‘Matlock’: Andy Griffith Had to Purge ‘Ralph Furley’ From Don Knotts Before His Guest Appearances on the Legal Drama
Considering that one of his previous roles before Matlock was as the loudly dressed, self-described ladies’ man Ralph Furley, it was only natural that Knotts would bring some of those mannerisms into his role as Les Calhoun.
Griffith, however, wasn’t having it and made sure to “undo” the Ralph Furley from Knotts before anything else.
Knotts appeared in 17 episodes of ‘Matlock’
The former Barney Fife actor joined the Matlock cast in 1988. When his imminent arrival was announced, viewers and fans were understandably excited at the prospect of a reunion between him and Griffith.
At the time, Griffith stated, “Don Knotts is the best comic actor I ever met, and I play straight for him better than any man in America. I can’t live without comedy. This show will always be what it is — a courtroom mystery — but what’s important to me is what happens along the way. When we can get something offbeat, that appeals to me.”
‘Three’s Company’ was Knotts’ 2nd claim to fame
As famous as The Andy Griffith Show made Knotts, his other notable television part was as the Ralph Furley character. He told the Television Academy Foundation in 1999 that he didn’t even need to audition for the 1970s and ’80s situation comedy. The show knew he was the man for the part.
“They just decided they wanted me,” he said. “Norman Fell was playing the landlord. They put him and the actor who played his wife in a series of their own. And they needed a new landlord so they borrowed me.”
Knotts had watched Three’s Company before accepting the role of Ralph Furley. It was a new experience for him, performing before a live audience on a three-camera set, but he enjoyed working with the show’s star John Ritter.
“John Ritter was very funny, I thought they were all funny,” he recalled. “It was a very broad comedy show, lots of broad jokes, lots of physical humor. John Ritter is a physical comedian, he could do great falls. I found myself doing falls on the show.”
Griffith asked Knotts to tone the Ralph Furley down
Once Knotts began rehearsing with Griffith for his scenes in Matlock, the former Sheriff Andy Taylor actor was aghast at what he considered the overdone acting style from Three’s Company that Knotts had brought with him.
In his own chat with the Television Academy Foundation, Griffith said: “I thought Don was awful on Three’s Company,” Griffith said. “I told him when he came into Matlock. I said, ‘Lord, Don bring it down, bring it down, you were on Three’s Company too long’ because he was performing the same way with those big huge takes and everything.”
In the end, it didn’t really matter since Knotts’ role was discontinued from Matlock as it was becoming too difficult to work the short comic scenes into the hour-long show.
“It didn’t work,” Griffith, who died in 2012, stated. “Matlock was not like the Griffith Show, even though it had comedy in it. It was an action and dramatic show, and you couldn’t stop for these little comedy scenes that didn’t go anywhere. So that character [Les Calhoun] didn’t work on our show. Don knew it didn’t, too. So, we let that go.”