Andy Griffith took the blame for the failure of his series ''Headmaster''

Audiences, and Griffith himself, weren't ready for the radical departure.

In Hollywood, you're only as good as your last project. So, when Andy Griffith left television at the end of the '60s, few were as "good" as the former Sheriff of Mayberry. When The Andy Griffith Show aired its final episode, Griffith was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the TV world. Few, if any, could boast a more impressive track record of ratings and critical approval. 

It must've been quite the shock, then, when Griffith wasn't immediately able to recapture his earlier success.

Following a lackluster movie deal, Griffith attempted to re-enter weekly television. According to a 1971 interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Griffith thought he could "keep [his] old fans and add some younger ones" by making a show that combined comedy and "relevant" drama. The resulting series, Headmaster, had plenty of drama, but most of it happened off-camera and was due to audiences being entirely underwhelmed with the show.

The first episode didn't land anywhere near the Top Ten in the important Nielsen ratings. The show quickly plummeted to #48.

True to his old character though, the former Sherrif Taylor took all the responsibility for the series' failure. Griffith didn't lay the blame on the producers or his new castmates. Instead, he looked at his work and the way he'd fumbled expectations.

"I wanted to try something different, I thought we could do it, but long before the static from CBS started I knew we were in trouble.

"I tried my departure, playing Hamlet, and I fell on my butt. I'm not sorry I tried, but I wish we could have known it was a failure in time to replace ourselves in November, instead of January."

Audiences, according to Griffith, just weren't ready to see him experiment with a character that was different from the one he played on The Andy Griffith Show

"If you're typed a certain way, that's it. I look the same, I sound the same. All I can do is what I do. I was different in a movie, A Face in the Crowd. My grandmother said, 'Andy I wish you wouldn't be mean'— but that wasn't Hamlet. It wasn't that far from my own background.

"I felt uncomfortable, out of my bag, playing a school teacher, though I used to be one. The first day of the second show, when I sat down on the couch in the headmaster's house, I felt a physical reaction. I was really nervous, as if I was a kid again in my professor's house and unprepared. I was always uneasy in school— grammar school, high school, college. Whenever I went to class I felt I wanted to die; I always wanted to get behind someone tall. There wasn't a prayer that I'd stand at the front."

While the show was a far cry from a success, Griffith didn't regret his exercise in experimentation.

"But I think mainly I'll just hang in there with comedy. Noy many know how to do comedy, and if a man can do comedy and doesn't, he's a fool."

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18 Comments

BrianThetubewatcher 4 months ago
After TAGS, Andy was in a confusing flurry of short lived shows or performances. The Headmaster, a few pop ups in Mayberry RFD, and the baffling New Andy Griffith Show, where he’s back in Mayberry as Andy Taylor, but with a wife we don’t recognize and two children old enough that they would have been born during his time as sheriff. No explanation offered the viewers. Andy Griffith seemed confused as to what professional path to take.
JHP 4 months ago
never saw it and glad I didn't
klt83 4 months ago
I'll second the comment about Andy Griffith being cranky on camera during the color episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. It all started with the dumb idea of replacing Don Knotts with Jack Burns. That, on camera anyway, produced the first crankiness of Andy Taylor.
JHP klt83 4 months ago
would have been better with Frank Burns :) - could not stand the color ones - Goober was never at the gas station and other irritating plots/themes
McGillahooala 4 months ago
Hollywood types go out of their way to not be type cast. It’s crazy if you think about it. Rejecting something because you are good at it, people respond positively, and you’re making money.
Zip 4 months ago
I don't remember "Headmaster" but doesn't look like I missed much. Probably wouldn't have been interested in it back then, as I wasn't interested in The Andy Griffith Show back then either. So who knows, maybe now I would love it like I love TAGS.
Charlotte 4 months ago
Don't remember this show, but I agree with the lack luster attitude at the end of the Andy Griffith show. The story lines were dull & the new characters weren't the same. Sometimes ya just gotta let it go & call it quits....which alot of those sitcoms needed to do.
seltaeb 4 months ago
Looks like an older John Boy Walton with that sweater, bow tie, and specs.
professorecho 4 months ago
With or without Griffith, I can’t imagine anyone being interested in that show’s storyline. It just seemed so dull an idea and wound up living down to that impression after it aired. Anyone who stuck it out with THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW for the last three seasons following the departure of Don Knotts could easily see Andy wanted to be anywhere else but Mayberry anymore. It’s amazing how cranky and exhausted he looks in those color episodes, to the point where many episodes are unwatchable now. He may have created some ill will with viewers with those apathetic acting choices as TAGS finally faded and many weren’t willing to give him a shot in a new series no matter what the premise was. Turning his back on Mayberry as he did in those last 3 seasons and never again giving 100% was a mistake that some viewers found unforgivable.
Bapa1 4 months ago
Barely remember that show.
AgingDisgracefully 4 months ago
Me? I'd blame the sweater and bow tie.
RicardoShillyShally 4 months ago
That was a terrible show. I remember an episode where a teacher fell in love a student. That probably wouldn't fly today.
That actually happened at my high school back in the 70s. The teacher (who was in his mid-20s) and the girl managed to keep the relationship a secret almost until she graduated, and they did marry later that year. Didn't last though.
Bapa1 RicardoShillyShally 4 months ago
That happened at my High School my senior year (1975) and then again my brother's senior year (1977). Lord knows what happened to them.
PierreKhoury 4 months ago
I remember Headmaster. I watched it.
Irish 4 months ago
I don't remember Headmaster.
cperrynaples Irish 4 months ago
Most people don't! And don't try looking for it on YouTube because all you'll find is a preview! Fun Fact: One of Andy's students was played by Butch Patrick AKA Eddie Munster!
Runeshaper 4 months ago
You never know until you try with certain things.
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