The place well known as the inspiration of the fictional television town of Mayberry is destined to hit the airwaves, but this time around the city will be cast as itself.
The cast and crew of “Bringing Up Bates,” a reality show based on a Tennessee couple and their 19 children, came to Mount Airy to film an episode for the upcoming season on Up TV.
“I thought it would be a good fit for them,” said Bill Hayes, a Mount Airy native whose company, Figure 8 Films, produces the program.
The whole thing started when executive producer Matthew Hightower came to Mount Airy to shoot aerial footage for Hayes’s documentary, The REAL Mayberry.
Hightower visited The Earle Theatre and “the first thing I thought was Lawson has got to shoot here,” he said, referring to one of the show’s stars, Lawson Bates.
Lawson, the fourth eldest sibling of the 19, has a band and is on tour promoting his second studio album.
They booked a show at the Earle, and the episode idea blossomed from there.
“I think there’s such a crossover with the Bates and ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’” said Hayes, such as a strong emphasis on faith, family values and humor.
The brood, who are homeschooled with a limited exposure to television, also happen to be big fans of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
“That was one of the few shows the family let them watch,” Haynes said.
Jessica Icenhour Roberts, director of marketing and tourism for the city, helped facilitate a Mayberry-packed day for the cast and crew.
Accompanied by his brother, Nathan Bates, Lawson started off at WPAQ radio station for a tour and interview.
The pair (and six-member production crew entourage) also hit Floyd’s City Barber Shop for an actual hair cut, Wally’s Service Station and the granite quarry before meeting the rest of the family for lunch at Barney’s Cafe.
“We just reached out and asked all the places to work with us, and of course everyone was very open,” Roberts said. “Everyone’s been so receptive and so nice.”
The locals involved seemed to have a good time with the experience.
“It’s been amazing,” said Bill Hiatt, of Floyd’s City Barber Shop. “The young men were just super nice. You can tell they had some wonderful upbringing.”
Allen Burton drove the pair around in a Mayberry squad car for part of the day – and even let Lawson take it for a spin around the block.
“This has been the most fun,” Burton said. “We do these tours every day, but this is the first time we ever did one for someone that’s famous.”
The veteran tour guide said he was impressed with how popular the show was and how frequently the brothers were recognized.
“These people found out they were here and they just loved it,” he said.
Count Karen Brady, of Ridgeway, Virginia, among those fans.
Shopping downtown, Brady happened to pass by Lawson, Nathan and Burton parked in the squad car on Main Street.
She got her friend, Tamela Morrison, to snap a few pictures on her cell phone.
“I just love their family,” said Brady, also noting that she watches “The Andy Griffith Show” everyday.
“You don’t have to worry about anything bad on that show – either one,” she said.
Nathan and Lawson betrayed their fondness for Andy Griffith as they moved from one Mayberry hot spot to another.
When they first met Burton, several exclamations – “Citizens arrest!” – were uttered.
Standing outside Floyd’s they talked with the crew about how to get to Wally’s Service Station on South Main Street.
“It’s on the way out of town,” Nathan joked. “Don’t you watch the show?”
Lawson said spending time in Mount Airy has been very meaningful to him considering his familiarity with the show and because the Bates clan was able to experience it with him.
“It makes it more than a concert, more than meeting new fans,” he said, adding that it was exciting, and “a little odd” to see things like the jail in the Mayberry Courthouse, which he’s been watching on television his whole life.
It also made him consider his role as a television personality.
“We’re just living our real life,” he said, which is basically how he always perceived the folks in Mayberry.
“You view the characters as living real life, not acting,” he said. “I’m so invested in the characters’ roles I forget it’s just a TV show.”
Lawson said his favorite character on “The Andy Griffith Show” is Floyd, because he represents the “random,” great characters one often meets when growing up in a small town.
Lawson said what a lot of people said on Tuesday, that the strongest parallel between the two shows comes down to one thing: “wholesomeness.”
When asked what character he would be on the show, Lawson said, “I would think of myself as Andy; calm, cool and collected. If you ask anyone in my family,” however, “they’re going to say Barney.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.