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Andy Griffith: why we should remember him as more than 'America's Sheriff'

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She and others say "The Andy Griffith Show," which was never out of America’s Top 10 for its eight seasons, was a landmark for transitioning the country from its love of movies to the introduction of TV in the postwar era.

“Mayberry presented an idealized portrait of rural, small town life during the turbulent 1960s,” says Charles Coletta, who teaches the history of popular culture at Bowling Green University in Ohio. “Mayberry was an oasis that was largely unaffected by all the era's social and cultural changes.”

Mr. Coletta says his history classes discuss, for example, why there were no African-Americans on the show.

“Even in the early 1960s, the Mayberry seen each week was a creation of nostalgia," he says. "It was one of the best written, produced, and cast series ever on TV, and Griffith should receive much of the credit for setting the tone."

In a 2004 interview with Matt Lauer of the "Today" show, Griffith said that he loved playing the straight man to all the eccentric crazies on the show. He thinks the show was a major hit because it evoked the innocence of America in the 1930s and '40s, he didn’t carry a gun, and “nobody got killed.”

Matt Whitfield, features editor for’s entertainment sites, says that Griffith was both lucky and talented enough to attract a whole generation of viewers for that show, but then did it again with Matlock, from 1985 to 1995. He says it was due to Griffith’s charm, affability, and signature drawl. “He was America’s Sheriff in the first series and became America’s Lawyer in the second,” says Mr. Whitfield.

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