‘The Andy Griffith Show’: Don Knotts Was Cast For Sitcom After Pilot Episode Debuted

by Keeli Parkey
(Photo by: Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Don Knotts is famous for his role as Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show.” His memorable performance as the lovable and goofy deputy is one of the factors that led to the show’s popularity – then and now.

But, did you know that Knotts did not appear in the famous sitcom until after its pilot first aired? Well, according to the man himself, that is what happened.

Don Knotts talked about getting cast on “The Andy Griffith Show” during an interview with the Television Academy Foundation prior to his death in 2006. In fact, Knotts actually watched the pilot for “The Andy Griffith Show” on television with friends.

The comedic actor said he was playing Bridge with friends when one of them wanted to stop to watch television. He thought they would be watching Danny Thomas, but it turns out what came on was “The Andy Griffith Show.”

“I didn’t even know it. Andy was still back in New York,” Knotts recalled. “He was doing a musical on Broadway.”

When he watched that pilot episode about a small-town sheriff, Knotts said he thought Andy could use a deputy.

“So, I called him in New York,” Knotts added. “He said, ‘It’s a h*** of an idea.’ He said, ‘I’ll call Sheldon Leonard. He’s going to be our executive producer. Why don’t you go see him and sit with him?'”

Knotts agreed to follow Griffith’s advice.

“I went in and talked to Sheldon,” Knotts said during the interview. “We kicked it around for awhile and I waited several weeks and finally got the call to come in and do the show.”

Don Knotts Said Writers on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ Developed Barney Fife Character

And while Don Knotts originally suggested that Sheriff Andy Taylor have a deputy on “The Andy Griffith Show,” he credited the show’s writers with shaping the character of Barney Fife.

“It was my idea that he have a deputy,” Knotts said during the interview. “I didn’t create the character. In the beginning the writers wrote it, you know wrote (Barney Fife) in.”

The process was also very collaborative as the show went on.

“But we, like all running parts on TV, you know each week you would add something, then they would add something,” Knotts said. “The character was built as we went.”

In addition to talking about getting cast on the show, Knotts also talked during the interview about the sitcom’s namesake and how Griffith felt about leading his own show.

“He loved it,” Knotts said.

Knotts also talked about producer Sheldon Leonard.

“Sheldon Leonard was a wonderful, wonderful guy,” the actor said. “Smart as a tack and used a lot of big words. He’d never use a small word if he could think of a big one. Everybody thought that was kind of funny. But, he was obviously a brilliant producer.”

Knotts also said that Leonard “put the greatest cast together you could possibly imagine” for “The Andy Griffith Show.”

You can watch Don Knotts talk about “The Andy Griffith Show” with the Television Academy Foundation below.