Andy Griffith loved working with Sheldon Leonard because Leonard knew when to intervene and when to stay out of the way. He also loved how that despite Leonard creating The Andy Griffith Show he allowed Griffith the lion’s share of the show’s direction.
He explained their working relationship to the Archive of American Television several years ago.
“Friday we rehearsed, and we shot Monday, Tuesday, (and) Wednesday,” the TV icon said. “Sheldon would come down we read two scripts on Thursday. One to be shot a week away, and one we shot that following Monday. Sheldon would read the script, and then Sheldon would give his notes on it. And he would leave, and that’s what was so appealing about Sheldon, he’d give his notes on it and leave. And we would either accept what he had to say or not, and nothing was ever said about it. Sheldon never mentioned if we would either take his idea or not.”
Griffith almost didn’t work with Leonard. The first episode of The Andy Griffith Show was a backdoor pilot. That means they included it as an episode of an established show. That show was The Danny Thomas Show. Sheriff Andy Taylor ends up throwing Thomas in jail for a traffic violation.
Griffith said the entire time on set, Leonard and Thomas screamed at one another. It was an endless shouting match. At the end of the day, Griffith was ready to quit. He told Leonard “if this is TV is, I don’t think I can handle it.” But Leonard walked him out and gave him some sage advice.
“The star dictates what the attitude will be on set,” Griffith recalled. “He said Danny likes to yell, so we all yell. If you don’t want to yell nobody yells. That’s the way it was.”
‘The Andy Griffith Show’ Was a Tough Sell to Star
The first meeting between Andy Griffith and Sheldon Leonard took place at a sandwich shop in New York, according to MeTV. Andy picked the location because it was his favorite lunch spot in town. He was comfortable there. The pair sat at a table and had a bite to eat while Leonard laid out the pitch for The Andy Griffith Show.
Leonard pitched Griffith his idea, but Griffith sat quietly saying little. He smiled and nodded but didn’t react like someone who was just told they might get their own TV show.
It took three meetings between the two before Griffith signed on to the show. In the third meeting, Griffith let fly a fusillade of questions about the show’s direction and creative control. All the questions Leonard wanted to hear, that let him know Griffith had been listening in those earlier meetings.
After Griffith signed on, Leonard asked Andy why he took so long to agree to do The Andy Griffith Show. Andy said simply, “I just wanted to know who I was dealing with.”