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Why Don Knotts Preferred Barney Fife Over Mister Furley

Why Don Knotts Preferred Barney Fife Over Mister Furley

Don Knotts took two opportunities with sitcoms and created iconic characters in Barney Fife and Ralph Furley, yet which one did he favor? Knotts, before joining up with Andy Griffith on The Andy Griffith Show, spent time as an actor and comedian. A lot of people knew Knotts from his work with actor-musician-comedian Steve Allen. When he stepped into playing Fife, though, it opened up a new way for Knotts to unleash his talent.

After five seasons, Knotts left the show to start working in movies. Knotts made movies like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Incredible Mr. Limpet, and The Reluctant Astronaut in the late 1960s. He continued to appear on variety shows of that era on television, including his short-lived show. But nothing like the Griffith show at all.

Then, producers of ABC’s hit sitcom Three’s Company reached out to Knotts. They needed a replacement landlord for the Ropers (Norman Fell and Audra Lindley), who were going into spinoff land. (FYI, that show bombed.) Knotts decided to join the cast as Furley, full of his trademark tics and mannerisms. He stayed on there until the show’s run ended.

Don Knotts Worked With Andy Griffith, John Ritter

Two different shows with different casts and even different rhythms. After all, Griffith worked at his own pace much like John Ritter did in playing Jack Tripper. Knotts had to make his character “fit” with the main star’s beat. Coming from an older school of comedy and entertainment, Knotts had a lot of tricks up his sleeves.

Still, which character did he like to play? Knotts talked about it when answering an audience member’s question at East Tennessee State University. One person asked Knotts, according to the Bristol Herald Courier, if he liked playing Furley. Knotts’ answer? “Not as much as I liked doing Andy.” Knotts said, according to MeTV, “The new show was just too fast for me.” He also talked about what was his favorite scene playing Fife. “It was the scene when Barney was going out the door with a suitcase full of pickles, trying to explain what he was doing. We didn’t expect it to be anything, but it became a very funny scene.”

Reading about Knotts’ preferred character reminds me of an interview Griffith did for the Archive of American Television. Griffith talked about the time he brought Knotts in to play neighbor Les Calhoun on Griffith’s attorney show Matlock.

‘Three’s Company’ Was Different Rhythm For Knotts

Knotts’ work rhythm had been hiked up a lot during his time on Three’s Company. Griffith remembered that he told Knotts to “tone it down” on Matlock. When playing Furley, Knotts sometimes was probably called to take his characterization to another level. This didn’t need to happen on Matlock since it was not a sitcom. Once Knotts got his timing figured out, his scenes with Griffith worked like a charm.

But that didn’t last too long, either. Griffith opened up about Knotts’ time coming to an end on Matlock in a Television Academy Foundation interview. “It didn’t work,” Griffith said. “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.”

When his Matlock run ended, Knotts kind of retired. He would do occasional cameo appearances in movies and TV shows, but not much. Still, it was a treat to see Knotts and Griffith working together once again. Knotts died in 2006 while Griffith died in 2012.

For those times on Matlock, it looked like old times. Fans can see reruns of The Andy Griffith Show and Three’s Company on different channels and streaming platforms like Pluto TV. Matlock has its own channel on Pluto TV, too.