Andy Griffith explained why it mattered that Don Knotts really was a worrier

Plus: Revisiting this very excitable Don Knotts interview will make your day.

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Barney Fife crouches with his gun in a dark barn full of cobwebs. Just behind him, the escaped felon he's after quietly climbs down a stepladder. The excitable deputy does not detect him.

Through an open slot between loose barn boards, Sheriff Andy watches, and with a clear line of sight to stop the wanted man, he could've easily been the hero of this episode.

But Andy wanted Barney to have his day in "Barney Gets His Man," the final episode of the first season of The Andy Griffith Show, one which centers on Barney Fife.

So, instead of taking aim to cover his deputy's back, the sheriff picks up a rock and tosses it at a metal can in the barn. The loud crash startles Barney who immediately whips around, his gun going off wildly.

The felon freezes, reinforcements rush in, and the end result: The deputy can hold his chest higher than usual, knowing he did the real police work that he always wanted to do.

Back in 1960, Don Knotts was just getting used to playing Barney Fife, but he was gung-ho about the role.

For the prior four years, he'd been playing his famous "Nervous Man" character on The Steve Allen Show, and he was sick of being seen only as a trembling guy. In Barney Fife, he found the character that finally replaced the legacy of his Nervous Man.

"Every place I went, people asked me to shake for them," Knotts told The Miami Herald in 1960. "Now when I go somewhere folks don't remember me much for all that jittery business."

In the interview, Knotts explained how Barney Fife departed from his Nervous Man character.

"I'm not a timid deputy," Knotts explained. "The deputy is very ineffectual, though. You see, there's not much crime in the little town where I work, and this disturbs me because I studied crime detection. So as a last resort, I end up running in jaywalkers."

That same year, Andy Griffith told The Courier-Post that even though Knotts was never really "the Nervous Man," Knotts did see The Andy Griffith Show as a way to recover from a prolonged state of worrying. He used to worry terribly about messing up a scene on The Steve Allen Show, which was filmed live.

"Don really IS a worrier," Griffith said. "He was a wreck after four years of live TV, and he's tickled with this assignment because it's much easier."

Griffith agreed that taping the show relieved everybody's stress, and he credited Knotts for having honed his skills on live television.

"It's a lot easier to do this sort of thing on film," Griffith said. "I'd die if it were live and people didn't laugh. Outside of nightclubs, Broadway — especially musicals — is the hardest to do."

In his interview, Knotts laughed, pointing out his character is only allowed one bullet in his gun.

"If I misbehave, the bullet is taken away from me," Knotts said. "In one show, I get my finger caught in the pistol trigger guard and can't get it out."

Although Griffith told The Daily Item that year that "you won't see a lot of slam-bang action in the show," fans know that a lot of the show's limited action centered on Barney. Knotts was excited about these action scenes, like the one in "Barney Gets His Man."

"All sorts of things happen to me," Knotts gushed. "In one show, I hear a girl calling 'help police' so I jump into my radio car and speed to her rescue. I get there all right but have trouble getting out of the car because I park against a mailbox and the door won't open."

"Another time, I try to apprehend some real crooks and they capture me and tie me up," he continued. "I even get so confused that I frisk my own mother."

For Knotts, doing the character Barney Fife gave him a reason to relax a little — not needing to be a "nervous man" as a character OR to actually feel stressed by the pressures of performing live — and the result was one of TV's all-time favorite characters. It's proof that talents like Knotts deserve platforms to really display all they can do.

"I got kind of tired shaking," Knotts admitted. "I guess it was the same old thing about being typed, and I didn't want to be cast only in shaking roles."

Of course, by now we know that Knotts played all kinds of roles in movies and on TV, gifting viewers with an array of memorable, unique personas.

As if Griffith could foresee this future for his costar way back in 1960, he told The Daily Item that his biggest hope for his debut show was that his name would stick with audiences, and he saw Knotts as a key factor of the show becoming as memorable as it did.

His confidence is proof that Knotts never had anything to worry about at all, at least not when it came to impressing audiences.

"They just asked me [to do the show] and I said fine," Griffith said. "Maybe in a year or two, if they see the name often enough people will connect my name with my face – or at least with Don Knotts."

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JohnnyWalker 6 months ago
Barney character was great but in Barney Gets His Man Barney is all Mr. tough guy jerk for ticketing the guy for littering then when he finds the guy escaped and is coming to Mayberry to "get him" he turns into a scared, whimpering lamer. Andy constantly bailed him out. Barney couldn't even keep a prisoner in the jail without finding a way to let him escape. Did it countless times....over and over...and Andy would always bail him out. Terrible example of a law officer...but yes it was a comedy and he did that part very well.
WordsmithWorks 36 months ago
Knotts may have got "tired of shaking," but the character served him well in his post-AGS movie career The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, Shakiest Gun in the West and the Incredible Mr. Limpet were him at his shakiest best.
RodgerRamJet 36 months ago
Don and Andy are my favorite comedy duo of all time. Each episode was different and had its own charm and that small town slow life style is very desirable to me especially in 2021. This show is a good escape.
steph3whitley 36 months ago
I always stop watching TAGS when Don (Barney) left the show. Andy becomes extremely grouchy and not fun to watch after he departed.
Maverick66 steph3whitley 36 months ago
You're right about Andy becoming a grouch in the color episodes - I always noticed that & disliked it, too. Andy also seemed to lose all of his common sense and homespun wisdom in the post-Barney years. He was a different and less likeable character.
Big3Fan Maverick66 36 months ago
I've noticed that Andy's attitude even started to change in some of later black and white episodes. He became cantankerous and whiny. I blame it on Helen.
harlow1313 36 months ago
"What's wrong Barn?"

"I swallowed my gum."
Babsy_Girl 36 months ago
I just saw that episode the other night. I love how Andy always makes Barney shine! I love Andy’s character!
Andybandit 36 months ago
That episode was funny. He was great in the TAGS, and Three's Company.
FrankensteinLover 36 months ago
Don Knotts was Hilarious and Played his Role to Perfection. You could never Replace Him. I Am the Nipper of the Bud.
JERRY6 36 months ago
he played the part to perfection he was funny goofy and aggravating at times , don't think anyone could have played the part better .He was a big part of the shows success
36 months ago
Sometimes, "Barney" was so frenetic, he'd get on my last nerve. I hated the way he treated prisoners & others, dancing & jumping all around them, behaving like a drill sergeant ("hup, hup!") pushing/touching them. A little Barney goes a long way.
Pacificsun Pilaf 36 months ago
It's rural comedy. And like the article says (indirectly) if it didn't have a focal point among the rest of the slow-moving characters, it'd be easy to fall asleep during an episode!

By contrast, the role I didn't like DK in was Mr. Furly in Three's Company. It was an annoying show at best. And that role made it worse, because it was pointless (the way they wrote it). He'd jump into a scene, look bug-eyed at Jack, they'd all scramble. And episode was done. But at least Knotts got to act against a couple of different situations in TAGs. Like when the criminal got let out of jail and everyone thought he was come back to get Andy. DK did some good acting, and put some meat into that relationship.

I had no idea how much experience he had (from live TV). Good article!!
WordsmithWorks Pacificsun 36 months ago
I didn't care for the Mr. Furley character either. It was kind of embarrassing to watch.
LoveMETV22 36 months ago
Don Knotts plays his part brilliantly on TAGS. I cannot imagine what the show would be like without him.
Maverick66 LoveMETV22 36 months ago
Watch the color episodes of TAGS and you'll see that the show wasn't nearly as good without him (except, of course, the few episodes in which Knotts returned as Barney Fife).
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