Andy Griffith used silence to keep The Andy Griffith Show special
His genius still remains within the sound of silence.
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The first time Andy Griffith met Sheldon Leonard, co-creator of The Andy Griffith Show, it was at a sandwich shop in New York. Andy picked the place on Eighth Avenue, his favorite spot in the city to grab lunch, and during that first meeting, Sheldon talked while Andy listened.
Leonard said, "I told him the idea we had, which was to make him sheriff of a small town." He expected Andy to leap at the chance to star in his own show — but that's just not knowing Andy well enough.
Griffith nodded and was polite, but didn't react much more than that. And the effect was maybe what Andy intended: Leonard was impressed by this cool-headed actor who didn’t make a peep during his pitch and didn't jump at anything he was offered.
Because of that respect, Sheldon kept setting up meetings and Andy kept taking them, but Griffith left each one not committing to the show. These later meetings took place in a fancy hotel, the Hotel St. Moritz, located where The Ritz-Carlton New York sits today next to Central Park. Clearly, the point was to impress the young Griffith, but Andy hadn’t yet heard enough to sell him on the show.
When Andy finally did talk, he took Leonard by complete surprise again, firing off an intense line of questions. Griffith wanted to know how the show was being financed. He needed a thorough understanding of the artistic direction. Sheldon's observation was correct: Andy wasn’t just signing on to anything, and he wanted to make sure his concerns were heard before he signed any dotted lines. It showed Andy wasn't simply a quiet man, but a keen listener, and he only spoke up when he didn't like what he was hearing. Now, Leonard was even more impressed.
It took three meetings for Andy to agree to do Leonard’s show, and according to Andy and Don: The Making of a Classic American Friendship, the series creator waited until after Griffith’s name was branded on the contracts before he risked asking, "Why all this advance rigamarole?"
Griffith’s response was as Mayberry as it gets, "Just wanted to know who I was dealing with," Griffith said in his Carolina drawl.
Over the course of The Andy Griffith Show, any time Andy Griffith grew quiet, like he had so often while meeting with Leonard, it became a sure sign to cast and crew that something needed to change to get the show’s star onboard, whether it was the script or how it was delivered.
Goober Pyle actor George Lindsey remembered how crystal clear it was if Andy liked your performance in any given episode. When he was happy, he gave you a call to say so. When he wasn’t particularly pleased, your phone didn’t ring.
Regarded as a benevolent boss, Andy controlled the show’s distinct comedy, heaping praise where it was due and using silence to suggest something could use a little improvement.
Lindsey explained how much it made the cast want to live up to his high standards, "It wasn’t so much what he said; it’s what he didn’t say. The silence would just kill you."