‘The Andy Griffith Show’: How Don Knotts’ First Day of Filming Changed Course of the Show

by Matthew Wilson

“The Andy Griffith Show” characters Andy Taylor and Barney Fife are one of TV’s greatest duos. But that originally wasn’t the plan. In fact, actor Don Knotts didn’t even have a contract on his first day on set.

He was just several of Mayberry’s citizens meant for a short guest role on the show. Prior to the show, Knotts had appeared in several productions and even acted alongside Andy Griffith. But he wasn’t the star he would later become. While Griffith and his on-screen family had a secure place on the show, Knotts didn’t know if he would survive the premiere.

Fortunately, executive producer Sheldon Leonard realized the two actors had great chemistry together. He quickly realized that Knotts and Griffith’s friendship would be the draw for viewers. He offered Knotts a one-year contract on the show that same day and later extended it to a five-year deal.

Actor Ron Howard perhaps best described the duo’s off-screen friendship.

“Andy was the world’s greatest audience for Don,” Howard said. “Don had Andy literally in tears once a week. Having come from similar backgrounds, the two hit it off right from the jump. They were two Southern guys with similar backgrounds, stories, and childhoods, so they were drawn to each other instantly.”

Additionally, other Mayberry mainstays initially joined the show without contracts. For instance, Hal Smith only intended to portray town drunk Otis Campbell for an episode. Likewise, Aneta Corsaut, who portrayed Griffith’s love interest, joined the show as a guest star.

Don Knotts Leaves ‘The Andy Griffith Show’

It’s safe to say that Knotts leaving the show was the beginning of the end for the popular sitcom. For five seasons, Knotts and Griffith entertained audiences. But Knotts didn’t realize the show wasn’t ending after Season Five when he signed a movie deal at Universal. Without Knotts, a little bit of Mayberry’s magic died, and the show just wasn’t as fun for Griffith.

“[Barney Fife actor Don Knotts] was gone, and the show had gone into color from black and white,” Griffith said. “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.”

“The Andy Griffith Show” came to the end after eight seasons. But Knotts and Griffith’s on-screen chemistry continues to entertain audiences today.