COMMENTARY ... Andy Griffith's legacy more than just a TV series

John Dupont

America mourns the death today of Andy Griffith. Obituaries will describe him as a TV icon, but his legacy extends far beyond that mundane description.

I grew up in the small town of Plaquemine, La. I can relate to the kind of life portrayed in the fictitious town of Mayberry, which formed the setting for "The Andy Griffith Show".

The show proved both warm and kind, but not in a gushy or sappy way. His character, Sheriff Andy Taylor, took a firm stand both as a parent and as sheriff, but he usually made his decisions through a deep sense of love and understanding.

Most people may notice the writer's credits at the end of each episode don't mention Griffith's name. However, he had a hand in the creative input in that series.

It was through that input that Griffith added his personal touch.

"The stories in that show were about love," Griffith said in an interview with Larry King several years ago.

Not every solution was perfect, nor was every character squeaky clean -- they were just human.

Few CBS executives gave "The Andy Griffith Show" much chance of survival when it debuted in 1960 as a spinoff of "The Danny Thomas Show".

What followed rocked the industry. Amid doubts that nobody would tune into a rural sitcom, "The Andy Griffith Show" became a juggernaut in the Nielsen ratings.

The Season 4 opener "Opie the Birdman" (original airdate Sept. 30, 1963) represents what many consider the apex in the series. In that episode,  Opie accidentally killed a mother bird and a sling shot. To teach him the importance of parenthood, Andy makes Opie care for the baby birds.

"TV Guide" lists it No. 24 among the Top 100 sitcom episodes in TV history. It's a deep, poignant and embodies all the qualities that made "The Andy Griffith Show" a timeless classic.

Even after Don Knotts left the show in 1965, the series remained popular. In fact, it's one of only three shows -- "I Love Lucy" and "Cheers" the other two -- that ceased production while still atop the Nielsen ratings.

The format changed a bit with the loss of Knotts, but the messages stayed the same. The warm, homespun approach remained the show's foundation.

Even 44 years after the final first-run episode aired, "The Andy Griffith Show" remains a TV staple in syndicated reruns.  The name "Mayberry" has become a descriptive term for quiet, simple towns.

Yes, we'll hear much about his contribution to movies and TV. But Griffith also exemplified how some of life's most beautiful attributes in life come from simplicity.

It's that approach that may go down as his greatest legacy.