Don Knotts once explained why The Don Knotts Show just didn't work
Andy stopped by, as did Florence Henderson, Chuck Connors and more.
Images: The Everett Collection
After The Andy Griffith Show ended, Don Knotts did a couple movies – The Shakiest Gun in the West and The Love God? – but apart from an appearance on Mayberry R.F.D., TV audiences wouldn't see the comic genius grace the screen again until September 1970.
That's when The Don Knotts Show premiered, a short-lived variety show with Don as the host. It sounds like entertainment gold, but unfortunately, looking back, Knotts tells a very different story about the show that finally stuck his name out front.
"I think it was 22 weeks they gave me," Knotts said in an interview with the Archive of American Television. "We did all kinds of things," Knotts explained, but in the end, he said the show just couldn't compete with shows like The Carol Burnett Show, Donny & Marie, Sonny & Cher and so on. Knotts said, "There was tremendous competition that season for variety, because everybody and his brother had a variety show.”
So despite packing tons of celebrity guest stars and featuring a beloved, famous comedian, The Don Knotts Show just never found the ratings to go beyond that one season. Knotts said this surely came as a surprise to NBC, a network that loved Knotts' work so much on The Andy Griffith Show that they basically stole him out from under CBS. Knotts said, "NBC saw the show on CBS, and they decided to offer me a contract to do my own show, and then CBS got all upset that they sort of took me away.”
But NBC didn't just give up on The Don Knotts Show, with all the potential it had to be a success. After a few episodes, they even brought in Bob Sweeney – who directed the first three seasons of The Andy Griffith Show – to see if he could fix the issues with the show. Knotts said, "He came in and made some changes in the writing staff. Then he made some changes in the show creatively. And he did a good job. He improved the show, I thought.”
One of the changes he made that did catch on was a recurring sketch that featured Don Knotts and future M*A*S*H star Gary Burghoff. Knotts said, "He and I were the two guys in this library, but we just did a little 10-minute sketch every week in the library.”
Thinking back on guest stars, Knotts smiles recalling visits on the show from stars like Andy Griffith, but he also pointed out the variety show did actually debut a pretty major act: "We had The Carpenters. I think we were the first show The Carpenters ever did. … and then my manager became their manager.” (Knotts is right that his show was the first variety show to bring The Carpenters on, but the year prior, the band appeared on Della, the early talk show from Della Reese.)
Check out photos of other major guest stars featured on The Don Knotts Show, including, Knotts remembered, "I had the whole Bridges family once, Lloyd, Jeff and Beau.”
In the end, Knotts explained, he simply didn't like hosting a variety show as much as he liked working on sitcoms. Maybe Mayberry just spoiled its favorite deputy, who, of course, would find his way back to a cast within the decade when he joined Three's Company in 1979 (not at CBS or NBC, but ABC! Don Knotts had shows on all three).