KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
Just about everything on prime-time TV happens in New York or LA, with Chicago, Minneapolis or Las Vegas sneaking in every now and then. Sure, there's Miami, as in "Miami Vice" and "CSI: Miami," but any true Southerner will tell you the South ends about 100 miles north of Miami.
The South hasn't exactly been a favorite setting for TV shows over the years, but there have been a few. Here are some of the most noteworthy. There is very little in these series for a Southerner to find offensive.
"The Andy Griffith Show" (1960-'68). Andy Griffith starred as Sheriff Andy Taylor of the easy-going small town of Mayberry, N.C., who lives with his son Opie and Aunt Bee. The town is filled with wonderful characters such as Deputy Barney Fife, Floyd the barber, Gomer and Goober Pyle and others. There's plenty of humor, but the show also is noted for its welcome goodness and moral lessons. It ranked in the top 10 throughout its run and was No. 1 in its final season. It continues to be a popular series throughout the country.
"The Beverly Hillbillies" (1962-'71). Buddy Ebsen played Jed Clampett, head of an Ozarks family who struck oil and decided to move to a mansion in Beverly Hills. Their country ways left most of the city slickers in a daze. The show was an instant hit, ranking No. 1 for its first two seasons.
"Petticoat Junction" (1963-'70). Bea Benaderet played Kate Bradley who, along with her three beautiful daughters, ran the Shady Rest Hotel in the very small community of Hooterville. Although it never claimed to be set in the South, the drawls and some of the dimwitted characters gave it away. Longtime fans of old Western movies enjoyed seeing Smiley Burnette and his pal Rufe Davis running the Hooterville Cannonball. A former Hopalong Cassidy sidekick, Edgar Buchannan, played the daughters' Uncle Joe.
"Green Acres" (1965-'71). Eddie Albert played Oliver Wendell Douglas, a successful New York lawyer who uproots his wife (Eva Gabor) and moves her to a rundown farm outside Hooterville. This show was packed with looney characters, including the conniving Mr. Haney and the befuddled county agent, Hank Kimball. There were a lot of character crossovers between this show and "Petticoat Junction."
"Mayberry RFD" (1968-'71). When Andy Griffith decided to end his show, the town of Mayberry lived on in this series. Ken Berry stepped in to fill the void. Many of Mayberry's familiar citizens such as Goober, Howard Sprague and Emmett Clark stuck around. Although not on par with the Griffith show, it ranked in the top 15 each of its three seasons.
"Designing Women" (1986-'93). Although this show had plenty of Southern humor, it wasn't of the hayseed, backwoods variety. The well-written show centered on four women (played by Delta Burke, Dixie Carter, Jean Smart and Annie Potts) who ran an interiordecorating business in Atlanta. Southern humorist Lewis Grizzard did a guest shot as himself in one episode. The show's theme song was "Georgia On My Mind."
"Evening Shade" (1990-'94). Burt Reynolds starred as Wood Newton, a former college and pro football standout, who returned to his hometown of Evening Shade, Ark., to coach his old high school team, the Mules.
"The Waltons" (1972-'81). Richard Thomas starred as John-Boy Walton, who each week related the ups and downs of growing up in his Virginia family during the Depression. The love (and sometimes the squabbles) that bonded the family members struck a chord in American viewers.
"Matlock" (1986-'95). Andy Griffith returned to TV as cagey Atlanta defense attorney Ben Matlock, whose laid-back Southern manner often worked to his favor while on a case. And when you watched Matlock all but drooling while munching on a hot dog, it made you want to go get one.
"In the Heat of the Night" (1988-'94). Inspired by the 1967 Oscar-winning movie, this series about a white Southern sheriff working alongside his new black chief of detectives in the fictional town of Sparta, Miss., was first-rate all around. Carroll O'Connor was terrific as Sheriff Bill Gillespie and Howard Rollins was also outstanding as Detective Virgil Tibbs. Although racial issues were tackled from time to time, they were never the focal point of the series.
"I'll Fly Away" (1991-93). This short-lived but extremely effective show about race relations in the South during the late 1950s drew critical praise but a small audience.