Thursday, March 2, 2006

Fielder’s Choice
By Barry Burleson

Loss of legends

Two weeks ago when Andy and I were in Jackson for a basketball tournament, we stopped by the mall.

We came across a store that was having a going out of business sale - everything 50 percent off or more.

The first thing I noticed was 16 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show on CD. It caught my eye because there was Barney Fife (Don Knotts), along with Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) and his son Opie (Ron Howard), on the cover - Barney with his gun, Opie with his sling shot and Andy looking on from behind.

It’s the only thing I bought for myself on the trip.

My son Andy liked the purchase, too. I’ve even gotten him a bit addicted to The Andy Griffith Show reruns. And I’m glad. They’re not only loads of fun but educational.

Then last weekend, one week after the purchase, Pam called me while I was working to tell me the sad news. Knotts had died at age 81.

I grew up watching Barney’s blunders, and The Andy Griffith Show is still one of my favorites.

I don’t watch much TV, except for sports. I don’t like the shows today - too much violence, too much bad language, and more and more stuff not fit for family.

The oldies are still the best, in my mind, and The Andy Griffith Show is the best of the best.

The show ran from 1960 to 1968 and was in the top 10 of the Nielsen ratings each season, including a No. 1 ranking its final year. It is only one of three series in TV history to bow out at the top. The others are “I Love Lucy” and “Sienfeld.” The Andy Griffith Show reruns are still popular and have created a large, active network of fan clubs.

My favorite episode has to be “Barney’s First Car,” which is included on the CD. Others are “The Loaded Goat,” “Opie and the Spoiled Kid,” “Barney and the Choir” and “The Great Filling Station Robbery.”

Many of the shows teach important lessons, like the one when Opie accidentally shot a chirping bird with his sling shot or the one where Opie intentionally lets another boy “win” the job at the grocery store because the boy’s family is facing financial hardships.

And most are hilarious - featuring the lovable Barney with his one bullet in his shirt pocket, Otis Campbell (the town drunk) checking himself into the jail and other wonderful characters like Gomer Pyle, Aunt Bee Taylor and Floyd “The Barber” Lawson.

There were 249 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. I think I’ve seen them all.

And I will likely watch them time and time again, starting with some of the 16 on the latest CD.

Perhaps the wording on the back of the CD box says it best - “Most of the story centers on the interactions of the characters, as there is little crime in Mayberry. Subtle philosophical moral tales lead to the success of this wonderfully classic show, making it a truly timeless piece of television history.”

Don Knotts died Friday night of pulmonary and respiratory complications at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center, but Barney will be around for years and years to come thanks to those grand Andy Griffith Show reruns.

And then there was another loss of a TV legend Friday. Dennis Weaver, too, died at age 81 of cancer at his home in Ridgway, Colo.

Another of my favorites, and a choice of our entire family, growing up was Gunsmoke.

Weaver joined the cast of the classic TV Western in 1955, staying nine seasons as deputy Chester Goode. He won an Emmy in the process.

Later Weaver was the star of another popular and successful show, McCloud. He won two more Emmy honors for that role.

Barney and Chester – two American legends I grew up with.

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