Created by Dean Hargrove, Matlock stars Andy Griffith and follows the professional career of criminal-defense attorney Ben Matlock. Noted for its similarities with the hit series Perry Mason, the show aired from March 1986 to May 1992 on NBC before moving to ABC where it ran for another three years before ending in 1995. The show was an incredible commercial success and has been in syndication since 1991. Take a look at what made the show so successful and some behind-the-scenes facts that few fans may know.
The Show Was Written For Andy Griffith
If there’s a reason that audiences can’t see anyone playing Ben Matlock except for Andy Griffith, that’s because the show was specifically written for him. Griffith had finished filming The Andy Griffith Show in 1968 and made appearances in a few television shows after, although nothing caught on.
However, after playing a sarcastic lawyer in the show Fatal Vision, NBC thought it would be a good idea for Griffith to have a lawyer show of his own, and Matlock was born.
Griffith Had To Wear Knee Braces During The Court Scenes
Acting as a trial lawyer, Andy Griffith was going to have to stand for extended periods of time during the courtroom sequences for each episode. Unfortunately for Griffith, this was no easy task, as he suffered from Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurological disorder.
To allow him to stand for a long time, he had to wear braces on his knees since he would experience temporary paralysis in his lower legs while standing. However, few people are able to tell.
There Were A Lot Of Casting Changes In The Beginning
For the first couple of seasons of the show, there were numerous casting changes that almost made the show difficult to follow. For example, Matlock’s daughter was first played by Lori Lethin in the television feature before being replaced by Linda Purl in the regular series.
Furthermore, Karl Lizer played file clerk Cassie Phillips, but the character was suddenly removed at the end of season two. Lastly, Julie Sommers was later cast as a series regular, playing Matlock’s rival, Julie March.
There Was A Crossover Episode With ALF
In 1987, NBC wanted to attract viewers to the show, so they set out on making a crossover episode. Taking place in episode eight of season two, the plot followed Matlock as he had to defend a big-name Hollywood producer that had been accused of murder.
The character ALF, who already had his own incredibly successful series appears at the end of the episode in order to testify against the producer. It is still unclear if ALF was supposed to appear as a puppet or an alien in the episode.
Griffith Wanted A Darker Show
One major issue that Griffith had with his character Matlock was that he was incredibly moral. Griffith wished that his character was much darker, and not the type of moral compass that his character Andy Taylor had been in The Andy Griffith Show.
He wanted Matlock to have some darker qualities to him with some of the cases he was involved in being morally ambiguous at times. Nevertheless, the studio was firm in their belief that the cases he was involved with were safe for most audiences.
The Show Was Aired On Two Networks
Matlock was first picked up by NBC in 1986 and remained with the network until 1992. In 1992, it was canceled because it was thought to have too matured of an audience with Warren Littlefield, the president of NBC, wanting to feature shows that appealed to younger audiences.
However, rather than calling it quits, the show’s producers managed to successfully move the program over to ABC, where it would run for another three seasons.
Product Placement By Ford
If you paid particular attention while watching Matlock or The Andy Griffith Show, you may have noticed both Ben Matlock and Andy Taylor had similar tastes in cars. The characters in each show drove Ford vehicles with Matlock driving a grey Crown Victoria and Taylor Galaxie 500 sedans.
Furthermore, every couple of years, the character’s cars would be updated for the show to show Ford’s most recent models. Ford was clearly ahead of its time in terms of product placement.
Based On A Real Person?
Although Matlock is considered to be a fictional character, it’s been rumored that Ben Matlock is loosely based on a real Southern lawyer known for his dominance in the courtroom. His name was Bobby Lee Cook, whose practice was based out of a small mountain town, unlike Matlock who resided in Georgia.
Cook was known as the “dean of Georgia criminal defense attorneys” and began practicing in the 1940s, making a name for himself in civil and criminal court cases.
It Wasn’t Filmed On Location
When deciding where Matlock was going to take place, the studio decided that Atlanta, Georgia would be the perfect location to give it the Southern feel that many audiences love. Nevertheless, the show wasn’t actually filmed on location in Atlanta, but actually Los Angeles.
The Fulton Country Courthouse in the show may look like it belongs in the South, but it’s actually the Second Church of Christ, Scientist, in sunny California. Some viewers that are paying close attention might be able to point out some other prominent Los Angeles landmarks as well.
The Deal With The Cheap Suits And Hot Dogs
Some people might have wondered why Matlock was always seen wearing cheap suits and eating hot dogs. Well, the reason behind these characteristics is because Dr. Mark Sloan from Diagnosis: Murder had once advised Matlock to invest his life savings into the eight-track tape industry.
Unfortunately, the industry never took off, which left Matlock at a financial loss. This resulted in his buying cheap suits and eating a lot of hot dogs in order to save money, a habit he stuck with even when his legal career took off.
