Monday, June 3, 2013

Mayberry Mondays #78: “Emmett’s Invention” (03/29/71, prod. no. 0322)

In the end…it comes to us all.

This week marks the final episode of our three-year blogging experiment entitled Mayberry Mondays, which I began back in May 2010 after being inspired by a post at Cultureshark by my good friend Rick Brooks.  I know some of you are probably thinking: why did it take you so long to finish only seventy-eight episodes?  Well, from December 2010 to February 2012, I took an extended sabbatical (partly because I was burned out—and partly because I misplaced the disc that had “Goober and the Telephone Girl” and I didn’t want to skip over it) but from that point on I did continue the rest of the series when weather (and free time) permitted.

If I may be reflective for just a moment—it hasn’t always been easy.  I don’t think Mayberry R.F.D. is a good show…but I don’t think it’s terrible, either.  It’s just…well, at the risk of wearing out a cliché, “it is what it is”: a bland, boring, and relatively inoffensive (well, through 70s eyes, anyway) program that Nielsen audiences apparently clutched to their bosoms because American Idol had yet to be invented.  Keep in mind, also, that the copies from my collection were bootlegged from TVLand (and in abysmal quality, too)—which means in many instances there’s about three minutes missing from each show (to accommodate extra commercials)…and I’m sure that robbed us all of some grade-A USDA choice comedy, he said, attempting to maintain a straight face.   These episodes were apparently taped during some sort of TVLand “Fandemonium” weekend, which meant having to hear Harry Shearer attempt to do funny voiceovers at the end of each set of episode credits…that’s given me a new reason to hate him.  (Sorry, Shearer fans.)

This week’s episode, “Emmett’s Invention,” isn’t going to be particularly revelatory in the way that we’ve come to expect from series finales—the reason for this I’ll get to at the end of the write-up—but in all honesty, it’s actually fairly representative of your typical R.F.D. outing.  (It just isn’t very good, and in fact makes my Top Ten list of “Episodes to Avoid” at the end of this essay.)  The proceedings begin with an establishing shot of the Mayberry City Council office for the last time, and inside, poor-but-honest-dirt-farmer-turned-town-council-head Sam Jones (Ken Berry) reads a letter while pedantic county clerk Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson) and fix-it savant Emmett Clark (Paul Hartman) look on in astonishment.  (Well, you know what I mean.)

HOWARD: Emmett—do you mean to tell us that someone’s actually interested in purchasing an invention of yours?

“Why, you can barely walk erect!”

EMMETT: Big companies like Amalgamated Dynamics don’t send registered letters just to say “hello”…read it to him, Sam!
SAM: Uh…”Mister Clark…a search of the records by Amalgamated’s patent attorneys has discovered an allowance of patent file number 16222547…issued to one Emmett ClarkApril 8, 1932!”
HOWARD: A patent?
(Emmett nods)
SAM (continuing): “We should like to discuss this matter with a view…to acquiring same”…well!
HOWARD: Well!  That is news!
SAM (still reading): “Pursuant to the above I shall be in Mayberry on Wednesday the sixteenth…”
EMMETT: Hey…that’s the day after tomorrow!
SAM: Yeah…uh…”Hoping you will be available to meet with me at that time I am sincerely yours…T.J. Fowler, patent counsel, Amalgamated Dynamics!”
HOWARD: Gee whiz, Emmett!  I’m impressed!

And well you should be!  Both Howard and Sam are amazed that Emmett could even fill out a patent form, and he explains that he’s filed for multiple ones over the years due to his invention hobby.  “Us inventors have got to protect ourselves, you know,” he beams.

SAM: Yeah…well…well, which one is this…it’s 1932, and it’s number 16222547…that ring a bell?
EMMETT: Thirty-two…
SAM: Yeah…
EMMETT: Oh!  That could be my gum-free theater seat…
HOWARD: Gum free?
EMMETT: Yeah…special theater seat I invented…I coated the underside of it so that anyone who stuck a wad of chewing gum on a seat—BOOM!  Dropped right off…
HOWARD: Well…that would mean that it would fall on the floor…what then?
EMMETT: That ain’t my problem…

Every episode…one laugh-out-loud moment.

EMMETT: Maybe it was my magnetic napkin…oh!  No—it could be my automatic goldfish feeder!
HOWARD: That must have been a fertile period…
EMMETT: Oh, I was very hot in the early thirties…

And now that we’ve all put away our lunches because nausea has overtaken us, the conversation continues with Sam’s observation that Emmett should know which invention the company wants to discuss.  “If I had brains enough to invent it, I have brains enough to remember where I put it after I invented it,” Emmett assures him.  (There are no words, friends and neighbors.)

So the scene shifts to Emmett’s fix-it shop, where we find the great inventor carrying box upon box out of his store room, looking inside at each container’s contents and then going back for more.  There is also a great deal of newspaper scattered over the floor, which means one careless match and the insurance money would all be ours.  He pulls a curious-looking object out of one box, which looks like a sugar dispenser, and starts to fiddle with it when bakery doyenne Millie Swanson (Arlene Golonka), all sweetness and light, enters the establishment.

