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Never count out 'The Andy Griffith Show'

VINCE STATEN • Jun 27, 2013 at 8:39 PM

It’s a story straight out of Mayberry. A smooth-talking stranger comes to town, woos the locals with his story, then absconds with their money.

It is out of Mayberry. Or at least the real life inspiration for Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, his hometown of Mount Airy, N.C.

It seems that last month a fellow claiming to be from a nearby winery set up shop in Mayberry’s, er, Mount Airy’s downtown, selling raffle tickets. It was one of those limited ticket raffles, with high-priced tickets ($100 each) and a high-priced prize, in this case, a new Fiat.

Except that the winery didn’t exist. And the stranger left town without ever awarding a prize. At least that’s the way the New York Times tells it in a story published earlier this week about Mount Airy.

Can’t you just picture Gomer and Barney and Floyd sitting around the barber shop, talking about the con man?

“Oh, he seemed like such a nice young man,” Floyd would coo.

“I fixed his car for free,” Gomer would add.

“There was always something fishy about him,” Barney would insist.

I’m sure a conversation much like that went on in Central Barber Shop in downtown Mount Airy between semi-retired barber Russell Hiatt and his customers, most of whom these days are tourists.

Russell tells reporters he was an inspiration for “The Andy Griffith Show’s” Floyd the barber, although he admits he was only a partial inspiration. Push him a little and he’ll tell you Floyd was probably a composite of all six barbers who worked the shop in the ’40s when Andy patronized the place.

Mount Airy is featured in the Sunday New York Times’ Travel section.

The premise of the story is that they’re worried over in Mount Airy. They’re afraid this Mayberry thing has about run its course.

From the Times story: “In 2010, the 50th anniversary of the show drew 50,000 people to the annual Mayberry Days festival, held each September. But hard times seem just around the corner for the Mayberry strategy. This year, organizers hope the festival will at least reach the 30,000 it has in other years. But that might be optimistic. Shopkeepers report that the number of visitors who wander the streets whistling the show’s theme song, which is piped out from speakers, are definitely thinning.”

Note the cagey language: “hard times seem just around the corner.”

That means that hard times are not here.

The 50th anniversary was a one-time event. Mayberry, er, Mount Airy will probably never draw that many folks again for the festival.

And as for basing a premise on the number of people whistling “The Andy Griffith Show” theme … not a very strong argument.

Here is the cold, hard fact: Folks have been underestimating “The Andy Griffith Show’s” enduring appeal for years.

Another fact: “The Andy Griffith Show” was a hit in reruns while it was still running on the network. The show debuted in the fall of 1960; four years later, on Oct. 19, 1964, to be exact, CBS began airing reruns of the show weekday mornings at 11 a.m. “The Andy Griffith Show” has been airing in reruns continuously ever since.

The show’s fan club lists 35 TV stations that still show reruns, including cable stations WGN and TBS plus TV Land, which shows three episodes a day. And it isn’t just Southern stations showing Andy: KTTV in Los Angeles, KWGN in Denver and WBNX in Cleveland air reruns.

When the home video revolution arrived in the ’80s, none of the big video companies thought it was worth converting old episodes to video. A friend of mine in Charlotte, Jim Pettus of Premier Promotions, did. He made a mint selling tape compilations. CBS finally woke up and you can now buy all eight seasons on DVD.

The Times writer is right. This Mayberry thing won’t last forever. But it’s lasted 53 years. I don’t see any end in my lifetime.

We may be writing an obituary for the New York Times before we write an obituary for “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Contact Vince Staten at vincestaten@timesnews.net. Voicemail may be left at 723-1483. His blog can be found at vincestaten.blogspot.com.

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