With The Andy Griffith Show as hilarious and highly rated as ever during its fifth season on the air, one would never suspect that there was trouble brewing in Mayberry, NC. The source of the difficulty was Don Knotts, who had won three Emmy awards for his performance as Barney Fife, the high-strung deputy to laid-back Mayberry sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith). Although the friendship and rapport between Knotts and Griffith remained strong, Knotts was upset that he was not being groomed for his own series, as former Andy Griffith Show regular Jim Nabors had been before being spun off into Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Thus, when an offer to star in theatrical feature films came his way, Knotts jumped at it -- and, of course, this meant that his fifth season as Barney Fife would be his last. Reportedly concerned that Knotts' defection would lessen the quality of his series, star Andy Griffith himself considered voluntarily ending the show at the end of season five and looking for movie work of his own. Banking on the possibility that Griffith would change his mind, the series' writers cast about for a character that could adequately replace Don Knotts. Eventually they came up with Don Rickles, who plays the title role in the final episode of the season, "The Luck of Newton Monroe." Cast as a perennial loser who fails at every job he tries, Rickles is amusing, but the character is too insubstantial to be made a permanent Mayberry resident. Even so, "The Luck of Newton Monroe" upholds the high standards of The Andy Griffith Show, as do most of the series' fifth season episodes.
Highlights this year include "The Education of Ernest T. Bass," in which Mayberry's resident rock-throwing village idiot (played by frequent Griffith Show director Howard Morris) decides to re-enroll in the fifth grade -- and promptly falls for Andy Taylor's sweetheart, schoolteacher Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut); "Barney's Bloodhound," wherein Barney purchases a phlegmatic "police dog" in his efforts to capture a desperate criminal; "Barney's Uniform," pitting the hapless deputy against a boorish bully (played by perennial sitcom guest star Allan Melvin); "Goodbye, Sheriff Taylor," in which Andy considers taking an out-of-town job, obliging Barney to try out a number of unworthy candidates for deputy; "Goober Takes a Car Apart," built around the talents of George Lindsey as Goober Pyle, Gomer's cousin and erstwhile replacement on the series; and "The Case of the Punch in the Nose," illustrating the perils of not letting sleeping dogs lie. Rumors of imminent cancellation notwithstanding, The Andy Griffith Show continued to be a viewer magnet, ending its fifth season as America's fourth most popular series. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi