MAYBERRY — What happens when a fictional town, created more than 60 years ago specifically for television, refuses to fade away?
That’s the premise behind “The Mayberry Effect,” a feature-length documentary film that explores the enduring impact of “The Andy Griffith Show,” one of the most well-loved sitcoms in TV history. Written, produced and directed by Triad filmmaker — and self-professed Mayberry fan — Chris Hudson, the award-winning documentary will be released Tuesday on multiple digital platforms.
“This film is really kind of a nostalgic look through the ‘Andy Griffith Show’ lens,” says Hudson, who grew up in Charlotte — watching reruns of the show — and now lives in Clemmons.
“It looks at the show’s effect on superfans — their love for Mayberry memorabilia, their collections, their trivia knowledge. It also talks about the show’s influence on Mount Airy, and how long it’s going to last. Do people think it’ll last? Superfans believe it will last forever, but others are more skeptical.”
As any true Mayberry fan can tell you, “The Andy Griffith Show” debuted on CBS in 1960 and aired until 1968, consistently earning high ratings and winning six Emmy Awards. Six decades later, the iconic series remains on the air in wide syndication, and its appeal seems stronger than ever among its broad fan base.
Hudson began working on “The Mayberry Effect” in 2016, when he was pursuing his master’s degree in documentary film at Wake Forest University.
He initially planned to do the film on David Browning, an actor who made his living for more than two decades portraying “The Mayberry Deputy,” a character he based on Deputy Barney Fife, the lovable, laughable lawman (played by Don Knotts) who worked alongside Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) to protect Mayberry. Browning attended countless festivals, minor-league baseball games and other community events — and even starred in TV commercials — getting laughs as he bumbled like Barney.
“I thought it would be really interesting to follow him and do a documentary about him,” Hudson recalls. “He said, ‘I’d like to be a part of the film, but I don’t want it to be about just me. There’s a bigger picture here — I’d like to introduce you to everybody in the Mayberry world. And here we are.”
So in addition to Browning’s tribute to Barney Fife, the documentary also shines a spotlight on the tribute artists who portray other characters from “The Andy Griffith Show” — from Floyd the barber, Ernest T. Bass and Gomer Pyle to Opie and town drunk Otis Campbell. There are also a couple of cameo appearances featuring Jamestown’s own Ted Womack, who not only drives a custom Mayberry squad car and has a collection of Mayberry memorabilia, but also portrays Mr. McBeevee and Mr. Wheeler, two lesser-known characters on the show.
There are other local connections in the documentary. For example, Hudson’s wife — and the film’s executive producer — is Angela Mabe Hudson, a Wallburg native who graduated from Ledford High School.
The film also includes an interview with noted Mayberry historian and author Neal Brower, a Methodist minister who pastored in High Point for a number of years.
“When you talk about Mayberry fans, you automatically think about people’s collections of Mayberry memorabilia,” Hudson says. “But when I interview Neal, you don’t see his collection of memorabilia — you see his boxes of information he’s collected about ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’ His thing is the research — how they made the show and how they wrote the show. He has just a wealth of information.”
In addition to interviews with many of the show’s so-called “superfans,” the 90-minute documentary features footage from Mayberry Days, the annual Mount Airy festival devoted to all things Mayberry. Every September, the festival draws thousands of fans to Mount Airy, Griffith’s hometown and the city that is believed to have inspired Mayberry. Today, Mount Airy has a thriving downtown district, thanks in large part to its plethora of Mayberry-themed businesses.
You’ll also see plenty of snippets from “The Andy Griffith Show” itself, as well as old interviews with Griffith, Knotts and even Betty Lynn, the actress who played Thelma Lou and now lives in Mount Airy.
“This is more than just a film about ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ and how it was made,” Hudson says.
“It’s about how the show affected this group of people and the entire country, and how the show might be able to help us in today’s world. A lot of people feel like Mayberry was a better time and place, so maybe we can apply those characteristics and values from the show into today’s world. And to be able to pull something like that from a show that’s 60 years old, that says a whole lot about that sitcom.”
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