MILLIE: Hi, Emmett!
EMMETT: Oh…how are ya, Millie?
MILLIE: Oh, fine…uh…except for my hair dryer—it won’t work…all it does is blow out cold air, and instead of drying my hair it freezes my head… (She giggles)

Since it’s the last episode and all, I guess I should mention that the crush I had on Millie at the beginning of the series has now dissipated and we’ve agreed to see other people.  There will be individuals who’ll accuse me of being superficial (and there is evidence to support that; after she grew out her first season bob my interest began to wane), and others will ascribe my motives to the fact that she completely ignored a Facebook post I sent her way…but the main reason is that a woman who continues a three-year relationship with a drip like Sam Jones probably has some other mental disorders I’d be wise not to inquire about.  Anyway, Millie and Emmett discuss his big invention news and he tells her he’s having a little trouble locating the gadget he patented because of all the crap he’s collected in the backroom over the years.

You and I and the rest of the people reading this know that Emmett became a cast member on The Andy Griffith Show in its last season, where he became—as commenter rockfish so memorably described him—“the anti-Floyd.”  Yet this R.F.D. scenario seems to suggest that he was around in Mayberry as far back as 1932, and we simply know this not to be so.  At the most, he’s been around four years—so if he got that much junk stored away in that amount of time he might want to contact the Hoarders TV show.

The object Emmett pulled out of the box is actually a salt shaker—or he describes it, “The Sure Shake.”  On paper, it’s supposed to measure out precisely the necessary amount of salt one needs to flavor one’s food…on sitcom, Emmett fails miserably to get it to work.  So he tells Millie that her hair dryer will be ready in a day or two, and she thanks him saying: “I hope you find whatever it is that’s going to make you famous.”

Sam and Howard then walk in—because neither of them apparently works for a living.  Emmett continues to rummage through his crap, and Sam suggests contacting the Patent Office to find out which invention it was.  But there’ll be no need for such correspondence—Emmett finally locates it and brings it out to the counter with a flourish!

SAM: Well…an old wind-up phonograph!
EMMETT: Yeah… (He sets it down)
HOWARD: Yeah, but you didn’t invent the phonograph—that was Thomas Alva Edison!

Edison patented the phonograph.  Knowing what we now know about Edison (a man with the morals of an alley cat), whether he actually invented the phonograph is speculative at best.

EMMETT: I know who invented the photograph!  I sure fixed enough of these babies…people were always winding them up too tight!
HOWARD: Yeah…that’s the trouble with those spring-driven motors…
EMMETT: You see, there’s a long screw that goes into a doohickey in here…I-I took it out and…I got mad and whacked it with a hammer and a chisel…


EMMETT: …sliced all the threads off one side of the screw…when I put it back, you just couldn’t crank up the spring too tight…
SAM: Well!  How about that!

I could make an observation about the correlation between Emmett and the phonograph being wound too tight…but people will start thinking I have a reputation for meanness.  Howard helpfully points out that many revolutionary ideas have come about by accident—like penicillin and shatterproof glass—and Emmett rhapsodizes how he thought the invention would put him on easy street.  As sitcom luck would have it, he finds the drawing for his invention concealed in a cabinet in the phonograph.

EMMETT: It’s my application—with the drawing and everything!  Let’s see…hey!  See the file number?  (He shows it to Sam and Howard) Same as the letter from Amalgamated…
SAM: Well…
HOWARD: Hey, did you draw this yourself, Emmett?
EMMETT: Oh, no…no…I paid Old Man Talbot ten bucks to do it…he used to teach mechanical drawing at the high school in them days, and he drew it up for me…stuck in a few fancy words…
HOWARD (reading): “Lathe-cut cylindrical screw utilizing a demi-helix as an impediment…hmm!
EMMETT: Pretty fancy, huh?

What navigated Emmett away from the avenue of dream fulfillment was the fact that before his patent came back from the office, America had become infatuated with the electric phonograph.  If it were anybody else but Emmett…this might be a sad story.

HOWARD: And now after all these years…Amalgamated Dynamics has recognized your vision and wants to buy the rights!  Heh…
EMMETT: Yeah…and if the price suits me, I just might sell…I ain’t gonna jump at the first offer—I’ve been waitin’ since 1932…I guess I can wait a while longer…

Emmett cranks up the phonograph and drops the needle, prompting a recording of “I Wanna Be Loved by You” to play.  When Howard expresses amazement in that the phonograph still works, Emmett indignantly shouts: “When Emmett Clark fixes something, it stays fixed!”  (If that were the case, Emmett would have closed up shop years ago.)

The scene shifts to Casa del Clark, where the Laird and Master has returned home and is being helped off with his coat by his long-suffering wife Martha (Mary Lansing).  I’ve mentioned here in the past that Martha is one of my favorite characters (some of the lines she’s delivered in episodes past literally had me on the floor) and I always thought it was a shame she was so under utilized.  (I also feel sorry for her because of my long-held theory that she was a battered wife.)

