Don Knotts landed on The Andy Griffith Show thanks to a friendly card game
A friendly card game turned into an idea that eventually gave Don Knotts his career-defining role.
Fans of the The Andy Griffith Show know that the first episode of season one titled "The New Housekeeper" wasn't actually the pilot episode for the series.
The pilot was via The Danny Thomas Show, known prior to a network switch as Make Room for Daddy.
In season seven, a new episode called "Danny Meets Andy Griffith" was airing on a Monday night. In this pilot, several actors we would come to know and love on TAGS were different, as were the police cars and the station layout.
Plus, Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife was nowhere to be found.
That's because his character hadn't been created yet. Don Knotts, Mayberry's eventual deputy sherrif, wasn't originally cast in the show at all. The only reason he landed on The Andy Griffith Show is because he just so happened to see the pilot episode.
When "Danny Meets Andy Griffith" aired, Knotts and his friend, stage actor Pat Harrington Jr., happened to be playing a friendly card game together.
"We were playing bridge with them one night and he said, 'I want to stop and watch The Danny Thomas Show' because they were thinking about using Pat on the show," Knotts said in an Archive of American Television interview from 1999.
"It turned out they were doing a pilot of The Andy Griffith Show that night. I didn't even know it, Andy was still back in New York, so I hadn't seen him in a long time. So when I saw this sheriff in a small town I said, 'he could use a deputy.'"
The Andy Griffith Show wasn't the first time Knotts and Griffith had worked together. The two co-starred in the 1958 film No Time for Sergeants. Though Griffith and Knotts hadn't spoke to one another for some time, it didn't stop Knotts from picking up the phone and taking his best swing.
"So I called him in New York and he said 'that's a hell of an idea,'" Knotts added.
Griffith put Knotts in touch with highly-acclaimed creator and executive producer Sheldon Leonard, who had plenty of appearances throughout classic television to pair with his behind the scenes success.
"I went in and talked to Sheldon [and] we kicked it around for a while. I waited several weeks and finally got the call to come in and do the show."
And just like that, Barney Fife was born. Knotts admits he didn't know what the character would be from the start, but got a pretty good idea once scripts were in hand.
"I didn't create the character in the beginning," Knotts said. "The writers wrote him in, but like all running parts in TV, each week you'd add something then they'd add something and the character just built as we went."
To think, what if Mr. Harrington hadn't wanted to end the game of bridge early and turn on the television? Knotts may have never seen the back-door pilot to The Andy Griffith Show and fans may have never gotten the chance to know the clumsy, dedicated deputy sheriff of Mayberry.