Don Knotts is beloved by TV audiences for playing Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show.” It seems like he was on there the entire run, but he was not at all.
Let’s talk about why Knotts left the popular CBS show after five seasons. Griffith, who played Sheriff Andy Taylor, originally said he only wanted to do the situation comedy for five seasons. So he and Knotts both signed five-year contracts. Knotts, who had worked as a character actor in films and on Steve Allen’s “Tonight,” started looking for work during that fifth season.
He ended up signing a five-year movie deal with Universal Pictures, according to an article on IMDB. That’s where he made movies like “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” and “The Incredible Mr. Limpett.”
Knotts Couldn’t End New Deal for ‘The Andy Griffith Show’
But Griffith decided that he wanted to keep on going with the series for three more seasons. In fact, Knotts was also offered a three-year contract. Yet Knotts was bound by his contract with Universal Pictures. He couldn’t get out of it, so he left the show.
Griffith and show producers Danny Thomas and Sheldon Leonard looked for someone to fill Knotts’ shoes. They selected comedian Jack Burns, who was part of the comedy team of Burns and Schreiber, to play Deputy Warren Ferguson.
Needless to say, viewers weren’t happy and wanted Knotts back on the show. Burns, a very successful comedian in his own right, was let go after 11 episodes.
Knotts would return for a couple of guest spots during the last seasons of “The Andy Griffith Show.” Viewers were happy to see Barney Fife back in Mayberry, yet there was a little bit of the original magic between Knotts and Griffith missing in those guest shots.
Show’s Star Made Decision To End Popular Series On CBS
It appears that Andy Griffith himself made the call after eight seasons to end “The Andy Griffith Show.”
His show was one of those that moved from black-and-white episodes to color ones in the 1960s. At the time, color televisions were becoming the rage and viewers wanted their shows in glorious color. To Griffith, this took away from Mayberry’s quaintness.
But some shows might have seen their lights dim a bit in popularity. Griffith sensed this happening, yet he, too, was getting tired of playing the same character after eight seasons.
“(Barney Fife actor Don Knotts) was gone, and the show had gone into color from black and white,” Griffith said in an interview. “And it was getting like a regular situation comedy. And I was afraid I wasn’t holding up my end of it any longer. Also, I wanted to try my wings outside.”
Griffith’s friends knew he was serious about ending the show. He was clearly struggling in the final years to handle the changes. So it was goodbye Mayberry and hello to new opportunities for Griffith and the cast.