Barney Fife is the only character with two musical themes on The Andy Griffith Show
The Andy Griffith Show is the best dubbed show in TV history, period.
The music of The Andy Griffith Show is so much more than its iconic whistling theme. According to Earle Hagen, who co-wrote the theme song and composed the show's incidental music, it's still the best-dubbed TV show that ever aired.
In a 1997 interview with the Archive of American Television, Hagen explained that The Andy Griffith Show's use of music was highly unusual for a comedy show, averaging between nine and nine-and-a-half minutes per episode. Hagen is certainly familiar with what the standard is because he crafted incidental music for other sitcoms, including the highly musical The Dick Van Dyke Show. So, it's really saying something that he sees The Andy Griffith Show as his finest work.
"I know of no television on air that has the presence of music like the Griffth show," Hagen said.
The reason The Andy Griffith Show required so much music was because Hagen said there were certain scenes where the drama could be amplified by adding music. The trouble was, if you wanted to score a 30-second segment of the show, Hagen said, you couldn't just bring in music whenever you wanted.
"I don’t care whether you whisper it or you shout it, you feel it," Hagen said. "Even if you bring it in under a sound effect, and it’s just there, the additive of music is noticeable."
That's why Hagen had to find more natural ways to bring music in, which naturally meant more music on the show.
Perhaps the most memorable incidental music to fans were the individual themes Hagen composed for each of the show's main characters, even Aunt Bee. For Andy, Hagen used a variant of the whistling theme, but in the interview, he explained why Barney Fife required not one but two themes to capture the nature of his iconic character.
"I had two themes for Don [Knotts]," Hagen said. "Because Don was a twitchy character, and my philosophy about comedy music is you don’t play things that are funny. You just try to amplify the character visually. If he’s twitchy, I wanted to make it more so. And when he was overbearing, I had a march that was like Dragnet, you know? The ultimate cop on the beat. So I had two themes for Don."
Listen carefully next time you're watching an episode and see if your ears can pick up on these two different themes repeated throughout the show's run. (You can also hear them both in the video at the top of this post.) Once your ears get tuned into Hagen's sounds, you'll likely also pick up on all kinds of fun decisions the sound team made.
Hagen said The Andy Griffith Show's sound team was "just a bunch of highly theatrical, motivated people" willing to challenge dubious dubbing calls when necessary to make sure the sound on the show was the best it could possibly be.
"There were times when we’d go and fight with the dubbing crew," Hagen said, citing an example that'll make any Andy fan smile, "Was the tire squeal more important than the music we were doing at that point in time?"
Above all, Hagen said the reason why music became such a subtly affecting factor of the show was as simple as everything else in Mayberry.
"There was an attitude about the show that added long spaces of time," Hagen said, explaining how The Andy Griffith Show would linger in moments, allowing the audience to really settle into a scene. To make everything feel just right, Hagen brought in music.
"I would always try to find someplace, even if it was four minutes earlier, to bring the music in so that it developed along with the scene and then arrived at that 30 seconds, which was invaluable," he explained. "And it worked. Incidentally, that was the best dubbing job in television."