They came to be reunited with friends they've never met but have always known. To revisit a black-and-white town that they remember in living color. To imagine a world that holds fast to the homespun truths and values of a too-soon discarded past.
They came to say "Hey" to Goober.
Even Deputy Barney Fife wouldn't have "nipped it in the bud" when some 1,200 fans of "The Andy Griffith Show" seemed to spill over the occupancy limit of the Carolina Room at the Adam's Mark Hotel in Charlotte last Saturday. The letter of the law might have been broken, but not the spirit of the SRO crowd.
They got what they came for: a chance to celebrate the show's 30th anniversary with some of the original cast members, including George Lindsey (Goober), Howard Morris (Ernest T. Bass), Hal Smith (Otis) and Aneta Corsaut (Helen Crump).
And fans will get more tomorrow night, when cable station TBS broadcasts a three-hour special, "Thirty Years of Andy: A Mayberry Reunion" (8:05 p.m.).
When the first episode, "The New Housekeeper," aired on Oct. 3, 1960, television viewers met Sheriff Andy Taylor, his son, Opie, -- his Aunt Bee, and his cousin Barney.
"The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" has been called TV's first dramedy, but maybe it shouldn't have been. Maybe not when you take a critical look at the story lines that unfolded in some 249 weekly episodes of "Andy Griffith." During its eight-season reign, the show never left the Top 10 in the ratings race. Today, it's the top-rated sitcom on Atlanta-based TBS.
But "Andy Griffith" isn't so much situation comedy as it is character comedy. The focus isn't so much on what happened, but on who said what to whom, and how and why.
"That's the kind of comedy I like," says Betty Lynn, who played Andy's girlfriend Thelma Lou, "where one minute you're laughing and the next minute there's a tear in your eye or a little catch in your throat."
When Opie accidentally kills a mother bird with his slingshot, he takes responsibility for feeding her offspring. Eventually, like any good parent, he must set them free. Moments after he proudly watches them fly away, he laments that "the cage sure looks awful empty."
"Yes, son, it sure does," Andy says, "but don't the trees seem nice and full?"
The Griffith show "had absolutely the best writers in Hollywood," Lynn says, "and strangely enough, most of them were city boys, who loved the country only the way you can if you come to it fresh."
Says Jack Dodson, who played county clerk Howard Sprague: "We didn't have sex and violence. We had checkers, haircuts and choir practice." And, he adds, "We had something you rarely see in television anymore, pauses. Pauses have as much to do with the show as lines. People listened to each other. Now in comedy, they fire one-liners back and forth."
"What has become of the old-fashioned ways, the simple pleasures of the past?" visiting preacher Dr. Harrison Everett asks parishioners in the show's 100th episode. "Who can forget, for example, the old-fashioned band concert at twilight on the village green? The joy and serenity of just sitting and listening? This is lost to us today, and this we should strive to recapture. A simple, innocent pleasure. And so I say to you dear friends: 'Relax, slow down, take it easy. What's your hurry?' "
In his 1981 book, "The Andy Griffith Show," Richard Kelly notes that the series "offers a needed parable for our times," a way to "satisfy our yearnings for a simpler world . . ."
The show, Kelly writes, "produces out of the confusing world we have to live in, a vision of a simple world we would like to live in,
Even city folk can see it.
"I'm very urban-oriented and I don't particularly want to live in a small town," says Kate McSweeny, vice president of programming and development at TBS, "but there's always that little part of me that thinks, 'Gee, wouldn't it be nice to know your neighbor, to be able to walk downtown and go to the drugstore?' " And I thought, I'm describing Mayberry. It is everybody's hometown, or what they think a small hometown should be."
As Rodney Dillard, of the bluegrass band that played on the show, sees it, today's "soul-sick" society is so desperate for a footing in traditional values and ways, "that they cling to a television show, like it's an icon and like it's a religion. They're looking for the meaning of life and they're finding it in ways through 'The Andy Griffith Show.' "
That's not all they find, though. The show is a tapestry of colorful, believable characters who adhere to Andy Griffith's credo: "If it sounds like a joke, take it out."
As noted in Kelly's book, Ron Howard (Opie) remembers Griffith saying that "it was important for the show to be funny, but it had to be funny because the viewer could identify with the characters and not because we were a bunch of hayseeds and dumb hicks."
To explain why he doesn't care much for doctors, Andy's friend Rafe Hollister says: "When I was born I had my mama. When I die, I'll have the undertaker. I don't see no sense in cluttering up things in between."
A lot has cluttered our world since Aunt Bee first came to Mayberry and Mayberry first came to us. But "no matter how much we go to work, whatever we're pushing for," says Andy Case of Mayodan, N.C., "every night when we get home and eat supper, we can come back down to earth a little bit with Andy and the boys."