CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Fifty years ago Monday, the hamlet of Mayberry, N.C., invited America in to enjoy its Southern charms. And, America is still coming.

Despite a dynamite-munching goat, kerosene pickles and the occasional citizen’s arrest, Mayberry’s boundaries have held up extraordinarily well.

Still in syndication and airing daily on cable’s TV Land, “The Andy Griffith Show” has proven to be one of the most durable shows in the history of television.

Mayberry is carved into the national lexicon, a synonym for simple and genteel living. Its bug-eyed deputy, Barney Fife, is still popular shorthand for bumblers behind a badge.

It was set in a Southern paradise free from the emotional turmoil of its age. While war, riots and racial strife battered the nation’s psyche in the 1960s, Mayberry moved at a rocking-chair pace, projecting a come-sit-in-the-parlor mentality.

And what most people don’t know is, its comedic premise started out wrong.

At 9:30 p.m., Oct. 3, 1960, “The Andy Griffith Show” debuted to so-so reviews and terrific ratings.

In that episode, titled “The New Housekeeper,” Sheriff Andy Taylor’s Aunt Bee arrived to keep his house and be a mother figure to his son, Opie.

Griffith was cast as a comedic hayseed, milking laughs as a folksy bumpkin. That didn’t last.

Playing opposite Don Knotts, whose hyperkinetic performance as Fife snagged five Emmys, Griffith realized his talents were best spent playing the straight man to an eccentric cast.

“Originally, I was supposed to be funny. I noticed on the second episode that Don was funny and I should be straight. That set it up and I played straight to the rest,” Griffith said in a 2003 interview.

Stamos wants his statement read in court at pair’s sentencing for extortion attempt

MARQUETTE, Mich. – Actor John Stamos can’t make it to federal court in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula next week, but he still wants to be heard.

Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to allow them to read a statement from Stamos when two people are sentenced Friday for trying to extort $680,000 from him.

In July, Allison Coss and Scott Sippola were found guilty of conspiracy and using e-mail to threaten a person’s reputation. They were accused of demanding money from Stamos in exchange for turning over embarrassing photos of him.

The FBI says there were no photos.

Stamos has known Coss for years after meeting her in Orlando, Fla., in 2004 when she was 17.

Stamos plays a dentist on Fox’s hit musical “Glee.”

O’Donnell: Meatballs in, Hare Krishna out

WILMINGTON, Del. – Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell says with a laugh that she tried several religions but skipped becoming a Hare Krishna because she didn’t want to be vegetarian in a 1999 interview.

Bill Maher aired the clip of O’Donnell Friday night on his show “Real Time with Bill Maher.” The short clip was from an interview on the comedian’s former show “Politically Incorrect” from July 9, 1999.

O’Donnell tells Maher that she had dabbled in “every other kind of religion,” including witchcraft and Buddhism, before becoming a Christian.

With a laugh, she said: “I would have become a Hare Krishna, but I didn’t want to become a vegetarian. And that is honestly the reason why, because I’m Italian and I love meatballs.”

It’s the third clip of O’Donnell that Maher has shown since she won her state’s GOP primary last month.

Reached by phone, O’Donnell campaign spokesman Chris Merola had no immediate comment.