Burns joined the show after five seasons of the Knotts and Griffith variety hour. The two actor’s chemistry formed the heart and draw of the show. Replacing half of the comedy repair with another was just a fool’s errand. Burns was like a misplaced puzzle piece, not quite fitting where the producers put him.
Knotts left because of a comedy of errors. He thought the show was ending after its fifth season. But Griffith decided to prolong the series, and it was too late for Knotts to get out of his five-year film deal with Universal. Griffith found his replacement at a nightclub in San Francisco.
Burns had a natural gift for comedy and even performed alongside legendary comedian George Carlin. Griffith decided to bring him onto the show as Mayberry’s newest deputy Warren. But Burns probably should have stuck to stand-up.
“We decided to make him Floyd’s nephew on the show. So we put him on – and we said we are not replacing Don. But we were replacing Don and we were giving him Don Knotts material,” Griffith said in his biography.
Fans criticized Burns and his character Warren for not being Knotts and his beloved Barney Fife. Meanwhile, Griffith struggled to connect with the new actor in the same way. In some ways, he was playing a knock-off of Fife and never got the chance to grow or make the character his own.
Andy Griffith Fired Jack Burns
To make matters worse, Knotts returned in the episode “The Legend of Barney Fife” for a guest appearance. This brought even more comparisons between them. The producers fired Burns after only 11 episodes. He was let go before Christmas 1965.
“I can’t begin to explain how uncomfortable we were. I get strung out easily, and if I’m uncomfortable I’m hell to be around, and I was very uncomfortable,” Griffith said in the book “Andy and Don.”
Years later, Griffith bumped into Burns. The actor was admittedly bitter about his time on the show. But over the years, he got over it. During the 1970s, Burns found his passion behind the cameras and doing voice overwork. He became the head writer and producer on “The Muppets.” He also co-wrote their big-screen outing. Burns eventually joined as a writer on “Hee Haw” as well.
“I saw Jack some years later,” Griffith said, “and he said he was bitter for a while, but he got over it. It wasn’t Jack’s fault, it was our fault.”