In 1979, a fraternity in Nashville set out to make The Andy Griffith Show an enduring classic. And it worked.
The frat was Vanderbilt’s Phi Kappa Sigma. And it all began with a Mayberry viewing club that was put together by a North Carolina student named Jim Clark.
“It started out tongue in cheek but it really caught on,” Clark told the Associated Press in 1983. “I was surprised at how many people were fanatics about it like I am.”
Every night that The Andy Griffith Show aired, the guys would gather in front of the television and watch. Clark started the club as an homage to his own childhood tradition where he’d do exactly the same.
“[The episodes] were more than just jokes, one-liners,” he said. “There was almost always a moral.”
When he graduated, the Vanderbilt alum kept the club going—the members would just meet up off campus to watch.
But over the years, the initial popularity began to fade. And it wasn’t as easy to catch episodes on network television. So The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club decided something had to be done.
“When a station takes it off the air, we write them,” Clark explained at the time.
The Mayberry devotees even started publishing a newsletter called The Bullet three times a year to keep people invested in the series. And thanks to the attention the newsletter gathered, the club earned some famous members, including Ted Turner, the Oak Ridge Boys, and three of the show’s stars—Don Knotts, Andy Griffith, and Jack Dodson.
‘The Andy Griffith’ Club Became a Nationwide Phenomenon
By 1983, Jim Clark’s club had 14 other chapters nationwide. And in total, there were 1,000 members.
During an interview with the AP in 1986, the founder of the Longview, Texas, chapter explained why he started his own faction.
“I saw a story about the fan club in The Dallas Morning News,” Mayberry Union High founder Ronnie Morrison said. “We then got a charter.”
When he began, he recorded shows off of TV. And by the time of the interview, Morrison had used his VCR to fill up 25 tapes.
“My family gives me a hard time with where I’m going to store all my Andy Griffith tapes,” Morrison laughed.
Morrison was determined to catch every episode for his club and use them to keep people interested in the show. His club also took the same approach as its founding Nashville fathers did by writing letters to network stations.
His efforts did the trick, too. Because three years later, the total amount of people in The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club reached 12,000. And the show was still going strong in syndication.
Morrison later credited the early work of the Vanderbilt fraternity for building enough momentum to get the Return to Mayberry on air.
“I’m convinced the actions of Jim Clark and this club is what got NBC interested in the reunion show,” Morrison said. “It was the driving force of the movie and its success.”