‘The Andy Griffith Show’: What Was Don Knotts’ First TV Role?

by Joe Rutland

Seeing Don Knotts play a dramatic role instead of comedy on “The Andy Griffith Show” might throw some fans a bit off-kilter.

Well, get ready for the hard truth. Knotts first appeared on television in the CBS-NBC soap opera “Search for Tomorrow.” If you’re looking for Knotts to be talking a lot in his role, then forget it. He played Wilbur, a young man who is shown lying in bed unconscious.

But that marked the first television exposure for the man who would help maintain security in Mayberry with one single bullet.

Here’s a clip showing what Knotts called his only “serious” role from “Search for Tomorrow.” Make sure and take a look at the early television advertisements that appear before Knotts’ scene starts.

Don Knotts Turns His Attention To Comedy Work

After this part, Knotts really just focused on comedic work.

Some of it started with comedian Steve Allen, who put together a number of actors and comics for his show. Knotts would appear in “Man on the Street” skits as a nervous-twitching fellow. Allen would ask people who walked in front of a camera questions on different subjects.

Knotts was one of Allen’s regular comic actors, along with Tom Poston, Louis Nye, and Bill Dana. Poston is mostly remembered for his role on “Newhart.” Nye played love-struck Sonny Drysdale on “The Beverly Hillbillies” and other character roles.

Dana gained fame first as a comedy writer for Don Adams on “Get Smart” as the originator of the “Would you believe?” jokes. He eventually found himself on Allen’s show as a writer and created his Jose Jimenez character, who was from Bolivia.

Knotts Finds Stride On ‘The Andy Griffith Show’

Obviously, Knotts went on from “The Steve Allen Show” to fame and fortune as Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show.” He played Fife for five seasons before leaving the show. Knotts picked up three Emmy Awards during those five seasons, then two more Emmys for appearances in 1966 and 1967.

But Knotts also had a movie career, too, as he starred in “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,” “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” and others. Knotts inked a five-movie deal with Universal Pictures, believing Griffith was going to stop his CBS series after five seasons.

His TV work also included a few seasons as landlord Ralph Furley on ABC’s hit comedy “Three’s Company.”

Knotts remained connected to the Fife character throughout his life. Griffith and Knotts did work together again, though, on Griffith’s legal TV show “Matlock.” Their chemistry remained intact, even though it was a different show and different characters.

Don Knotts died in 2006. Griffith said after Knotts’ death that he’d lost his best friend. Many people around the world who watched “The Andy Griffith Show” could relate to Griffith’s words. Knotts was like a best friend to many people.