Mayberry R.F.D. (R.F.D. is a postal abbreviation for Rural Free Delivery) was a spin-off, or, perhaps more accurately, a direct continuation of The Andy Griffith Show under a new title. When Andy Griffith decided to leave his series, most of the supporting characters returned for the new program, which ran for three seasons (78 color episodes) on the CBS network from 1968-1971. During the final season of The Andy Griffith Show, widower farmer Sam Jones (Ken Berry) and his young son Mike (Buddy Foster) are introduced; the two then become the focus of the sequel series. The show was popular but was cancelled in CBS's infamous "rural purge" of 1971.
The sequel's plot follows Sam and Mike Jones in stories reminiscent of the parent series. Both characters are introduced in the last few episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, beginning with Sam's election as head of town council. The two become the center of Mayberry R.F.D. with many performers from the Griffith show reprising their roles in the sequel. Sheriff Andy Taylor and his sweetheart, Helen Crump, for example, marry in the sequel's first episode, make a few appearances in succeeding episodes, and then leave the show with a move to Raleigh being the explanation. Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) becomes Sam's housekeeper but leaves after the second season to be replaced by Sam's cousin, Alice Cooper (Alice Ghostley). Mayberry regulars Goober Pyle (George Lindsey), Clara Edwards (Hope Summers), Emmett Clark (Paul Hartman) and Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson) are seen regularily. Don Knotts and Ronny Howard, as Barney Fife and Opie Taylor (respectively), appear in the first episode. Actress Arlene Golonka (who plays Howard Sprague's sweetheart Millie Hutchins in the Griffith show) becomes Sam's love interest, Millie Swanson, in the sequel. A recurring black character named Ralph (Charles Lampkin) lives with a teen daughter and pre-teen son next to the Jones farm.
A young Jodie Foster (series star Buddy Foster's sister) made her television debut in minor roles in two episodes, "The Wedding" and "The Charity". Emmy-winning sound engineer Richard S. Steele, a familiar child-actor of the 1960s-70s, appears in several episodes as Mike Jones' friend Harold. Frances Bavier left the show at the end of the second season, retired from acting in 1975, and moved to Siler City, North Carolina - an actual location sometimes mentioned on the show.
In the show's opening sequence, Sam and his son are seen playing baseball to an instrumental song which had its origin in the The Andy Griffith Show as "The Mayberry March". The march was reworked a number of times in the Griffith show with different tempi and orchestrations as background music.
Although a reunion telemovie Return to Mayberry was produced in 1986 and recalled many original performers from The Andy Griffith Show, Ken Berry, Buddy Foster, Arlene Golonka, and Frances Bavier did not appear.
In 1971, CBS, seeking a more urban image, cancelled all its rural-themed shows including Green Acres, Hee Haw, and The Beverly Hillbillies, in what became known as the "rural purge". Though Mayberry R.F.D.s ratings were strong enough at the end of its third season that it normally would have been renewed, it too was cancelled.
The series was popular, safely perched in Nielsen's top five for its first two years, and, despite the loss of Aunt Bee, a producer, and some top writers, the show ranked 15th in its last season. In recent years, the show has been evoked in John DiIulio's phrase "Mayberry Machiavelli", referring to the regional prejudice portrayed therein.