MARTHA: I’m glad, Emmett…real glad…
EMMETT: Is that all you gotta say?  One of the biggest days of my life and you’re takin’ it as calmly as all I told you is that I made fifty cents fixin’ a toaster…
MARTHA: Now, Emmett…
EMMETT: A big company is after one of my inventions!  I’m finally gettin’ a little recognition!  How many other women do you know that can say their husbands have been contacted…registered mail by Amalgamated Dynamics!
MARTHA: I’m proud of you, dear…

There is then a syndication-mandated edit (though to be honest, I think they just removed the part where Martha runs to the safe room to escape her husband’s wrath) to the council office, where Emmett is helping himself to some taxpayer-funded Sanka.  He proudly boasts to Sam that he’s thinking about setting up a scholarship fund that will inspire other impressionable Mayberry youth to “follow in my footsteps”—i.e., park his butt on a bus bench for the better part of a day.  Howard enters the office, and mentions to Emmett that he was looking for him over at the shop…and Emmett has a line that made me laugh: “Aw, I was in no mood for petty tinkering.”

EMMETT: Hey—Sam tells me that you were gonna write a newspaper story about my invention…
HOWARD: Right!  Yeah…and in doing some research on the yarn, I did a little checking up on Amalgamated Dynamics…
EMMETT: They ain’t bankrupt or nothin’…?
HOWARD: No!  Far from it!  It developed that Amalgamated Dynamics is very big in the space program!
EMMETT: Space?  You mean goin’ to the Moon and Mars and all that?
HOWARD: That’s exactly what I mean!
EMMETT (over his shoulder): You hear that, Sam?  Somethin’ I invented all those years back is gonna help man conquer space…

Well…it was revealed that Goober (George Lindsey) had an older brother who was an astronautics engineering genius.  I suppose lightning could strike twice.  Howard tells Emmett that his editor thinks this story is so important he’s to “give this story all the coverage it deserves—even if it runs over into the recipe page.”

EMMETT: Emmett Clark…space pioneer
HOWARD: This town’s going to discover it’s got a very important man in its midst!
EMMETT: That’s me—another Thomas Albert Edison!

Ah, nothing beats Emmett when he’s a regular balloon of pomposity.  He’s floating around the fix-it shop, setting up a display of all the inventions from his past like an inventor’s museum…and in walks the pin prick that’s going to deflate him.

The character answers to “T.J. Fowler”…but couch potatoes know him as Bill Quinn, character actor extraordinaire.  This is Bill’s second visit to Mayberry; he earlier played a judge in the episode “Sam Gets a Ticket.”  (Scroll down to the end of that post to read one of the funniest show business anecdotes involving Quinn…who was also Bob Newhart’s father-in-law.)  Quinn is pitch-perfect for this part: Emmett starts in bragging and boasting about his various invention accomplishments and Quinn’s killer deadpan response…

…indicates that he could care less what Emmett did with his spare time.  So he gets right to the point:

FOWLER: We have a standard offer in these cases…
EMMETT: Of course, I’m very honored to think that one of my inventions…a dream that was born here right in this very shop…

Was that when it was still a barber shop?

EMMETT: …is gonna help Man reach the stars…
FOWLER: I beg your pardon?
EMMETT: You know…penetrate the mysteries of outer space?
FOWLER: (sighing) Mr. Clark…perhaps I should have explained…we will not actually be using your concept…
EMMETT (after a pause): You won’t be using it?
FOWLER: No…we’ll be using a device created by our own engineers…
EMMETT: Well…I don’t get it…why did you write to me?  Uh…what are you doing here now…?
FOWLER: Well, let me put it this way…there is a…distant family resemblance between your drawing—submitted in 1932—and a much more sophisticated device, patented by Amalgamated…now in order to avoid the…possibility of future litigation…we’re prepared to purchase the world wide rights to your…um… (Looking at paper) Lathe-cut cylindrical et cetera et cetera…for four hundred dollars…

For those of you who nodded off during the exchange of dialogue between Fowler and Emmett, Fowler is a company shark sent out to neutralize potential nuisance lawsuits.  And I don’t think I’m too far out of line here to suggest that Emmett fits “nuisance” to a “T”.  “Four hundred dollars isn’t too bad for signing your names in two places,” Fowler tells Emmett quietly.

EMMETT: You do a lot of this?  Payin’ off professional inventors?  So they won’t be a bother to the company later on?
FOWLER: Well, it’s…it’s an important part of my job to make what we refer to as these…nuisance settlements…actually, we feel that everybody gains…Amalgamated is secure from courtroom skirmishing, and…you’re four hundred dollars richer…

For the record, $400 back in 1971 would be about $2237 today.  As Emmett starts to sign the contract, he says to Fowler: “I was wonderin’ if I should sign this ‘Emmett Clark—$400 nuisance’.”  (“No, ‘Emmett Nuisance’ is fine.”)

