Do you remember 'The New Andy Griffith Show'?
Hey, that's not Opie!
Image: The Everett Collection
Despite crafting one of the most beloved characters in the history of television, Andy Griffith struggled to find his feet after taking off his Mayberry sheriff's uniform. After The Andy Griffith Show ended in 1968, Griffith set up his own production company, Andy Griffith Enterprises. He was in his early 40s — about the same age Lucille Ball had been when she came to fame on I Love Lucy. He had plenty of career left in him.
Griffith's first television comeback arrived in 1970 with Headmaster. The show had a lot going for it, beyond the superstar, like a Linda Ronstadt–sung theme song and Hogan's Heroes' recently vacated time slot. Despite its assets, Headmaster flopped, drubbed in the ratings by The Partridge Family. Times were changing with the "Rural Purge." That being said, perhaps the biggest flaw of Headmaster was that Griffith strayed too far from Mayberry, as the dramedy cast him as the head of an elite California private school.
After a mere 14 episodes, the show was axed. Griffith scrambled to get his mojo back. Just one week later, in the same time slot, he returned to the airwaves with The New Andy Griffith Show.
This second comeback sent Griffith back to North Carolina, a town called Greenwood. He played the mayor, Andy Sawyer. That was awful close to Andy Taylor, but not quite. This Andy was married to the beautiful Lee Meriwether, a former Catwoman. Opie was nowhere to be found, replaced by two kids named T.J. and Lori.
Yet, The New Andy Griffith Show confusingly attempted to tie into the old Andy Griffith Show. Characters from Mayberry popped up in Greenwood, including Don Knott's Barney Fife. Goober and Emmett made cameos, too. They all recognized this Andy Sawyer. Were we to believe Andy Taylor was living in a rather poor witness protection program?
This odd is-he-or-isn't-he-Sheriff-Andy perhaps led to The New Andy Griffith Show's sad fate. It lasted only 10 episodes, becoming a strange footnote to the legendary Andy Griffith Show. Even Mayberry R.F.D. managed three seasons.
Griffith continued to seek new roles throughout the '70s, playing killers in TV movies and going into outer space to haul scrap in Salvage 1. Of course, he eventually found his footing again in Dixie with Matlock. Perhaps audiences just needed some time before realizing how much they missed his Southern charm.