For a generation who grew up in the ’60s or saw nostalgic reruns more recently, The Andy Griffith Show is an essential moment in TV history. Taking the sitcom formula that grew popular with shows like I Love Lucy and bringing grounded humanity into the mix, the show set a template still used today. Director Ron Howard got his start on the show, but his real-life father helped shape the father-son dynamic still praised to this day.
What was The Andy Griffith Show?
Before Andy Griffith, television comedy was often more akin to the Three Stooges than it was to real life. Even past shows like I Love Lucy or Leave it to Beaver, while somewhat grounded, were still idealized. While Griffith had some of this, it came with a sense of real-life charm that television mostly lacked.
The Andy Griffith Show was, at its core, about the titular actor’s Sheriff Andy Taylor, son Opie, and his housekeeper, Aunt Bee. However, it was also about the people of Mayberry, the small town where everyone got along, and nothing too wrong ever happened. While drenched in Americana, Mayberry consisted of goofy, albeit believable characters like Barney Fife, Floyd the Barber, and Gomer Pyle.
The legacy speaks for itself. It’s still lauded as one of the most important series in its grounded portrayal of rural America. And it also made stars out of Griffith, Don Knotts, and a young Ron Howard. To this day, its impact can be felt through Howard’s work behind the scenes in film and television.
However, one of the show’s greatest appeals can be traced back to Howard’s real-life father.
Andy Taylor was a different type of television father. Most sit-coms of the day focused on the nuclear family with a husband, wife, and in many cases, children. The Taylor family was different. Taylor’s wife died before the first episode, and while the series never dwelled on this, it was one of the first portrayals of a single-parent household in history.
While many of the characters did reach far-out personas, the relationship between Andy and Opie always brought it back to reality and let people see a father who was willing to do what needed to be done to keep his son safe and happy. A lot of this can be credited to Griffith’s work both in front of the camera and behind the scenes and he and Howard’s talent as they delivered all the line. However, most credit goes to Howard’s father, Rance.
Rance Howard saves the show
Griffith was a hit right away. However, in the early episodes of the series, Opie played into a sitcom son’s typical role. At the end of the first season, Howard’s father spoke with producers about grounding the portrayal as they did with Griffith’s character. He wanted to see a more natural relationship with his father. Howard discussed this with the Archive of American television per MeTV.com.
“My dad was around the set quite a bit, and somehow my dad said, ‘What would happen if Opie knew that Andy was smarter than him? How about if Opie actually respected his dad? I just thought it might be different.’”
Although Rance was right, Ron suspected that his dad had other intentions. “I dunno if my dad was really thinking that he, you know, dreaded my getting into a pattern, thinking that those comebacks were the right way to deal with a parent or not. I never asked him, but Andy really took to that, and that’s how they began to write on the show. That relationship, I think it was influenced in some way by my relationship with my dad.”
The audience agreed. The Andy Griffith Show is still lauded as one of the greatest sitcoms in history. Its ability to mix real-life struggles with comedy was an art form unto itself. However, at its core, it was a show about a single father raising his son to be an upstanding citizen. Rance Howard helped secure this with his suggestion.