Back from commercial break, a forlorn Emmett is “petty tinkering” in his shop, with Sam and Howard in attendance.  Both men are anxious to hear the skinny on Emmett’s windfall—Howard, as is his comic wont, is carrying a camera around his neck.

SAM: Tell us how you made out with Amalgamated Dynamics!
EMMETT: Oh…ho ho…nothin’ to it…I just signed on the dotted line and Fowler handed over the check…
HOWARD: Boy, I sure would have liked to have a picture of that exchange!
EMMETT: I don’t think Fowler woulda gone for that…
HOWARD: Well, I can still get a picture of you holding the check…
EMMETT (irritated): Like I said, I’m very busy…I got a rush order on this hair dryer—I gotta fix it…
HOWARD: Well, how can a man be thinking of a hair dryer on a historic occasion such as this?  (Gesticulating wildly) Mayberry Man’s Invention Speeds Mankind Into Outer Space!  (To Sam) That’s my headline…

Oh, Howard…you will truly be missed.

EMMETT: Howard…you’re makin’ me sound too important
HOWARD: Nonsense!  (To Sam)  Success sometimes reveals a hitherto hidden humility in a man, huh, Sam?
SAM: So I’ve heard…

Howard starts goading Emmett into having his picture taken holding up the check…and Emmett, not wanting to reveal to all and sundry that his revolutionary ideas are only worth four hundred smackers, turns the check around so that only he can see the amount.  When Howard protests, Sam points out that no one will be able to tell what the amount is from the newspaper photo anyway.

Emmett poses for a couple of snaps and then insists he has to get back to work.  When Howard presses him for the amount of the settlement, Emmett is reluctant to provide the information—and Sam, sensing that something is not quite kosher in Mayberry, suggests that Howard back off a little since he’s putting Emmett “on the spot.”  Howard reasons that if they do disclose the actual amount, it might set a precedent for future dealings with companies…so he’ll just write “a substantial sum.”

HOWARD: Now…uh…one more thing—I’ve indicated that your invention is going to be used in the space program…
EMMETT: Don’t quote me as saying it’s gonna be used on the space program!
HOWARD: But 95% of Amalgamated’s product is space-oriented
SAM: Well…th-that’s probably why most of what they do is considered…classified information…
EMMETT: Yeah…that’s right…it’s…it’s top secret!  They don’t want to tip their hand to the competition!
HOWARD: Hey…that’s even more intriguing than specific details!  I think I’m going to file this story with the Raleigh papers!
EMMETT: Howard—nobody in Raleigh is gonna be interested!
HOWARD: Everybody’s interested in seeing talent and patience finally recognized and rewarded!
SAM: Yeah…well…uh…we’ll see you later, Emmett…come on, Howard…

So Sam bum rushes Howard out of the fix-it shop.  Howard is still perplexed at Emmett’s modesty—“The unpredictability of human nature…today of all days, you’d think that Emmett would be strutting and bragging and full of self esteem…”  Sam hasn’t quite doped out why Emmett is acting in such a peculiar fashion, but he definitely knows the big lug has a sad.

EMMETT: Four hundred dollars…that’s what they offered me…take it or leave it…
MARTHA: Well…four hundred dollars—I’d call that a substantial settlement…
EMMETT: I’d call it a slap in the face…they didn’t want my invention!  They just wanted to pay me off like every other crackpot who might cause trouble!
MARTHA: Now you’re not a crackpot…
EMMETT: That’s all you know about it… (Sadly) It ain’t the money that bothers me so much…it’s all the braggin’ I done…like the big story Howard’s writin’ about Mayberry’s inventor…Mayberry’s loud-mouthed nuisance

Yeah, I’ll bet there are a passel o’people in Mt. Pilot who’ve never heard that story before.  “There’s only one thing to do, Martha,” Emmett laments.  “Close up the fix-it shop and clear out of Mayberry lock, stock and barrel.”  Yes!  This is turning out to be the best R.F.D. ever!

Oh, you know this isn’t really going to happen—though I have to admit, a spin-off entitled Emmett Clark, Public Nuisance wouldn’t be the worst thing to ever hit TV.  We then get a change of scenery—Sam and Millie are at the diner, noshing on a milkshake and…well, it looks like Sam is just having ice cream (if he were drinking a milkshake, he’d need two straws).  Somehow the two of them have learned of Emmett’s payoff--because it’s a small town, it’s probably a secret that didn’t stay kept too long (I’ll bet Martha told a few of her gal pals, laughing her ass off in the process).

MILLIE: I just think it’s plain mean
SAM: Hmm?  What?  What’s mean?
MILLIE: Well, for Amalgamated Dynamics to treat a nice man like Emmett this way…just downright mean
SAM: Look…Millie…if some…person had hurt Emmett…then maybe we could sit down and talk about it…but…you can’t just sit down over a cup of coffee with Amalgamated Dynamics
MILLIE: Well, why not?
SAM: Because it’s too big!  It’s a…huge, impersonal organization…
MILLIE: Well, I’m sorry—I don’t agree with you!  The corporation may be impersonal, but it’s made up of people, isn’t it?

