While it may seem like Mayberry just sprang to life, “The Andy Griffith Show” actually changed a lot during the early days of the show. For one, Andy Griffith decided to take his character, Sheriff Andy Taylor, in a different direction after the pilot episode.
Griffith’s sheriff was known for being lighthearted, kind, and also rather wise. He often acted as the straight man, the everyday guy to some of Mayberry’s more colorful characters. But if Griffith had stuck with his original plan, he would have been just as kooky as Otis or Gomer.
Originally, Griffith wrote his character as a bit of a jokester and funny man on the show. But all that changed after the first episode. Why? Well, audiences can thank Don Knotts and his scene-stealing performance as Deputy Barney Fife. Griffith quickly realized the partnership worked better if Taylor acted as a foil to Fife’s antics.
Don Knotts Gets a Contract on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’
What is even more surprising is that Knotts wasn’t even meant to star on the show. He arrived on set for the first episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” without a contract. Knotts wasn’t what people called a household commodity at the time. But all that changed when he impressed both Griffith and the executive producers on the show.
Knotts and Griffith had a chemistry that producers could build a show around. Everyone involved quickly realized that they had something special on their hands. As actor Ron Howard once said, “Andy was the world’s greatest audience for Don. Don had Andy literally in tears once a week. Having come from similar backgrounds, the two hit it off right from the jump. They were two Southern guys with similar backgrounds, stories, and childhoods, so they were drawn to each other instantly.”
Knotts signed a five-year contract with the show, and for five seasons, the duo entertained audiences. It’s hard to imagine what the show would have been like without Knotts’ presence. Especially with Griffith as the funny guy of the show. Audiences would probably have gotten a more bumbling sheriff. And we would have missed out on some of those small moments of tenderness that Griffith later brought to the character.
It’s a very real possibility that it wouldn’t have been as popular or as beloved as it is today. But fortunately, Griffith quickly adjusted his character and the scope of the show.