It's one of Hollywood's grandest success stories: The boy who was Opie Taylor became a top director. He learned the lessons of Mayberry well.

And so the documentary

Ron Howard: 50 Years in Film

carries a nostalgic kick. Now 54, Howard looks back at his long, productive career in the 90-minute program, which debuts at 8 tonight on TCM.

Filmmaker Richard Schickel's setup can grow a bit tedious; Howard is the only speaker as clips play.

The half-century dates to Ron's film debut in

The Journey,

a 1959 drama with Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. Howard recalls the experience as "fantastic playtime." Unfortunately, the documentary ignores Howard's acting in

The Music Man, The Courtship of Eddie's Father,

and

American Graffiti.

And there's no mention of Howard's narration on

Arrested Development,

although it's rumored he could direct a film version of that short-lived sitcom.

The section on

Cocoon

has been dropped because of licensing issues, and so we get no Don Ameche. Bummer.

To its detriment, the documentary treats Howard's directorial efforts equally. The Tom Cruise epic

Far and Away

(which Howard calls his "most misunderstood film") gets as much attention as

Apollo 13

and

A Beautiful Mind

, which brought Howard the Oscar.

But Howard certainly deserves the well-timed retrospective because the new

Frost/Nixon

is one of his finest achievements.

Howard describes the director as "the keeper of the story." His education began on

The Andy Griffith Show,

which ran from 1960 to 1968 on CBS and continues to charm in rerun eternity.

"Andy took that show very, very seriously," Howard says. "There was no phoning it in." The education continued on

Happy Days,

the ABC sitcom where Howard learned by watching series creator Gary Marshall and Henry "the Fonz" Winkler and by working in front of a studio audience.

Producer Roger Corman put Howard on the directing path with 1977's

Grand Theft Auto.

(It plays at 9:30 tonight on TCM.) Howard has shown an affinity for stories about history and families (

Parenthood

grew out of a flight he took with his children).

Howard loves actors who can deliver powerful performances. That trend dates to

Skyward,

a 1980 TV movie he made with prickly Bette Davis. The trend has continued most famously with Russell Crowe in

A Beautiful Mind

and Frank Langella as Richard Nixon in

Frost/Nixon.

But you usually can find good acting in Howard film's supporting roles. Watch Dianne Wiest and the young Keanu Reeves interact in

Parenthood.

Or Kathleen Quinlan fret in

Apollo 13,

Jennifer Connelly stand by her man in

A Beautiful Mind

or Ian McKellen steal scenes in

The Da Vinci Code.

The trend continues with Kevin Bacon and Michael Sheen going at it in

Frost/Nixon.

Howard says he looks for stories that work out, such as

Cinderella Man.

When your own story has worked out so fabulously well, that approach makes sense.