When The Andy Griffith Show premiered in 1960 on CBS, it was an immediate hit with viewers. The sweet comedy about the small-town sheriff raising his little boy with the help of his kindly aunt went on for eight years with unflaggingly good ratings.
Griffith, for his part, was proud of the show bearing his name. He wouldn’t, “couldn’t,” some would say, watch the first season’s episodes. And here’s why.
Griffith exaggerated a Southern accent initially on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’
As Richard Kelly noted in his 1981 book, The Andy Griffith Show, many of the characters, namely Griffith, played up a heavy Southern accent.
“In a few of the early shows, Knotts attempted to give his speech a Southern flavor by occasionally saying ‘right cheer’ for ‘right here,’ but he soon dropped that because it sounded fake. Andy, too, abandoned his exaggerated Southern accent for his natural speech by the end of the second year of the series.”
Knotts said Griffith’s accent on the show at first was overdone
The Barney Fife actor in an interview with the Television Academy Foundation explained that both he and Griffith were Southern-born men and made no attempts to hide their accents.
“I’m from West Virginia, so I had a little bit of a hillbilly accent,” Knotts said. “But we didn’t lean on that.”
He went on to note how Griffith may have gone a bit overboard with his down-South accent.
“Andy, in the beginning, I think laid on his Southern dialect more than he really had,” he recalled. “But he pulled that way back as he went on. Originally, I think he was doing the character he did in No Time for Sergeants. So I think he was being the funny guy, and as he said later, ‘It turned out, I wasn’t the funny guy; Barney was the funny guy.’ So he said, ‘My job was to play straight.’
“So that’s what he did; he pulled the character way down,” Knotts said. “And just played it as a normal guy. He has a natural Southern accent, anyway. He didn’t have to any more on.”
Griffith couldn’t watch the show’s 1st season
Knotts may have been trying his best to be diplomatic in his assessment of Griffith’s focus on sounding very Southern, judging by Richard Kelly’s brutally honest take on the star’s accent.
“There was a period during the early years of the show when Griffith was still performing in the style of his recorded monologues, such as ‘What It Was Was Football,’” Kelly said. “He spoke in a frantic, sometimes halting manner, grinned every few minutes, and in general, played a heavy-handed rural clown.”
The star eventually toned down the accent and let his natural, subtle Southern accent remain. Griffith later told the show’s producer Aaron Ruben that he couldn’t watch himself in the first year’s episodes, so forced were some of his performances.