Don’t Touch Griffith’s Peanut Butter
As the star of the show, Andy Griffith was entitled to whatever he needed to make him as comfortable as possible. While many actors might ask for the best trailer or special treatment, Griffith’s only real request was that he always had access to peanut butter, one of his favorite foods.
Supposedly, Griffith was known to get particularly peeved when he would go to have his favorite snack of apples and peanut butter, only to find the peanut butter missing.
There Was A Protest To Re-Air The 1986 Feature
Matlock first aired in 1986 as a two-hour feature on NBC. Then, years after the show had been off the air and a year after Griffith’s death, an NBC affiliate wanted to resurrect the show and air it once again in 2013 instead of the network’s standard Thursday night lineup of The Office, 1600 Penn, and Law and Order: SVU.
This didn’t sit well with the network, and the affiliate, WKYC, decided to air it out of protest for Griffith being left out of the Oscars “In Memoriam” the previous Sunday. Unsurprisingly, an impressive amount of viewers tuned in to watch the 1986 feature.
Matlock Inspired A Spin-Off Of A Spin-Off
Matlock is actually responsible for helping to launch to spin-off series that was basically the spin-off of a spin-off. In 1986, the show introduced the spin-off series Jake and the Fatman, which followed the crime-solving duo J.L. “Fatman” McCabe and Jake Styles, played by Joe Penny and William Conrad.
Then, in an episode of Jake and the Fatman, the duo is helped by doctor Mark Sloan played by Dick Van Dyke. This helped to launch Van Dyke’s own show, Diagnosis: Murder in 1993.
There Was A Surprising Love Interest In The Show
Although Matlock is mostly regarded as a legal drama, following the career of Ben Matlock, NBC had to throw a little bit of romance in the mix. While his rival in the courtroom was an attorney from Nebraska named Julie March, played by Julie Sommars, she is also considered to be his love interest on the show.
Inside of the courtroom, they may have been fierce adversaries, on their own time, they were friendly with each other, with their flirting intended to make the show more lighthearted.
Matlock’s Daughter Was Supposed To Have A Prominent Role
Initially, at the beginning of the show, Matlock’s practice was meant to be a father and daughter team. However, after just the first season, his daughter was completely written out of the show.
The storyline claims that she had moved to start her own law firm in Philadelphia when in reality, actress Linda Purl, who played Matlock’s daughter Charlene, no longer wanted to act. She ended up leaving Hollywood altogether, supposedly becoming a jazz musician instead.
Matlock Was Not A Cheap Lawyer
Despite being known for eating plenty of hot dogs and wearing cheap suits, Matlock’s services cost his clients a pretty penny. His fee for each case he took on was $100,000, and his clients could often be heard complaining about how much he charged.
Yet, he would explain that when he wins, “He’s considered a bargain.” With that in mind, it seems that Ben Matlock could have traded his cheap suits for more expensive ones and his hot dogs for steaks long ago.
Ben Matlock Appeared On CBS Once
Although Matlock aired on NBC before eventually moving to ABC, two years after it was officially canceled, Griffith reprised his role as Ben Matlock in two episodes of Diagnosis: Murder starring Dick Van Dyke.
The show aired on CBS and was Griffith’s last appearance as Matlock and the only time the character ever appeared on CBS. According to the show, the two had known each other since the 1960s, which was the reason behind the crossover episodes.
That’s A Lot Of Time
Impressively, Andy Griffith logged more years working on Matlock than The Andy Griffith Show, although just by one year. However, not in terms of episodes. As Ben Matlock, Griffith filmed 193 shows, and 195 if you count his two appearances in Diagnosis: Murder.
On the other hand, Griffith appeared in 249 episodes in The Andy Griffith Show because they were 30 minutes episodes whereas Matlock was an hour-long. Furthermore, some may also claim that Griffith was in 256 episodes in The Andy Griffith Show counting Gomer Pyle and Mayberry RFD.
Kene Holliday Was Fired In Season 3
For the first three seasons of the show, Kene Holliday was a memorable character for his on and off-screen relationship with Griffith. Holliday would even personally travel with Griffith while filming the series, however, his behavior became erratic around season three.
On top of arriving to work late, his substance abuse started to spiral out of control and eventually caught up to him. He was then sent to rehab, and after three months of sobriety, was fired from the show.
Monk Exists In The Same Universe
Diagnosis: Murder with Dick Van Dyke was a spin-off of Jake and the Fatman, which was also a spin-off of Matlock. Yet, Dick Van Dyke’s Diagnosis: Murder proved to be so popular that it led to the creation of a series of mystery novels.
Interestingly, characters from the second book, The Death Merchant, later reappeared in author Lee Goldberg’s Monk novelizations. So, all of these fictional detectives and lawyers are actually living within the same universe.