‘The Andy Griffith Show’ Completely Changed Opie’s Characterization From Season 1

Few TV shows from the 1960s have as much of the enduring nostalgic appeal as The Andy Griffith Show. Throughout its eight seasons, the show evolved and grew with the times. For instance, most of its early episodes aired in black and white, but the final 90 episodes debuted in full color.

However, the show’s changes over the years weren’t just due to technological advancements. In a recent interview, the actor who played one of The Andy Griffith Show’s most iconic characters revealed how his character was changed dramatically after the first season

‘The Andy Griffith Show’ aired 249 episodes from 1960 to 1968

On the show, the late Andy Griffith stars as Sheriff Andy Taylor, who leads the law enforcement efforts of the tiny fictitious town of Mayberry, North Carolina. His character’s straight-faced nature was juxtaposed against the bumbling antics of his deputy sheriff Barney Fife (Don Knotts), his colorful and warm aunt Beatrice Taylor (Frances Bavier), and a wide cast of town friends and politicians. 

But few characters in the show’s eight seasons were as pivotal to the storylines of The Andy Griffith Show as Opie Taylor, the young son of Sheriff Taylor.

Ron Howard portrayed Opie Taylor

Opie Taylor — played by Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard starting when Howard was only 6 years old — makes his debut in the pilot episode of The Andy Griffith Show. And in the opening credits for each episode, you get a glimpse of Sheriff Taylor walking to the fishing hole with Opie Taylor. (Going fishing was a common thread throughout the sitcom’s eight-year run.)

The father-son dynamic gave the show’s team a lot of material to work with and set up many iconic scenes where that relationship was used to make a funny point or illustrate a moral lesson. For example, in one episode (1963’s “Opie the Birdman”), Opie accidentally kills a bird and discovers the bird had a nest of babies. Sheriff Taylor uses this moment to help teach his son about responsibility.

It’s a classic example of Opie’s TV personality. Yes, he was often up to boyish adventures and getting into occasional mishaps. But in the end, the character was always honest, trustworthy, and generous. And he strives to follow his dad’s advice and teachings.

This became a hallmark trait for young Opie, but the actor who played him has revealed that this wasn’t always supposed to be the case.

Opie Taylor was initially supposed to be quite different

One reason many fans were drawn to The Andy Griffith Show was due to the warm and authentic relationship between the two Taylors on screen. Kids on sitcoms were often written to be funny, witty, and sarcastic, whereas Opie was shown to be gentle, quiet, and loving.

This was an anomaly in the TV industry, and it almost didn’t turn out that way when the show was being created.

“Early on, they wrote Opie a little differently,” Howard said of his eponymous character in an interview with the Archive of American Television. He said initially the show’s writers wanted Opie to be “more like the typical sitcom kids” and have him using “wise comebacks, jokes, punchlines.”

However, Howard’s real-life dad had a conversation with Andy Griffith about the dynamic between Sheriff Taylor and Opie Taylor. “Andy was talking to my dad about our relationship because my dad and I were very close,” Howard reminisced.

And that conversation about Howard’s bond with his real-life dad left a lasting impression on his TV dad. Going forward, The Andy Griffith Show shifted gears and made Opie’s character traits more endearing and heartfelt, instead of slapstick and funny.

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