In case you were wondering where Mitt Romney got his “corporations are people, too, my friend” nonsense…it would appear that Millie was one of his advisers.  Here’s where this episode makes a left turn at Albuquerque Fantasyland.  Millie says all Sam has to do is talk with a person at AD, and explain how hurt Emmett is, and the company will kiss it and make it all better.

SAM: Millie—if I thought it would do any good at all I would be more than happy…
MILLIE: They have a plant in Raleigh…I mean, Sam—you think nothing of driving all the way over there to get…parts for your farm machinery…

There’s the tell right there.  Everybody knows that Sam never goes to Raleigh for machinery parts—he goes to Raleigh because too many of the Siler City cathouses know him by first name.  Sam finally acquiesces to Millie’s demands when she accuses him of thinking more about his tractor than Emmett’s feelings.  (That’s why Millie and I are splitting up.  She’s too high maintenance.)  He argues that there’s no way Amalgamated Dynamics is going to take the time to listen to him, but Millie counters: “They’ll be so impressed that you took the time out to drive all the way over there to talk to them that they’ll say ‘By golly, we better do something about this!’”  And they will, too—they’ll give Sam a fifteen-second headstart before siccing the security Rottweilers on him.

Of course, Sam has to ruin all this optimism with a lame crack: “You know something…if we had used feminine logic to get to the moon—we might have gotten there ten years sooner.”  (Oy gevalt.)

The scene then shifts to Sam hauling ass and elbows toward a high security fence, with a pack of security Rottweilers nipping at his heels.  No, I’m sorry—I only wish that had happened.  As sitcom luck would have it, he’s been granted an audience with Mr. Fowler:

FOWLER: The Clark file is closed…we have his signature…he has our check…
SAM: Well…it’s not quite that simple…
FOWLER: Are you a lawyer, Mr. Jones?

“Smithers!  Release the hounds!”  Sam is very quick to deny any ties to the legal profession…he also stays away from bringing up the farming thing, because in a fit of laughter Fowler might press the dog button by mistake.

SAM: You see…Emmett had…such…high hopes when he got your letter, Mr. Fowler…
FOWLER: Well, four hundred dollars seems like a fair settlement…
SAM: Oh, no…no quarrel about the money…
FOWLER: What else is it about?
SAM: Well…Emmett’s…position in Mayberry…
FOWLER: He had a fix-it shop before…and now he has a fix-it shop and four hundred dollars…
SAM: Well…if he could just…feel that his invention had some…value
FOWLER: Mr. Jones…
SAM: Nothing earth shaking, mind you…just some little proof that…outside of Mayberry, Emmett Clark’s work is considered…important
FOWLER: He actually believed that Amalgamated meant to use his device?

“What a rube!”  I’m going to skip over the rest of this nonsense because I simply refuse to believe that a mega-corporate company guy like Fowler gives two shits down an outhouse hole that Emmett got butthurt.  I will bring your attention to this, however:

This guy who taps at Emmett’s shop door and then shoves mail into the slot is our old friend Norman Leavitt as Mayberry’s up-at-the-butt-crack-of-dawn postman, George Felton.  The last time we saw Mr. F was in the episode entitled “Millie’s Dream”—and at the time, I mentioned that it was his swan song as the town’s mail carrier.  Well, I was mistaken.

You see, in the IMDb credits for “Emmett’s Invention,” Leavitt is credited as “Ollie”…and before we go blaming the IMDb, he’s legitimately billed that way in the actual episode’s credits, too.  Now—why they’ve chosen to call him “Ollie” is a question that I can’t answer; in fact, I don’t why the R.F.D. people didn’t just call him “postman” and let it go at that…particularly since he’s never addressed as “Ollie.”  I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that it is possible he’s referred to as that in the three minutes missing from this program.  But that still doesn’t make it right—he’s Postman Felton, and should be credited as such.

Okay, Felton drops a letter in the slot…Emmett, inside packing up the last vestiges of his dignity, starts going through the mail until he finds a letter that makes him grin.  He runs over to the council office, where Sam, Millie and Howard stand around in various stages of not working, and after a brief exchange of pleasantries starts to read the letter out loud.

