Can you imagine a world where The Andy Griffith Show doesn’t start with Aunt Bee arriving in Mayberry?
In the iconic opening scene of this beloved classic series, young Opie speaks now instead of forever holding his peace, objecting to the marriage of his former housekeeper to her new beau. Andy, acting as wedding officiant, tries to silence his young boy, but Opie gets obstinate.
It’s our first glimpse inside this special father-son dynamic that the show famously centers on: How does a widowed father raise a young boy right?
It may surprise you to know then that the show’s star Andy Griffith actually had a different episode in mind for the series premiere. He wanted to kick off the series with the episode that aired second in the first season, “The Manhunt.”
In “The Manhunt,” Andy and Barney must defend Mayberry against an escaped convict after the state police come to town and refuse to cooperate with the Mayberry lawmen. The episode sees Andy and Barney solving the crime before the state police and establishes Andy as a laid-back but highly competent lawman.
Sheriff Andy proves he knows his town better than any TV Western sheriff, and he’s got a hilarious sidekick — what viewer wouldn’t come back for more? “The Manhunt” could’ve been a great premiere, but with a somewhat different tone.
In the book Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and Classic American TV Show, author Daniel de Visé writes that Andy (and much of the creative team) argued that it would be better to start off the series with “The Manhunt” because Barney Fife is a stronger comedic character in that episode. They knew Don Knotts had the star power to pull in viewers.
In “The New Housekeeper,” we meet Barney when he goes to see Andy on his first day on the job, reporting to his superior officer as if he is in the military. Andy tells Barney he doesn’t have to be so uptight, and this is how the character is introduced: wanting to be taken seriously, but not as electrified as Barney Fife usually is.
If instead “The Manhunt” had come first, we would’ve met Barney in an entirely different way.
Our first glimpse of Fife would have been seeing him park his squad car with haste. He leaves the door open and runs up to Andy, who’s just brought his boat to shore after fishing in the lake. Knott’s eyes bulging, he shouts with high-strung urgency that something “big” was happening.
“Biggest thing that ever happened in Mayberry!” Barney insists, “Real big! Big! Big big!” This is the Barney that cracks everybody up.
“The New Housekeeper” isn’t designed to be a vehicle for Barney Fife. It centers on Aunt Bee, who is also a critical figure in the series, as Opie’s primary caretaker. This episode introduces Opie in an incredibly sentimental way that you might argue suits the nature of his character better than the introduction to Opie we would’ve gotten if “The Manhunt” aired first. The series continued to open each of its eight seasons with an episode about Opie coming of age.
Had the series started with “The Manhunt,” our introduction to Opie would’ve been seeing him sitting across from his paw in their little boat on the lake.
“Paw, what kind of bait are you puttin’ on my line?” Opie asks.
“Why, that’s fish-catchin’ bait,” Andy says. “That’s the idea, you know, to catch fish.”
Opie observes that the bait looks a lot like the ham from his lunch, and Andy answers that’s because it is the ham from his lunch.
“Paw, you’re supposed to use fish bait,” Opie says. Andy argues that fish see fish all day long and that their curiosity might be piqued seeing a piece of meat. Opie’s not convinced until his fishing line tugs.
“Paw, I got one!” he screeches in delight.
Andy helps Opie reel in the fish saying, “Atta boy.” Opie is now a true believer that ham catches fish better than any other bait and he swells with pride in his paw. “You know everything!” the young boy declares.
This scene sets up Opie’s admiration for his father, showing how high his regard is for Andy, especially when he ultimately decides that Andy must be the most important man in the world. It’s very, very different from the obstinate Opie we meet talking back to Andy in the opening scene of “The New Housekeeper.”
So what do you think? Did The Andy Griffith Show producers make the right choice pushing for Aunt Bee’s introduction in “The New Housekeeper” as the show’s opening note? Or should they have listened to Sheriff Andy and led with “The Manhunt”?