Andy Griffith told the Television Academy Foundation that he felt the show wasn’t working in the pilot episode. The Andy Griffith Show’s first episode was actually a backdoor pilot as part of The Danny Thomas Show.
Danny Thomas is driving through Mayberry and Sheriff Andy Taylor pulls him over. Thomas refuses to pay the fine and ends up spending some time in the Mayberry jail.
Griffith didn’t like that first episode, however. Oddly, because he felt the character was too much like himself. Taylor was “too homey,” Griffith said. He was also overworked. Taylor was the sheriff of Mayberry, justice of the peace, editor of the newspaper, and did several other jobs.
“That would have lasted maybe two weeks,” Griffith joked.
But when Knotts joined the show in the second episode, Griffith said he realized what was missing.
“I knew by that episode that Don should be the comic, and I should play straight for him, and that made all the difference,” Griffith also said. “All the difference.”
That allowed Mayberry to become “a living town,” he said, which opened up so many avenues for other comedic characters.
“Mayberry was actually the star of the show,” Griffith said. ” (Producer) Sheldon (Leonard) said one time, ‘I think we missed named this show. It should have been called Mayberry to start with.'”
Griffith also admits that without Knotts the show would have never worked.
“He changed the whole groundwork of it,” Griffith said.
Andy Griffith Talks About How He Ended Up On Television
Andy Griffith began his career as a standup comic working in nightclubs. His comedy is still beloved decades later. But in the 1950s, after years on the road, he said he was tired. Luckily, producer Ira Levin loved Griffith’s work and cast him as Will Stockdale in a 1955 hour-long television version of Mac Hyman’s book “No Time For Sergeants.”
That role was then expanded and turned into a Broadway play. Griffith further reprised the role for the stage production and again in 1958 for a TV movie of the book. Don Knotts played Corporal Manual Dexterity in the Broadway show and movie. But the roles dried up, and Griffith was left looking for work. He went to his agent Abe Lastfogel and said he was ready for a change.
“I said, ‘Mr. Lastfogel,’ I’ve struck out in movies and on now Broadway, and I don’t want to go back to nightclubs,” he said. “So, maybe I should try television.”
His agent reached out to Danny Thomas and his business partner Sheldon Leonard, who knew Griffith’s work and loved his comedy. Conversely, they began brainstorming several different ideas, which grew into The Andy Griffith Show.