Andy Griffith himself has said that the way the pilot episode of The Andy Griffith Show was formulated would have “lasted maybe two weeks.” It wasn’t until Don Knotts showed up on set that things really fell into place.
Initially, Andy Taylor was the “sheriff, justice of the peace, editor of the paper” and he would “tell little funny stories about people in the town,” according to Griffith in an interview with the Archive of American Television in 1998. There was no real comic relief, Andy Taylor had to do it all.
But, soon after the pilot aired on The Danny Thomas Show in 1960, Don Knotts called Andy Griffith and asked him about the show. Griffith said, “I didn’t know you were out of work,” and Knotts replied, “Yes, Steve was canceled,” referring to his recurring role on The Steve Allen Show.
Griffith told Knotts to call Sheldon Leonard, co-creator and executive producer of The Andy Griffith Show. After that, Don Knotts had a place on the show, and the rest is history.
“That’s what made the show a hit, was Don,” said Griffith. He went on to say, “I knew by the second episode that Don should be the comic and I should play straight for him and that made all the difference.” He explains that, with Don Knotts finally rounding out the cast, “Mayberry became a living town.”
‘The Andy Griffith Show’: Barney Fife Once Channeled Frank Sinatra
In a 1996 interview with the Today Show, Andy Griffith described Barney’s character perfectly by recollecting a scene in which he sings in the Mayberry choir.
Well, “singing” would be a stretch. He sings horribly off-key but doesn’t know it, and Andy is put in charge of telling him. Only, he can’t just tell his friend and deputy that he’s a bad singer.
“We tried to find other places to rehearse so he wouldn’t be there. And he’d show up,” Griffith said, describing the episode, “and so finally I said ‘make him the soloist,’ and then I talked him into speaking his solo swiftly.”
All went well for a few seconds, with Barney speaking the lyrics to the song in basically a monotone. But he can’t do it for long, and he breaks out into song again. When Andy stops him, he says, “Oh, it’s no use, Andy. Can you tell a bird to talk? And can you tell a bird to just go, ‘chirp chirp chirp’? No, Andy. I’m like a bird. I was born to sing.”
So, Andy Taylor hatches a plan. He tells Barney that the microphone is so sensitive that he doesn’t have to make any sound at all when he sings. Barney goes along with it, and on the night of the performance, Andy gets a professional singer to belt from behind the curtain. Barney hears this, thinks it’s his own voice, and goes full opera star.
“When Barney heard that voice, he became Frank Sinatra,” said Griffith. “It was wonderful.”