The Reason Don Knotts Had to Leave ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ After 5 Seasons

Legendary actor Don Knotts was undoubtedly one of the biggest draws to The Andy Griffith Show. His role as the blundering Deputy Barney Fife was a perfect fit to Griffith’s straight man.

Five years into the classic comedy series, which was still riding high in the ratings, Knotts announced he was leaving.

Here’s what caused the beloved comic to go his own way.

Don Knotts and Andy Griffith
Don Knotts and Andy Griffith | CBS Photo Archive/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Don Knotts said Andy Griffith was ‘captain of the ship’

George Lindsey, left, and Andy Griffith on 'The Andy Griffith Show'
George Lindsey, left, and Andy Griffith on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ | CBS via Getty Images

Knotts, who debuted on the comedy series at its start in 1960, told Richard Kelly, author of 1981’s The Andy Griffith Show book, that Griffith, as the name of the show stated, was in charge of every last detail on the program.

“Andy was captain of the ship,” Knotts said. “He really was. He enjoyed not only being in it, he enjoyed being in charge of it. He was in on everything. We were all involved, but he was more involved in every capacity.”

Another Andy Griffith Show actor, Jack Dodson, who portrayed Howard Sprague on the show, agreed with that nautical metaphor, telling the author, “Andy ran the ship. His devotion was first to the pages and/or the characters, and secondly, to his performance. He would ask if the script was funny, how good the story was, and how believable it was.”

Knotts had to leave ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ for this reason

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Knotts left the hit show in 1965 because he had been told by Griffith multiple times that the series would be ending in its fifth season. The second banana actor decided, as he told Kelly, to begin “self-protecting” his career and figure out what he would be doing after the show ended.

As it turned out, Griffith, who had signed on to have the show for five years, changed his mind and decided to continue the series. By the time this was communicated to Knotts, it was too late.

The actor had already signed his own five-year movie deal with Universal and The Andy Griffith Show would have to go on without Barney Fife. Knotts, who died in 2006, returned to the show in guest appearances from time to time.

Knotts recalled making his costars laugh too much on set

The Three’s Company costar recalled how much laughter took place on the set of the show. Specifically, Knotts said, working with “Floyd” actor Howard McNear was difficult for him. There was just something about McNear’s facial expression that would set him into a laughing jag.

“I had sworn in Gomer [Jim Nabors] and Floyd as deputies,” Knotts recalled. “Floyd was just standing there and he’d ask a question. I’d snap back, ‘Did you get permission to speak?’ He’d reply ‘No, Sir!’ I’d walk over close and look at him – he would look at me as if with fear of this almighty deputy.

“Every time I looked at the man I cracked up. We must have shot that scene twenty times before I could do it without laughing. The more I laughed, the more everybody else would, and then Andy would fall, and it was pandemonium for about two hours. We finally got a shot. Howard was a funny man.”