EMMETT: “Dear Mr. Clark…Amalgamated Dynamics is proud and privileged to purchase world wide rights to your…er…lathe cut…cylin…” (Handing it to Howard) Here…you read it, will ya?
HOWARD (continuing): “To your lathe cut cylindrical screw utilizing a demi-helix as an impediment…it is gratifying to be associated with such designers of dedication and integrity such as yourself…in projects so vital to all…sincerely, J. Philips Osborne…executive vice president!”  Hey!
SAM: Aw…that’s great, Emmett!
MILLIE: Oh…who’d expect a big company like Amalgamated…uh…whatchamacallit to send you something like that?
HOWARD: Yeah…but it’s no more than you deserve, Emmett!
EMMETT: Yeah…I guess you’re right…I had it comin’…I bet I’m one of the few inventors in the whole wide world who ever got a letter like this!
SAM: You might just be the first

Oh, someone please stop this now…I think I just threw up in my mouth.  Okay, here’s the coda to this one: Emmett puts the bedbug letter he got in a frame and hangs it prominently in the fix-it shop.  And then it’s back to the old inventions game, as he demonstrates for Sam and Howard his latest creation.

The grapefruit shield.  “You see, you stick this in the grapefruit rind…and no matter where you jab your spoon, you can’t get squirted in the eye.”

Needless to say, Sam and Howard are underwhelmed by this—but Emmett remains undaunted: “I don’t expect the world to appreciate it now—us dedicated inventors are used to being forty, fifty years ahead of the rest of the world…besides…I gotta iron out a few delicate details in the design.  But when the rest of the people catch up—I’ll be ready!”

He jabs a spoon into the grapefruit, and the juice hits Howard squarely in the eye for the punchline.  (It would probably have been more fitting if the damn thing had blown up and emitted sparks despite its lack of electricity.)


In a recent Entertainment Weakly Weekly article online, the magazine did a slide show entitled “TV Finales: Most Frustrating Ever”—and one of the shows mentioned was the series finale of Gilligan’s Island.  The critic who wrote about this episode, Lanford Beard, had this to say: “Instead of wrapping up the world's longest three-hour tour, this island-bound installment might as well have been any old episode, with unremarkable zaniness distracting from any actual plot momentum. It was barely worthy of a season ender, forget an unexpected series finale.”

This goes toward proving something that I have long argued about a magazine that’s really only suitable for wrapping fish—there are relatively few people on that staff who have any television or movie knowledge before 1975.  If Mr. Beard had done a little research, he would have learned that Gilligan’s Island had actually been renewed by CBS for a fourth season. 

While its ratings weren’t what one would call phenomenal, it was still holding its own (its Monday night competition was NBC’s The Monkees)—what killed off its bid for a fourth season was a little TV western called GunsmokeGunsmoke’s ratings had taken a dip since its reign as the #1 TV program from 1957 to 1961, and the network had made plans to put it out to pasture, so to speak.  But lobbying from network affiliates and fans—not to mention Babe Paley, wife of CBS President William S. and West Virginia Senator Robert C. Byrd, who even entered a plea in the Congressional Record—convinced CBS to move Gunsmoke into Gilligan’s assigned time slot.  (For what it’s worth, the Monday night switch revitalized Gunsmoke, and vaulted it back into the Top Ten.)

So the creative minds (stop snickering) behind Gilligan never got to do an actual final episode until the 1978 TV-movie Rescue from Gilligan’s Island—because at the time of the final third season episode, everybody just assumed they’d be working again in the fall.  (That’s why it feels like “any old episode,” EW critic—it was.)

I know that was a little long-winded, but I use it as an illustration to explain why the finale of Mayberry R.F.D. is so unremarkable.  The show’s creators no doubt assumed they’d be back for a fourth season—heck, the sitcom was still doing well in the ratings (ranked #15 overall).  And the production number of this last episode is “0322”—meaning there were four episodes filmed after it.

But CBS embarked on a crusade to rid itself of programs that, while popular, appealed mainly to rural audiences—what would legendarily become known as “the rural purge.”  Fellow bucolic sitcoms The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres were cancelled, as was the countrified version of Laugh-In, Hee Haw.  (Hee Haw got the last laugh, however—it went into syndication, where it became an even bigger success.)  There was an outcry over the cancellation of R.F.D. (though you have to wonder why) but CBS was not going to budge.  They had seen the future in shows like Mary Tyler Moore and All in the Family, and that was the freeway they were taking.  (Pat Buttram, a.k.a. Mr. Haney on Green Acres, later famously said that the network cancelled “everything with a tree in it.”)

Mayberry fans know that in April of 1986, NBC scheduled a mega-successful TV movie called Return to Mayberry—which reunited as many of the still-living cast members from The Andy Griffith Show as possible.  Both George Lindsey and Jack Dodson reprised their characters of Goober Pyle and Howard Sprague, respectively—but they were the only regulars from Mayberry R.F.D. who participated (Paul Hartman had left this world for a better one in 1973, Hope Summers passed on in 1979, and Frances Bavier was too ill—she died three years later in 1989).  I’ve heard conflicting stories about Ken Berry—a few accounts mention he wasn’t asked, others say he declined because he was too busy at the time with Mama’s Family.  But Arlene Golonka clearly got snubbed, and if Sam and Millie weren’t going to be around it stands to reason Cousin Alice Ghostley wasn’t getting a call.  Buddy Foster probably checked his messages…nada.  (Then again, Elinor Donahue and Jack Burns from TAGS didn’t get asked, either.)  And of course, we have already talked about how Opie Taylor’s little brother Andy mysteriously vanished—making Ron Howard a two-time loser in that he also lost a brother on Happy Days (though I have long theorized that Chuck Cunningham actually died at the hands of Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli).

