a “1978 agreement between Viacom and Mayberry Enterprises concerning rights to the series and that the agreement doesn’t include home video or other modern media.”

As of now, it doesn’t look like the two parties have come to an agreement, as there have been no reports of the lawsuit being settled.