Legendary actor and comedian Don Knotts was most assuredly one of the largest draws to The Andy Griffith Show. His humorous role as the bumbling deputy Barney Fife was a perfect fit for Griffith’s right-hand man.
Just five years into the classic sitcom’s tenure on the tube, which by the way was still performing quite well in the ratings at the time, Knotts made an unexpected and unnerving announcement indicating that he was leaving the show. Everyone was shocked by the news and the producers of The Andy Griffith Show were faced with a major problem on their hands.
How on earth could they replace somebody as seemingly irreplaceable as Don Knotts? He was a distinguished character actor who had his role down-pat. Nobody could have played Barney Fife like he did and even if somebody tried to mimic him, they would most certainly fail miserably in the process.
So at this point, you’ve probably got a lot of questions. Why did Knotts choose to take his leave when he did? What did Andy and company do to fill the void that Knotts left behind? And who was brought in to replace him if anyone? Keep watching to have all of these questions and more answered.
Don Knotts Considered Andy To Be The ‘Captain Of The Ship’
Knotts, who first appeared on the series when it debuted in 1960, told Richard Kelly author of 1981s The Andy Griffith Show Book, that Griffith as the name of the show suggested, was in full control over every last detail of the series.
Knotts shared that Andy was ‘the captain of the ship’ as he put it and that he not only enjoyed starring in it but he also enjoyed being in charge of the whole operation. He reportedly had his hand in every bit of its production. While Knotts admitted that everyone was involved in it, Andy in particular was more involved than anybody else.
Jack Dodson who played Howard Sprague on the show agreed with Knott’s assessment. He told kelly that not only did Andy ‘run the ship’, as it were, but he was also wholly devoted to the series script and its characters in addition to his own performance. He would frequently ask his colleagues whether the script was funny, how solid the story was, and how believable it was. He could be a perfectionist at times, but only because he wanted to materialize his inner vision for how he thought the show should be. Griffith was driven and his show was his baby. Almost nothing meant more to him than it did.
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And don’t you dare think about going anywhere so soon. Stick around to find out who was called in to replace Knotts after he took his leave. We’ll just say this. Although Knott’s replacement was a talented actor and a gifted comic, there is a very good reason why he only lasted 11 episodes before getting the boot.
Why Knotts Jumped Ship
Knotts chose to leave the show in 1965 because he had been told by Andy on multiple occasions that the series would be coming to a close after its fifth season. So he decided that it was in his best interest to start self-promoting his career so that he could figure out what he was going to do after the show wrapped up.
But as fate would have it, Griffith, changed his mind about ending the show and decided to keep it going. but by the time that this news had reached Knotts, it was already too late. What was done was done.
Knotts had already signed a five-year movie deal with Universal Studios and the Andy Griffith Show would have to go on without Barney. Knotts did however return to the show from time to time to make guest appearances.
Knotts Made His Co-Stars Laugh Too Much
Don Knotts’s presence on set routinely resulted in a great deal of laughter from the cast and crew. Although at times this wasn’t entirely intentional. Quite specifically, Knotts, found it particularly difficult to work with actor Howard McNear who played Floyd. Apparently, there was just something about his facial expressions that would always send into a belly laugh.
Every time that he would look at him he couldn’t help but crack up. This proved to be quite the problem because they would have to shoot the same scenes over and over again before he could do it without laughing. The more that he would laugh, the more that everybody else would as well. It was chaotic at best and sometimes it would take up to two hours just to get one shot done.
Jack Burns Was Brought In To Fill The Hole Left By Knotts
When Knotts finished filming his last episode on The Andy Griffith Show, the reality of his impending departure finally set in for Griffith and the show’s producers. They quickly had to figure out how to replace their fan-favorite actor but how could they possibly find someone that could fill his shoes? Knotts unique and finely crafted comic character was unlike anybody else. If they wanted to move forward, they would have to find someone equally unique and iconic in their own way. They couldn’t just be some kind of Barney Fife knock-off. That would have never worked.
At a nightclub in San Francisco, Griffith sat and watched a performance by a comedian named Jack Burns. He was well-known for being George Carlin’s partner and was very clearly a gifted comic. Andy loved him so much that he decided to make him Floyd’s nephew on his show. At first, he tried to make it clear to everyone that he wasn’t trying to replace Knotts but ultimately that’s exactly what they were trying to do. They even gave him Knotts material hoping that he could make it work.
Burns character Warren wasn’t very popular with audiences and even more so with Griffith who found his addition to be underwhelming. Knotts was even invited back for the episode ‘The Legend of Barney Fife’ to lend his support for his new replacement hoping that would help ease viewers into the transition. But even with Knotts endorsement, Warren was a dud and Burns was relieved of his contract after just 11 episodes.
Griffith Called Burns A Mistake
While Burns definitely gave The Andy Griffith Show his best, at some point he was sat down and told that it just wasn’t working. To be honest though, it probably wouldn’t have worked out for anyone trying to take Don Knotts place. That was one shadow that was just too big to compete with.
Griffith was once quoted as saying that during Burn’s stint on the show, everyone on the set was super uncomfortable and on edge. He told Daniel de Vise, author of 2015s Andy and Don, that he gets strung out fairly easily and that when he’s uncomfortable, he can be hell to be around. And during that time, he was definitely uncomfortable, so you can probably imagine how thick the tension had to have been on set.
Burns was told to kick rocks right before Christmas in 1965. Griffith told Vise that he ran into Burns a few years later and he admitted that he was bitter and resentful for a while but he eventually got over it. After all, it wasn’t really his fault that he wasn’t a good fit for the show. He was just put into an incredibly difficult situation where there was no real right way of resolving the situation.
Burns eventually found his niche in the entertainment industry working as a voice-over artist. He also became the lead writer and producer of the first season of The Muppets and co-wrote 1979s The Muppet Movie.
Burns also contributed his unique sense of humor as lead writer on Hee Haw proving that he was still more than qualified to do a rural comedy even though The Andy Griffith show wasn’t a good fit for him.
Decades later, burns voiced Vince, a crash test dummy featured in PSAs put out by the US Department of Transportation. The ads, as you might remember, reminded us that we could learn a lot from a dummy.
Burns died on January 27, 2020, at the age of 86.
Well, here we are once again at the end of another facts-packed video.
It makes sense that nobody was able to fill Don Knott’s shoes, but it’s still fairly unfortunate what happened to Jack Burns. Getting fired from The Andy Griffith Show dealt a major blow to his acting career, and while he was still able to find some degree of success in the entertainment industry, he would have likely had many more opportunities to show off his acting skills if he had gotten his start on a different program.
And can you imagine how frustrated Don Knotts must have been after he quit the show only to find out that it wasn’t being canceled like he repeatedly was told it would be? But at least for him, he went on to have a thriving movie career and eventually returned to the small screen to co-star in Three’s Company. Then in 1988, he got the chance to reunite with his old friend Andy Griffith in another show, playing the recurring character Les Calhoun on Matlock until 1992.
Knotts final role was in 2006s Air Buddies, a straight-to-video sequel to Air Bud. He died at the age of 81 on February 24, 2006, at Cedars-Sinai Medical center in Los Angeles.
Anyway, now’s your turn to let your voice be heard. In the comments section below let us know what your favorite episode of the Andy Griffith show was.
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