The Andy Griffith Show was great for several reasons. It was an escape for viewers. When the show started in 1960, things were quickly becoming uncertain in the United States. As the show went on, things kept getting stranger. So, audiences had a strong desire to get away from everything. Mayberry was the perfect destination. The show’s lack of topical or controversial storylines was just what the small town, house call-making doctor ordered. However, it was more than that. Before the show could be an escape for viewers it had to be a well-oiled machine behind the scenes.
Before Andy Griffith died in 2012, he talked at length about his hit shows and time working with some of the best folks on television. In 1996, he appeared on TNN’s Ralph Emery On the Record. During that appearance, he discussed how things worked behind the scenes on The Andy Griffith Show.
Griffith told Emery that they would work five days a week on The Andy Griffith Show. Monday through Wednesday, they shot the series. Thursday and Friday were reserved for script reading and alteration as well as rehearsal. Griffith went on to say that every episode was written and rehearsed, “to a T,” so very little improvisation happened on the show.
The Risks of Overpreparing on The Andy Griffith Show
The cast and crew of The Andy Griffith Show rehearsed every scene. However, they never wanted to rehearse too much. This is because it was possible to be overprepared. At some point, they would lose the comedy and, more importantly, the heart of a scene if they practiced it too much.
Andy told Ralph Emery, “All those things that Don Knotts and I did were fashioned. [They] were made like a diamond ring. Everything was written to a T. We rehearsed it. We knew exactly what we were going to do.” However, they didn’t want to rehearse too much.
About that, Andy Griffith said, “We would rehearse up to a certain point. There’s a certain point where you have to stop rehearsing and you have to shoot it. Otherwise, you’re going to lose it.” Over preparing for a scene would have been a detriment to The Andy Griffith Show as a whole. However, Griffith said that he and Don Knotts knew when the time came to stop practicing and put a scene on film.
They knew this not only because they were veteran actors but also because the Andy Griffith Show stars were close friends. They knew each other well enough to know when the other was ready. Griffith said that he and Knotts were close enough that he could watch Don Knotts slip fully into Barney Fife. When that happened, they knew the time was right. It’s safe to assume that Knotts could also see Griffith become Sheriff Taylor.
In the end, The Andy Griffith Show ran like a well-oiled machine. It was just practiced and polished enough to be perfect.