Ernest T. Bass: Why the mountain madman was only in a few episodes

An Ernest T-spoon was plenty!

CBS Television Distribution

The Andy Griffith Show was never afraid to try something new. Luckily, in the 1960s, television shows were allowed to be patient and develop into something great. Nowadays, if a show doesn't connect immediately, it risks cancellation. However, The Andy Griffith Show was given the time to mature throughout its first two seasons. While Sheriff Taylor's character began as more of a caricature, the creators and star later grew to realize the perfect way to present him. Andy wasn't meant to be the comedic relief; he was the voice of reason off of whom the wackier characters bounced.

Because the show had 30+ episodes per season, a sort of trial and error took place, making the show the best it could be. Ellie Walker was axed. Opie was given more stories. And when characters like Gomer Pyle connected with audiences, they were given space to highlight what was special about them.

That tinkerer's spirit guided The Andy Griffith Show's best seasons. It was as if scientists were working hard in a lab, finding the perfect formula for sitcom excellence. 

With some of the show's more eccentric characters, the creators found truth in the adage that "less is more." 

Ernest T. Bass, the rock-throwing menace, would descend from the mountains to wreak havoc on Mayberry. But he never became a proper Mayberry fixture. Instead, the character was used sparingly, appearing in only five of the show's 249 episodes. Lest we consider this a mistake, series producer Sheldon Leonard set the record straight in Richard Michael Kelly's 1981 book The Andy Griffith Show.

Leonard described Ernest T. as "a mad kind of hillbilly character who was very funny but who had to be used very sparingly because of his exotic, eccentric nature. Like too much garlic, he would become a liability rather than an asset."

As any ingredient could overpower a dish, Howard Morris's performance risked overshadowing his costars. So, he was only seen onscreen occasionally, because too much of a good thing— even Ernest T. Bass— risks spoiling the stew!

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15 Comments

Blcakandwhitetvfan 7 days ago
The man who played Ernst T also directed quite a few episodes. And he was in the movie Splash as Cornbluth's professor.
tootsieg 22 days ago
The show was wise enough to use Ernest T. sparingly. Too much of a good thing does not work in the TV world. I enjoy every episode with Ernest T.
bru 22 days ago
He was a director in later episodes and then became a producer for other new shows. He replayed his role on a Danny Kaye special with Buddy Epson as Jed Clampet. All three played "Hillbillies" in a skit, dressed just like in the shows. Danny, of course, had an outfit to match, sang songs, danced (which was right up Buddy's alley etc. It's on YouTube.
Tresix 22 days ago
Five episodes? I thought it was only three!
Luxxx 28 days ago
The fact that it seems like more episodes shows how great he was. Especially paired with the Darlings (Dillards) also great as Jet Screamer.
Fred_Clampett 28 days ago
Ernest T Bass worked well as a recurring problem for Mayberry, but I think that having him appear too many times would have made Andy look weak and stupid. Andy always sought first to understand, which is why Ernest got away with what he did. But understanding can only go so far. Andy would have had to do something drastic at some point. I think it was a wise choice to use this character sparingly. Otherwise it may have hurt the overall feel of the show.
Kavajava 1 month ago
Howard was also a regular on Sid Caesar's shows and did voice acting for many of our favorite cartoons.
The_Great_Gazoo 1 month ago
Howard Morris also directed eight episodes of TAGS.
FrankensteinLover 1 month ago
I love ole T Bass, he was off the wall like Granny of the hillbillies. Supposively responsible for where Ernest P Worrell came in.
WordsmithWorks 1 month ago
I may be in the minority, but I didn't care for the Ernest T. Bass character abrasive and annoying, plus his breaking windows, etc. should have resulted is something other that Andy and company just ignoring it.
TownOfMayberry 1 month ago
This information is wrong. Once again, MeTV doesn’t do its research. Howard Morris is credited in 8 episodes, but the Ernest T. Bass character is only in 5 episodes!
Yes, he did appear in three other episodes besides playing Ernest. A tv repairman comes to mind.
He was also used as a radio voice on several episodes.
McGillahooala 1 month ago
So many times, we’ve seen characters like this given their own spinoff which crashes and burns. Less is more with an Ernest T. Type character. The character is hilarious but if you see them too often, they begin to lose their appeal.
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