This forgotten 1965 TV special explained why Andy Taylor chose Barney Fife as his deputy
"You're courageous. You're conscientious. You're trustworthy."
Image: The Everett Collection
You know and love The Andy Griffith Show, but do you remember the first time you saw the stars of that iconic series put on a variety show called The Andy Griffith, Don Knotts and Jim Nabors Show? It's a Mayberry mouthful, and it aired in 1965. Don Knotts told the Archive of American Television how they got the idea to do such a thing:
"The way that came about was we decided to get up a nightclub act, and we ... did the Harrah's Club in Lake Tahoe, and the show was a smash. When William Morris came up and saw it and saw how the audience ate it up, they decided to sell it as a special."
You might remember that we wrote about this nightclub act once, because Andy Griffith once recalled that it was while putting together this act that he first heard Jim Nabors sing for the first time. Griffith remembered this act coming together in 1963 and basically said that Nabors' voice was enough to push The Andy Griffith Show star to insist to the network that Jim Nabors needed his own show, too. That, of course, became Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., which debuted the very next year. And then in 1965, fans of both shows got to see everybody back together again for the TV special The Andy Griffith, Don Knotts and Jim Nabors Show.
The special runs an hour long, featuring song and dance routines with all three stars, as well as funny skits, including a picnic scene that featured Andy, Don and Jim as a family, father, wife and son, respectively. There's even a skit that called back to The Andy Griffith Show episode "Opie's Ill-Gotten Gain," where Barney struggles to remember the preamble to the Constitution (despite getting a "straight B-minus" in history in high school), only this time, they did it with the Gettysburg Address. Barney's hairs winds up wild and mussed up all the same, just like on the original show, a hoot for everybody in the audience, for sure.
The variety show's also about the only place you'll ever get to see Andy Griffith and Don Knotts in their Mayberry uniforms, linking arms in front of Andy's desk and singing about their special friendship (Griffith, of course, carries the tune).
But our favorite part of the special might be its subtle call-back to the very first moment we meet Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. In the first episode of the series, Barney reports to Andy, and it becomes clear that he's just been named deputy, because he says. "Deputy Barney Fife, reporting sir, with a very important message." And Andy assures him right away, "Barney, I've told you, you don't have to do that. This ain't the army. You see, it's just me and you." Barney responds, "Well, shucks, Andy, I want to do good on this job, even if it's just delivering messages. I want to do right." This earnestness is something any fan of Barney Fife will recognize, knowing he really did want to do the best job, even if he couldn't always control exactly when his gun fired off... .
On The Andy Griffith, Don Knotts and Jim Nabors Show, the scene rewinds even further back than we ever got to see on The Andy Griffith Show, and gives us fresh insights into why Andy Taylor ended up appointing Barney Fife as his deputy. After singing their friendship song, Barney says, "You know what really sealed our friendship for me?" Andy asks, "What was that?" Barney gives us this response:
"Well, it was the day you swore me in for deputy. You know what I appreciated the most? Well, it was the fact that you had your choice of a lot of guys, you know? And you wanted the best guy available. And, well, you picked me."
Andy replies, "Well, let's face it, Barn. You're courageous. You're conscientious. You're trustworthy. You're intelligent. And you're modest." But Andy doesn't stop there. He goes on, "And you're always studying, keeping up on the latest police methods, you know? You're trying to improve yourself. You're a fine law officer, you know that?"
From there, the sentimentality ends, and Barney breaks the scene with humor by insisting Andy test his judo chops by pretending a ruler is a knife and charging his deputy. It's a more slapstick version of the sheriff and deputy than we saw on The Andy Griffith Show, who we figure all fans would agree were both very fine law officers to suit Mayberry's needs. And by the special's end, there's likely no one in the audience who's not glad Andy ended up with Barney as his deputy.