Don Knotts was one of the most famous comedians of his generation during his turn as Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. But when the show ended in 1968, it was hard for producers to figure out how to best use his comedic talents.
He did some films — Shakiest Gun in the West and The Love God?, according to IMDb — but neither were great fits. But in the late 1960s and early 70s, variety shows were incredibly popular. Knotts, with his wide-ranging comedic abilities, seemed tailor-made for such a show. But he wasn’t cut out for the variety format.
The Don Knotts Show was a middling attempt to capitalize off of the genre but failed on nearly every level. Knotts told the Archive of American Television that competition stiff and he couldn’t break through the other shows.
“I think it was 22 weeks they gave me,” Knotts said. “We did all kinds of things,” Knotts explained, but the show couldn’t compete with shows such as The Carol Burnett Show, Donny & Marie, Sonny & Cher, and so on. “There was a tremendous competition that season for variety because everybody and his brother had a variety show.”
NBC Tries to Save ‘The Don Knotts’ Show’
Don Knotts admits that hosting wasn’t “his cup of tea,” and he puts the show’s failure on his shoulders.
“I was not a hit,” he said, “because … hosting a variety show was not my cup of tea. I didn’t know how to do it well”
He’d always been best as the comedic relief like he was in The Andy Griffith Show. The scene-stealing lieutenant that was best served when he was set up for the joke. Hosting put the onus on him, he said, and it wasn’t something he enjoyed.
NBC tried to help him out with great bookings. He had some of the biggest guest stars and popular musicians of the time appear in sketches. Andy Griffith dropped in for a sketch. The network even hired Bob Sweeney, who had directed The Andy Griffith Show, to see if he could retool the show and fix some of the problems.
“He came in and made some changes in the writing staff. Then he made some changes in the show creatively. And he did a good job. He improved the show, I thought,” Knotts said.
But it just wasn’t enough, and the show was canned after a season as ratings remained low. Knott’s career saw little setback from the cancellation. He would go on to star on scores of popular movies and television shows. His most famous most likely being Three’s Company a decade later.