Andy Griffith was famous for playing characters whose hayseed demeanor belied their savvy.
Off camera, though, there was little doubt about who was in charge.
"He had a strong control over his shows and his persona," said television historian Tim Brooks, who added that Griffith was not the type to get "turned off track by an executive or producer."
Already a success on record, stage and the big screen, Griffith was able to negotiate a large stake in "The Andy Griffith Show" before its 1960 debut. A star having such control of his own show was rare then and would be unheard of today.
The ownership gave Griffith a lot of say in how "The Andy Griffith Show" looked and made him much more than just a hired hand reading lines. His piece of the show was eventually sold back and the show is now 100% owned by CBS.
From its debut on CBS in October 1960 to its final episode in 1968, "The Andy Griffith Show" was a top 10 show and in its last season it was ranked No. 1.
"He didn’t run it into the ground the way some shows stay past their prime," said Brooks.
Since then, "Seinfeld" is the only show that has managed to go out on top of the ratings.
Griffith was not only instrumental in keeping CBS in the ratings lead through much of the 1960s. Reruns of his show also helped build the local television station business and cable industry.
In the 1970s, new so-called independent television stations, not affiliated with broadcast networks ABC, CBS and NBC, started popping up across the landscape and were in need of content. Reruns of "The Andy Griffith Show" became very popular on local stations that gobbled up episodes to fill their airwaves. It was not uncommon for several episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show" to appear daily on local TV stations.
"The Andy Griffith Show" also helped build Ted Turner's cable empire. TBS bought the rights to the show and used it as the backbone of the network for several years.
"It was able to establish that particular network as a place for families to watch television," said Bill Carroll, a vice president at industry consulting firm Katz Television Group. Indeed, TBS used to schedule the show at five minutes past the hour so it would get its own stand-alone listing in TV Guide and in the television listings in newspapers.
It would be "impossible," Carroll said, to put an exact figure on the hundreds of millions of dollars that "Andy Griffith" has generated over the decades. Reruns still air on the cable channel TV Land as well as on local TV stations.
The show also had a hand in the creation of the media giant Viacom Inc.
Although CBS made "The Andy Griffith Show," federal regulations introduced in 1970 prohibited the network from being in the rerun business. "The Andy Griffith Show" as well as other shows from the CBS library, were spun-off into a company called Viacom. Through the popularity of the CBS shows, including "The Andy Griffith Show," Viacom grew into a global media giant whose holdings now include Paramount Pictures and the cable channel MTV.
Viacom later acquired CBS. Now "The Andy Griffith Show" is back with its original owner.
"The Andy Griffith Show" was also a spinoff pioneer. It was born out of an episode of "The Danny Thomas Show," and was the father of both "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." and "Mayberry RFD," both of which became successes in their own right.
Griffith managed to capture lightning in a bottle again with "Matlock," an hour-long legal drama that ran for nine seasons on NBC and ABC and was very popular with viewers over the age of 50.
Reruns of "Matlock" also continue to run and are currently on both the Hallmark Channel and WGN America.
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