In the final analysis, perhaps it’s best that R.F.D. never bothered to wrap things up in a blaze of glory or tidy little bundle—other than the town succumbing to a cholera outbreak, I really can’t think of any other finale that would have satisfied fans.  I’m not sorry I embarked on this experiment (though I am glad it’s over) but I still have many unanswered questions—the first being: why was this show so popular in the first place?  Somebody out there had to be watching it, and they need to fess up for the good of their immortal soul…as my father has said in the past, “If as many people as I’ve talked to who say they voted for McGovern did vote for McGovern that essobee Nixon would never have been re-elected.”

To close this out—a brief Mayberry R.F.D. primer.  These are ten episodes that I would recommend to anyone who’s never watched the series or to people who won’t watch because, color (not necessarily in the order of preference, bur rather in order of broadcast).

And the worst (same as the first):

If you disagree with any of the choices on this list—or would like to lobby for your own…as always, the comments section is at your disposal.

Later this week, I’ll be laying the groundwork for our new TDOY Monday feature, Doris Day(s).  I know a few of you have expressed reluctance about getting on board with this…so I will try to make a case as to why you should give it a try.


Stacia said...

even if it runs over into the recipe page

And that, my friends, is the last laugh Mayberry RFD will ever give me. That and Howard's jazz hands of excitement over the potential news article.

he goes to Raleigh because too many of the Siler City cathouses know him by first name

HA! See, though Mayberry Mondays may be over and often didn't make me laugh anyway (except when Howard was involved; sue me, I love the bow-tie wearin' fool), you are ALWAYS FUNNY.

I've always wondered why Ken Berry wasn't on the reunion show. The first time I heard of MRFD was when the reunion show aired and my parents wondered if Berry would be on it, and they couldn't remember if Berry had ever been on the original TAGS or not. (I only knew Berry from Mama's Family, which I loathed; it was F Troop reruns in college that made me reconsider his talents).

It's interesting that the worst episodes were Millie episodes, and while I know the tendency is to say that's because gurlz are icky, I think it's because the writers showed repeatedly that they couldn't write a female character unless she was being someone's maternal stand-in.

If the Doris Day show is the wacky one she did in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I am in, baby. Some clips I've seen are completely nutty.

Congrats on finishing Mayberry Mondays!

Scott said...

Our long national nightmare is over!

I don't think I've ever read so much about a show I loathed so thoroughly, making these weekly reflections of yours an exquisite combination of pleasure and pain the like of which has not been seen since Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty Trilogy. Or maybe John Norman's Gor novels.

Anyway, I thank you for taking on this burden, Ivan -- not only for the many laughs you provided, but also because it gave me a chance to watch this show die a second time. Die, die, DIE!

Why did anyone watch it? Because it was on. That's all TV was back then. Oh, there was the occasional deviation from the mediocre (Green Acres, for instance -- that was some Pirandelloeque genius), but I have a hard time believing MRDF (which sounds, appropriately enough, like an antibiotic-resistent staph infection) was ever "appointment television." That anyone ever rushed home in time to catch it, or discussed it the next day around the water cooler (maybe, maybe while standing at the urinals, but only if the silence was becoming uncomfortable). Most likely you just watched it because it came on next.

Which makes it all the more important that cultural archaeologists such as yourself should disinter it for re-examination; because those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

Hal said...

The end of an era, Ivan. But damned enjoyable while it lasted.

Funny that you brought up the cancellation of GILLIGAN; I just researched, and posted at length about F TROOP's equally undeserved demise at the end of that 1966-67 season at the Horn Section. While GILLIGAN got screwed by the higher ups at its network, ABC actually wanted F TROOP back, only to have higher ups at Warners shut production down.

So poor Ken Berry actually got screwed out of a successful show that was high in the Nielsens twice within four years! F TROOP was 40th and RFD 15th when each ceased production. In 5 seasons as a regular on a series between 1965 and 1971 he was never OUT of the top 40...and ended up with two cancellations before the magic 100 episode mark!

Still thinking about starting "F Troop Fridays" myself...

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Stacia wrote:

It's interesting that the worst episodes were Millie episodes, and while I know the tendency is to say that's because gurlz are icky, I think it's because the writers showed repeatedly that they couldn't write a female character unless she was being someone's maternal stand-in.

Bullseye on the “maternal stand in.” I really felt uncomfortable singling out so many Millie escapades because I thought it might come off as kind of misogynistic…but the truth is the all-male preserve of R.F.D. scribes just didn’t write well for her at all. And to compound the problem, in many of those episodes—which generally turn out to be “battle of the sexes” exercises—Sam comes across as a complete jerk, and not the “nice guy” we’re supposed to believe him to be.

