‘The Andy Griffith Show’: This Don Knotts Movie Comments on the Show

The Andy Griffith Show was one of the most famous TV shows in the 1960s — who would have guessed it would have an influence on the 1990s? Don Knotts, the icon behind the character of Barney Fife, had a memorable role in a classic 1990s movie. Here’s a look at the film — and how it satirizes shows like The Andy Griffith Show.

Don Knotts of The Andy Griffith Show in front of an outline of the United States
Don Knotts | Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

The 1990s movie that comments on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’

When people think of the 1950s and early 1960s, sometimes their perceptions are rooted more in pop culture than fact. Shows like The Andy Griffith Show, The Donna Reed Show, and Leave It to Beaver have influenced many people’s perception of the time period. Although these shows are classics, they often downplayed the complexities and hardships of the era. In the 1990s, Hollywood made an anti-nostalgia movie that attacked these sanitized representations. 

Writer/director Gary Ross made an entire movie about his mixed feelings toward the era called Pleasantville. The movie is about 1990s siblings  who became trapped in an old sitcom called Pleasantville because of a mysterious TV repairman. They bring their contemporary sensibilities along with them, changing the titular town. Ross revealed his father dealt with some of the dark side of mid-century America — specifically the anti-communist Red Scare that led many people in Hollywood to be blacklisted. However, Ross still yearned for the “normalcy” of the lives depicted in old television shows like the fictional one depicted in Pleasantville.

The Andy Griffith Theme

“A lot of the perspective I have and a lot of the complexity that’s in the movie is due very much to [with] the way [my father] looked at the world, and how the movie embodies so much contradiction is due to him in a lot of ways,” Ross told CNN. “I grew up with that memory and understanding that you can appear to be in a very safe, progressive, open environment but still be pretty close to that kind of repression.”

Gary Ross ‘worshiped’ Don Knotts — did he like working with him?

So how did Knotts get get to appear in the film? Ross told Entertainment Weekly he was looking for an actor from the Golden Age of Television to play an important figure in the film — the TV repairman who helps the protagonists get trapped in Pleasantville. Ross decided Knotts should play the repairman because he “worshiped” Fife and Knotts himself.

A trailer for Pleasantville

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“I’d always been a big fan,” Ross told Deseret News. “[Fife is] a little bit random and kind of nuts, sort of this evil pixie. He’s mercurial, unpredictable. He could go off on a moment’s notice. And there’s a combustible quality to Don. Remember in the old Mayberry shows, there was that tremendously combustible quality, where we wouldn’t know quite what was going to happen…. What can you say? He can still act so well.”

Pleasantville did well with critics. However, Box Office Mojo says it lost about $20 million. Regardless of the movie’s performance, Knotts still got to act in an acclaimed movie decades after he became famous — all thanks to his time on The Andy Griffith Show.