Given the amount it’s aired in syndication over the decades, Mayberry may feel immortal. But “The Andy Griffith Show” does have an end. The popular sitcom came to a close in 1968. But Mayberry would live on for another three years.
The reasons for the show’s cancellation boiled down less to ratings. (The show was still incredibly popular at the time. It’s final season was the No. 1 ranked show on TV). But Andy Griffith had grown tired of putting on the sheriff’s badge. He was ready to leave Mayberry for the next stage in his career.
One of those reasons was because his screen partner Don Knotts left. For many fans, the show was never the same after Knotts’ departure, even if he did occasionally return to steal a scene or two. Knotts left after five seasons because he assumed the show would be ending after Season Five. Griffith had long touted the sitcom as a five-season experiment.
“Barney Fife was gone, and the show had gone into color from black and white,” Griffith told Archive of American Television in 1998. “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.”
It’s easy to imagine a bizarro world where Mayberry stayed black and white, Barney Fife never left, and the show pulled a “Gun Smoke” and stretched for 20 seasons. But the show last eight seasons, three of which were in color, and went out on a soft note (a backdoor pilot for a spin-off) instead.
Griffith may have wanted out. But his castmates weren’t ready to leave Mayberry. So, “The Andy Griffith Show” spun-off into “Mayberry R.F.D,” which focused on the town’s citizens after their sheriff moved away. Sheriff Andy Taylor may have left for greener pastures after getting married. But Mayberry appeared there to say.
It may be easy to assume that the spinoff was a failed experiment that didn’t hit with viewers. But it was actually in the top-10 ratings-wise for all of its three seasons. What ultimately killed the show was the great network “rural purge” of the 1970s. The network didn’t want to focus on rural and small-town life anymore, believing such shows to be low brow. The network wanted to attract “educated” viewers by focusing on urban shows.
Many popular sitcoms were canceled during this time including “The Beverly Hill Billies” who didn’t make it out in Hollywood after-all.