The Andy Griffith Show was one of the greatest shows to ever air. There were a couple of things that made the show work as well as it did. First and foremost, Andy Griffith had a massive amount of creative control over the series. He also had a great sense of humor. So, he would take the scripts for the show and fix them to his liking. The other major ingredient in the show was Don Knotts. He was hilarious without even trying. So, Barney Fife became the perfect comic relief and foil to Andy’s character.
Griffith wasn’t shy about the fact that Don Knotts improved the show. He often said that The Andy Griffith Show wouldn’t have worked without Knotts. However, Don had no ownership of the series. So, if he was so instrumental to the success of the show, why didn’t he have a stake in it?
Why Don Knotts Held No Ownership of The Andy Griffith Show
Author Daniel de Visé laid it all out in his book Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show. Andy held so much creative control on the show for the same reason that Don Knotts didn’t have any ownership of it: behind-the-scenes financial dealings. Before The Andy Griffith Show aired its pilot episode, General Foods bought it. The company dropped almost $2 million on the first season. They loved the charm of the show as well as its star. At the same time, they saw the magic of Mayberry before anyone else.
Dick Linke, Andy’s manager knew that neither of them had the Hollywood cred to have any say-so in The Andy Griffith Show. Neither of the men had any real experience in Hollywood at all. In fact, most of their careers were based in New York. So, the West Coast was a whole new ball game for them.
Linke knew what would help them get the clout they needed. It was money. He went to Bank of America and borrowed enough money to make him and Andy majority owners of The Andy Griffith Show. The benefit here was two-fold. It gave Andy a certain amount of control. At the same time, it made him and Linke rich in the long run.
Don Knotts, on the other hand, didn’t have that luxury. Andy Griffith Show producers low-balled Knotts. First, they gave him a one-season contract. Then, they signed him to a five-year deal. He started out making just over $35k a year. Adjusted for inflation, that’s just under $316k a year. It was good money for a television actor in 1960. At the same time, Don didn’t have any of the risks that Andy did. So, he didn’t have any ownership nor did he get rich from the show. However, he wasn’t risking anything but a job. So, it kind of balanced out.