Ron Howard on The Andy Griffith Show's improvised moments

Howard reveals the candid nature of some of our favorite scenes.

CBS Television Distribution

Who knows what you might come up with in the spur of the moment? While preparation doubtlessly yields great results, on-the-spot decision-making can often reveal more emotional depth. The truth comes out in our impulses, and that's why improvisation can be so funny. Sometimes, those off-the-cuff remarks beat anything we might've labored over.

The Andy Griffith Show had some of the best writing in television history. Performers on the show like Don Knotts and Jim Nabors deserve a ton of credit for what they brought to the screen. As hilarious as they were, they were made even funnier by the scripts that bolstered each episode. The screenwriting made Mayberry feel real, but, in a recent interview with Conan O'Brien, Ron Howard pointed towards something else that brought the characters to life.

O'Brien prompted Howard by noting the quiet moments often shared by Andy and Barney. The talk show/podcast host pointed out how The Andy Griffith Show differed from the rest of television in allowing these small, character-driven scenes— usually on a porch or in the squad car. These moments may not have moved any story forward, but they made Andy and Barney seem more like real people.

Howard revealed that Andy Griffith and Don Knotts typically improvised these moments. 

"Those bits were usually when the shows were short," the actor-turned-director told Conan.

"We would shoot Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, single camera. Read on Thursdays and rehearse on Fridays. Several times, these scenes, the kinds that you're citing— usually between Don and Andy— I remember vividly, Aaron Ruben our showrunner coming down and talking to Andy. And Andy— he always called Don 'Jesse'— he'd say, 'Jesse, we're short! Come on!'"

While Griffith and Knotts surely could've turned to their masterful screenwriters to craft a scene, their confidence as performers allowed them to huddle up before improvising an entire conversation, in-character.

"And the very last thing at the end of the Wednesday night shoot would be the two of them, and they'd talk about it a little bit, and they'd end up doing one of these scenes," said Howard.

The next time you watch an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, see if you can spot what was made up on the spot! 

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Avie 22 days ago
"And Andy— he always called Don 'Jesse'— he'd say, 'Jesse, we're short! Come on!'"

But WHY did Andy call Don "Jesse?'"
klt83 Avie 22 days ago
Jesse was his real first name. Donald was his middle name.
djw1120 22 days ago
My favorite episode was the one where "Little Jimmy" the goat ate a case load of dynamite and Andy and Barney locked him in a jail cell lined with hay and pillows so he wouldn't explode (with the Mayor's office right above). Then Otis the "Town Drunk" came in after one of his "benders" and locked himself in the SAME jail cell!!! He then tried to evict him, and the goat got mad and started shaking his head and everything. When Andy and Barney came back after getting some more pillows and saw what was going on Andy said, "Just what we need, two loaded goats". When I hear that I always crack up. Later when Andy had Barney use his "Mouth Harp" to calm down "Little Jimmy" Andy was able to slip a rope around "Jimmy's" neck and lead him out of town. All of this was going on while there was blasting going on to build a new underpass near the Mayor's brother's filling station. After Andy and Barney came back, they started to clean up the courthouse and tell the blasting crew that they could start up again. While they were in the back the Mayor and "Jimmy's" owner came in looking for Andy and Barney not realizing that "Jimmy" was led out of town and Andy had told the blasting crew that it was safe to start up again. Then the Mayor started going on about how brave and good Andy and Barney were. Then they came out from the back and confronted the Mayor and he started to take everything back.
wanderer2575 djw1120 21 days ago
"Otis, you *would* show up today! About one loaded goat at a time's all we can handle!"
FrankensteinLover 23 days ago
Such a well written hilarious show, and the cast was phenomenal. I've never stopped watching, forever living off reruns.
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