The Andy Griffith Show is a classic example of the right cast coming together to form an unbeatable combination. Indeed, it is nearly impossible to think of any other actors playing the various citizens of Mayberry. Still, on several occasions, The Andy Griffith Show came close to having different actors in key roles.
In fact, I have three examples of different actors that almost ended up playing beloved characters on the show. Just imagine how different a place Mayberry would have been if these gentlemen had played the parts of the neighbors we know so well.
Technically, Frank Cady never played Otis Campbell, but he did play Will Hoople, who was Mayberry’s town drunk in the episode of The Danny Thomas Show that served as the pilot for The Andy Griffith Show. According to an interview that Cady gave a few years before his death, Sheldon Leonard (the producer of The Andy Griffith Show) wasn’t pleased with his performance and wanted an actor who would play a more recognizable television drunk. Hal Smith gave Leonard what he wanted, thus television history was made and the moonshiners of Mayberry got their best customer ever. It worked out just as well for Cady, who went on to create the memorable role of Sam Drucker and had the distinction of playing that character on three different shows, Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres.
Walter Baldwin did get to play Floyd Lawson in one episode of The Andy Griffith Show, “Stranger in Town,” but he was replaced by Howard McNear in the very next episode. Baldwin, whose performance the producers called underwhelming, was simply not a good fit for the role. I believe that Baldwin’s age was the biggest factor in how Floyd would have been developed differently had he stayed on (he was sixteen years older than McNear). I believe that having a younger Floyd made for a more relaxed and familiar interaction between him and Andy and the other characters. Baldwin’s Floyd and McNear’s Floyd did have the same problem when it came to trimming sideburns though, but Baldwin’s Floyd had a good reason for this: he was nearsighted.
Finally, George Lindsey was always destined to be a Pyle, just not the one he original read for. Supposedly, he had the part of Gomer Pyle until Andy Griffith discovered Jim Nabors and insisted that he read for the part. Of all the three characters I have talked about, I would say Gomer’s role is the one that would have been altered the most radically had someone else played him. I have always liked Lindsey’s Goober, but I love Nabors’ Gomer. I would say he was born to play that role as much as Andy Griffith was born to play Andy Taylor and Don Knotts was born to play Barney Fife. Plus, without Nabors, we would have never had the classic episode, “The Song Festers,” where everyone learns what a magnificent singing voice Gomer has. As good of a comedic actor as Lindsey was, he never could have contributed that fine attribute to the character of Gomer. That was a talent only Nabors could provide.