Thanks to my dad, I've seen every episode of The Andy Griffith Show up until Don Knotts left the show (we never really liked any of the episodes that were in color).
As a young boy, it was easy to look and Andy and Opie and relate their father/son relationship to my own. My dad was a school teacher, so he was an authority figure too. He was well liked, he was (and is) funny and charming. He couldn't sing and never had to fend off bad guys, but he could whistle the Andy Griffith theme with the best of them. Watching the Mets and Andy Griffth were two of our regular bonding events. In fact, the first time I ever remember cracking my dad up came when we were watching an episode of Andy Griffith. I was around ten years old and we were watching the episode where Barney Fife had to lead a goat that had eaten dynamite out of town by playing his harmonica. The goat liked the sound and followed Barney as he walked and played. As we were watching I said to my dad "Look, it's the Pied Fifer!" My dad laughed like it was the funnies joke he ever heard, and at that moment I learned the joy of making someone laugh. It's something I have tried to do every day of my life since. Here is the clip from that show.
Andy was a masterful straight man. He was the star of the show, but his strength was setting up Don Knotts to deliver the laughs. The scene that best exemplifies that is this beauty when Barney finds his high school history book and claims he still remembers the preamble to the U.S. constitution. Andy deftly handled his part of the scene with impeccable timing and just the right amount of "are you kidding me?"
As a father on the show he was loving, but strict. In the episode where Opie kills a bird with his slingshot, Andy teaches Opie that actions have consequences. He was stern when he needed to be but in the end, gentle and instructive. He taught Opie an important lesson without taking him behind the woodshed but he also didn't pat him on the head and say "mistakes happen."
On top of all that, Andy was a talented musician and singer. The way the show incorporated that always felt genuine, not campy. My personal favorite was this tune with the Darlings (the Dillards in real life).
Andy Griffith died today. He was 86. His contributions to the the entertainment industry and his fans lives are countless. I hope that the lessons and humor of the Andy Griffith Show are timeless, though I'm not sure the show can be watched today and appreciated by kids in the 10-15 year old range. I hope they can, because the show's real value, the lessons about family, love, friendship, courage and compassion have stuck with me and so many others for 50 years.