On April Fool’s Day in 1968, “Mayberry R.F.D.,” the final episode of “The Andy Griffith Show,” aired. Fans must have hoped it was just a cruel joke, but it really was the end. Still, while one show was ending, this final episode was a springboard to a spinoff series with the same title.
Many fans could not understand why the show was ending after eight seasons. It had always been in the top 10 in the Nielsen ratings and closed out its last season in the number one spot. Only two other shows have done the same in their final seasons: “I Love Lucy and Seinfeld.”
By 1968, however, Griffith was ready to move on from “The Andy Griffith Show.” He told the Archive of American Television in 1998: “[Barney Fife actor Don Knotts] was gone, and the show had gone into color from black and white. And it was getting like a regular situation comedy. And I was afraid I wasn’t holding up my end of it any longer. Also, I wanted to try my wings outside.”
Griffith later returned to television with the popular “Matlock” series about a kindly country lawyer in the big city. Before that, though, he got the chance to play against type. These roles included cruel and manipulative characters in movies such as “Pray for the Wildcats” and “Savages.”
‘Mayberry R.F.D’ Comes After ‘The Andy Griffith Show’
Viewers who loved the simple town of Mayberry were not left in the lurch when “The Andy Griffith Show” ended. The final episode set up the follow-up series “Mayberry R.F.D.” Even better, most of the series regulars stayed on for the new show.
“Mayberry R.F.D.” told the story of widowed farmer Sam Jones (Ken Berry) and his young son Mike (Buddy Foster), who were introduced in the last season of “The Andy Griffith Show.” Like its predecessor, “Mayberry R.F.D.” was a top 10 Nielsen ratings hit in its first two years. Its ratings dropped in the third season, and CBS canceled it. This was part of a purge that included “Green Acres,” “Hee Haw” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
Despite the abrupt demise of both shows, they live on today in syndication. No new stories of Mayberry are left to tell, but fans can still visit the town thanks to the hundreds of existing episodes set there.