The Andy Griffith Show was a watershed moment for television, but it nearly never happened. That’s because Andy Griffith had such a bad time filming the pilot, he said he almost quit show business. And it was all because of one man.
The Andy Griffith Show started life as a backdoor pilot on The Danny Thomas Show. The plot was that Danny Thomas was driving from Florida to “up North” when he got caught speeding in Mayberry, Griffith told the Archive of American Television in 1998. Thomas refused to pay the fine, and Griffith threw him in jail.
It was all laughs for the audience, but behind-the-scenes it was a mess, Griffith recalled. Mostly because Danny Thomas had loud shouting matches with nearly everyone. Especially the show’s producer Sheldon Leonard, who would go on to produce The Andy Griffith Show.
Griffith said he couldn’t take it, and he wanted out.
He approached Leonard one day after filming had ended and said, “If this is what television is, I don’t think I can handle it.”
Sheldon Leonard, always the calming presence, responded, “Andy, the star dictates what the attitude will be on the set. Danny likes to yell, so we all yell. If you don’t want to yell, nobody will yell.”
That was enough to bring Griffith back to the set the next day, and it showed Griffith that Leonard would be a great partner in The Andy Griffith Show.
‘The Andy Griffith Show’ Was Tough Sell to its Star
Their relationship started out quite similarly, with Sheldon Leonard having to talk Andy Griffith into his own TV show.
Their first meeting took place at a sandwich shop in New York, according to MeTV. Andy picked the location because it was his favorite lunch spot. It was his home turf. The pair had a bite to eat while Leonard laid out the pitch for a show.
Leonard pitched Griffith his idea, but Griffith said very little. He smiled and nodded but didn’t react like someone who was just told they might get their own TV show. The second meeting went about the same, with Griffith saying little.
But in their third meeting, Griffith finally opened up and hit Leonard with a laundry list of questions. What would show direction be? Who would have creative control? All the questions Leonard wanted to hear.
After Griffith signed on, Leonard asked Andy why he took so long to agree to do The Andy Griffith Show. Andy said simply, “I just wanted to know who I was dealing with.”