Andy Griffith once said he and the producers of The Andy Griffith Show never expected that the now-iconic comedy series would have the success it enjoyed while it was on the air, and enjoys still today.
At some point, however, he decided to leave the show to try his hand at other roles and projects.
Griffith’s first attempts at launching a new show were poorly received and the actor was sure he would never find another program that would experience the success of The Andy Griffith Show. He was wrong.
He left ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ in the 8th season
Once The Andy Griffith Show entered its eighth season, Griffith made the decision to leave the show he’d built up since 1960 to try out new acting opportunities that stretched him out of his Mayberry comfort zone.
“[Barney Fife actor Don Knotts] was gone, and the show had gone into color from black and white,” Griffith told the Archive of American Television in 1998. “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.”
Griffith’s longtime manager, Richard Linke, told The Andy Griffith Show author Richard Kelly, “Andy had gotten to the point where he was physically and mentally tired and felt he couldn’t add any more to the character,” he said.
Griffith’s dismal show attempts after ‘The Andy Griffith Show’
The actor worked on a variety of series after leaving his namesake show, including: the comedy-drama Headmaster in 1970, which lasted 13 episodes; another comedy, The New Andy Griffith Show in 1971, with a total of 10 episodes; police show Adams of Eagle Lake in 1975, canceled after two episodes; the 20-episode sci-fi series Salvage 1 in 1979; and 1980’s short-lived family drama, The Yeagers, gone after a couple of episodes.
The television innovator who died in 2012 at age 86 told the Archive of American Television about his career after The Andy Griffith Show.
“I was in Headmaster and The New Andy Griffith Show, which didn’t go anywhere,” he said. “I did some movies for television. I played my first heavy, first out-and-out heavy on a show called Pray for the Wildcats. And then I did another one right after that for Aaron Spelling called Savages.”
Griffith received his only Emmy nomination in his career for his work on the television film, Murder in Texas.
Griffith came back with ‘Matlock’
Finally in 1986, Griffith found ratings triumph again with the courtroom drama, Matlock. In the series, Griffith played sought-after trial attorney Ben Matlock and gave the character his own special touch.
“Matlock was different from anything that I played,” he said. “It was a great role.”
According to the star, then-NBC president Brandon Tartikoff saw Griffith playing a lawyer in the television movie, Fatal Vision, and as the actor put it, “saw something he liked.”
“So he called [producer] Fred Silverman and says, ‘See if you can get Andy to play a lawyer. So, it finally happened.”
Griffith spoke on how drastically different he found television to have changed since his Andy Griffith Show days.
“It was so easy in the early days,” he said. “It was just Sheldon and Aaron and me and Don. We didn’t have to answer to anybody.”