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Tuned In: Icons Griffith, Knotts bound for TV Land

Thursday, January 20, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- Do not applaud the celebrities. That's one of the unwritten rules on the Television Critics Association press tour. After all, they're there to be interviewed at a press conference, not to perform.

But rules like that are easily broken when TV icons like Andy Griffith and Don Knotts enter the room. Their contribution to television culture on "The Andy Griffith Show" deserves acknowledgment, and they've been around long enough to have earned the appreciative sounds of clapping.

Knotts, who received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame yesterday, said he and Griffith introduced new elements to TV on their show.

"We began to do little things, have little scenes where we just talked about things that had nothing to do with the plot," Knotts said. "In the beginning they didn't want us to do that, but as time went on, you saw that in so many shows."

Griffith and Knotts appeared during a press conference for TV Land, which began airing "The Andy Griffith Show" earlier this month at 10 p.m. weeknights. The pair joked about their young co-star Ron Howard, who they thought would grow up to be an actor, not a famous director.

"I didn't know he was interested in directing, but he's certainly made a go of it," Griffith said, getting a good chuckle from his audience of cynical critics.

"We wish we had known, we'd probably have sucked up to him a little more," Knotts added.

"We would have told him we want a job," Griffith said.

The duo were quick with a quip, but Griffith said there was no ad-libbing on the set of "The Andy Griffith Show."

"We worked very hard on the script, and we knew what we had when we went in, and we rehearsed it and we shot it," Griffith said. He sat down with the writers at the end of each season to pitch story ideas for the next year. During one of those meetings Griffith had just one fight with series producer Sheldon Leonard.

"He wanted to introduce the character of a mayor who would be my boss, and I told him it wasn't going to work," Griffith said. "And it didn't."

Both actors said they enjoy watching "Seinfeld" reruns, and Knotts is a fan of "Frasier," but Griffith doesn't watch many prime-time shows, saying, "I go to bed at 8 o'clock, so if it ain't on by 8, I ain't going to see it."

Their sitcom endures, the stars believe, because of its gentle humor that came from the characters. "With joke comedy, you don't want to watch it two times," Griffith said. "But with character comedy - and then the genius Don brought with Barney Fife - you can watch it over and over again because it's just funny in itself."

"The Andy Griffith Show" will be the first subject of the new original series "Inside TV Land," which premieres at 10 p.m. March 14. Think of it as a "Biography" of a TV show, featuring interviews with cast members, creators, writers and fans.

Both Griffith and Knotts were recently profiled on "Biography" and, for the most part, they approved of their televised portraits.

"I enjoyed it, but I got tired of hearing that I was a hypochondriac," Knotts said. "I guess I am. On my gravestone it's going to say, 'I told you I was sick.' "

"The Beverly Hillbillies" comes to TV Land Monday, airing a marathon of episodes from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. that week. The sitcom comes up a bubblin' crude in its regular time slot at 9:30 p.m. Jan. 31.

"All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons" joined Nick at Nite's prime-time lineup (at 10 and 10:30 p.m. respectively) earlier this month, and "Three's Company" will return Sept. 20.

DOLE THE COMIC: Bob Dole will bring his wit to "The Daily Show" for the 2000 presidential campaign as guest political commentator.

"We are honored to have Sen. Dole join our election coverage," "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart said in a statement. "Not only does the senator bring insight, experience and wisdom, he is also the first member of our staff to have graduated from high school."

Recent ads for "The Daily Show" in the Hollywood trade papers should be required reading in Pittsburgh TV newsrooms, especially with February sweeps looming. In large type the ads say: "Reading this headline could kill you." In smaller type, the snarky ad says, "The media can turn anything into a lethal threat. To you. Your children. Even the elderly. Some say that's irresponsible. Those people have been fired."

Comedy Central also has ordered 12 more installments of the talk show "Turn Ben Stein On" for this summer. It will be joined by two original series, the comedy "Strip Mall" (Julie Brown stars in a soap set at a strip mall) and the game show "Don't Forget Your Toothbrush" (based on a British show with contestants who vie for glamorous and not-so-glamorous trips).

The network also announced it has acquired the films "Man on the Moon" and "Being John Malkovich" for airing in fall 2002.

MORE CAMPAIGNING: Linda Ellerbee's "Nick News" on Nickelodeon will also cover the presidential campaign, beginning with a "Nick News Special Edition: Kids Pick the Issues," airing 8 p.m. March 9. The town hall-style special will ask children to pick out the issues important to them in the presidential campaign.

The "Nick News" coverage will culminate in a "Kids Pick the President" special Nov. 7 where children will cast their votes. This will be the fourth "Nick News" kid election and each one has accurately predicted the outcome of the real election, according to Ellerbee.

In a poll released Tuesday, "Nick News" found if the election were held this week, 43 percent of children would vote for George W. Bush and 14 percent would vote for Al Gore. Among their parents, Bush led with 38 percent of the vote to Gore's 20 percent.

STILL MORE ELECTION COVERAGE: MTV's "Choose or Lose 2000" political awareness and voter registration campaign will include a squad of six first-time reporters ages 20 to 29 to keep the concerns of young people on the front burner during the 2000 election. "Choose or Lose 2000" kicks off Wednesday with a concert in Manchester, N.H. All the presidential candidates have been invited to address the audience.

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