If the Doris Day show is the wacky one she did in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I am in, baby. Some clips I've seen are completely nutty.

The great thing about The Doris Day Show is that in some respects it’s even blander than R.F.D., at least in its initial seasons—which should make for some prime mockery. Honestly, people are going to have to scroll back up to the title of each post to make sure it’s not a continuation of Mayberry Mondays.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Scott wrote:

Why did anyone watch it? Because it was on. That's all TV was back then. Oh, there was the occasional deviation from the mediocre (Green Acres, for instance -- that was some Pirandelloeque genius), but I have a hard time believing MRDF (which sounds, appropriately enough, like an antibiotic-resistent staph infection) was ever "appointment television." That anyone ever rushed home in time to catch it, or discussed it the next day around the water cooler (maybe, maybe while standing at the urinals, but only if the silence was becoming uncomfortable). Most likely you just watched it because it came on next.

After I stopped laughing at the urinals reference, I became more and more convinced you were right. And yet…there’s still something in me that just doesn’t trust the Nielsen numbers—that television is ultimately something diabolically monstrous right out of Frederik Pohl’s “The Tunnel Under the World.”

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Hal wrote:

Funny that you brought up the cancellation of GILLIGAN; I just researched, and posted at length about F TROOP's equally undeserved demise at the end of that 1966-67 season at the Horn Section. While GILLIGAN got screwed by the higher ups at its network, ABC actually wanted F TROOP back, only to have higher ups at Warners shut production down.

I didn’t learn until a couple of years ago the story behind F Troop’s potential third season…and when I finished reading about it my gob was thoroughly smacked. It is interesting to note that The Doris Day Show features a F Troop cast-off in James Hampton in its first two seasons…playing a Goober clone who goes by “Leroy B. Simpson”—though I’ve always argued a better name for him would have been “Leroy B. Semple.”

So poor Ken Berry actually got screwed out of a successful show that was high in the Nielsens twice within four years! F TROOP was 40th and RFD 15th when each ceased production.

A friend of mine once remarked: “Ken Berry must have been the unluckiest essobee to ever have been born.”

Still thinking about starting "F Troop Fridays" myself...

If you build it…they will come.

Stacia said...

Not to completely derail this thread, but does anyone have a link on the F Troop story? What I found online was undiluted weaksauce that had no actual information whatsoever.

Tom said...

Congratulations, Ivan, on completing such an arduous task with such good humor and fortitude! I think the best thing one can say about MAYBERRY RFD is that it really makes you appreciate THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW even more. Thank you for guiding us through the rougher parts of Mayberry the last three years! It was a fun ride! And good luck when you finally form the Buddy Foster fan club!

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Stacia asked:

Not to completely derail this thread, but does anyone have a link on the F Troop story?

I don't know if this is the definitive source -- but here's where I first read about it:

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Tom gushed:

I think the best thing one can say about MAYBERRY RFD is that it really makes you appreciate THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW even more.

Then my work here is done! On, Concord!

Hal said...


Here's the link to my blog post on F TROOP's cancellation, which also discussed that of GILLIGAN the same year:

The Nielsens are courtesy TELEVISION Magazine, Volume 24, Number 8 for the season. I found isolated two week periods for the season on microfilm some time back but couldn't find online links (the October and March weeks I cited). The midseason share numbers were from a January 1967 issue of Broadcasting.

Interesting thing about GILLIGAN's time slot: the three network offerings were very close together: MONKEES was # 42, GILLIGAN # 49 and IRON HORSE was also renewed, ranking just behind GILLIGAN, in that Monday 7:30 ET slot. Yet GILLIGAN was the only entry that didn't make it to 1967-68. Go figure.

I haven't found a definitive season-ending ranking for F TROOP's first season, but I don't think it was very far outside # 30. It was in the top 25 throughout the first half of its first season.
It was easily ABC's best performer in that slot in several years against SKELTON though.

Hal said...

As for MAYBERRY and the Nielsens, has any show in the history of television ever been unceremoniously dumped after three seasons that looked like this?

1968-69 # 4
1969-70 # 4
1970-71 # 15

Stacia said...

Thanks for the link, Hal!

I've been glancing at the CBS schedules for the years MRFD was on, and I'm gobsmacked. The first year it was on during a lineup of (in order) Gunsmoke, Here's Lucy, MRFD, Family Affair, then Carol Burnett. They all got good ratings that night but MRFD was ahead of them all, even Gunsmoke.

Next season was the same schedule with Family Affair replaced by Doris Day (a young Ivan was programming CBS back then) and the whole night got even better ratings. So I think MRFD may have done so well because it was on during an evening they were watching everything else on CBS anyway.

I can't find a list of the highest rated canceled shows except for some recent ones, but I have to think MRFD was one of the highest rated shows canceled, especially during the Rural Purge. I also don't think it could have possibly survived in competition with the more urban dramas and comedies that came into fashion.