Andy Griffith didn’t want to be typecast as a television character with impeccable morals and sage sayings. He didn’t want folks to look at him and think he’s the same guy from Mayberry who still hung out with the likes of Opie, Barney. Goober and Gomer.
In other words, he no longer wanted to be seen as an older Andy Taylor from the Andy Griffith Show, the classic, 1960s TV program.
When Andy Griffith was cast in Matlock, as lead character Ben Matlock, he shared so many ideas of what he wanted to be. He told show creator Dean Hargrove that he desired this new southern lawyer to be as spicy as a good bowl of gumbo.
Daniel de Vise wrote the book “Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show.” The book was about Andy Griffith, Don Knotts and their television show. But de Vise also shared wisdom on Griffith’s other projects, like Matlock.
De Vise wrote: “He envisioned Ben Matlock as a sort of antihero, more complex than Andy Taylor, vain, uncultured, cheap, and vaguely unlikable.”
He also wrote that Andy Griffith “imagined Matlock struggling with alcohol addiction, getting thrown out of court, tossed into jail.” In other words, the anti-thesis of Andy Taylor.
Andy Griffith Wanted To Be An Anti-Hero. Show Creator Had Other Ideas
Hargrove and the show’s producer didn’t like most of his ideas. They really did want Andy Taylor, albeit with more life wisdom and a lot of gray hair.
Andy Griffith told de Vise how he was used to calling the shots. He said it was an adjustment letting a show creator have sole control of the plotlines.
“When I was doing the Griffith Show, the network was only your host,” Griffith said in de Visé’s book. “They came down once a year to say hello. When the network gained control and they put all these children in these offices, it all went to hell then. It was all so easy in the early days.”
When Matlock came on air in 1986, Dean Hargrove wasn’t exactly a child. He was 48. He cut his early TV teeth as a writer for “Man From U.N.C.L.E,” the 1960s spy show. And before he created Matlock, he worked on shows like “It Takes a Thief” and “Columbo.” Hargrove even won an Emmy for Columbo.
Matlock Was A Lot Like Andy Taylor and Perry Mason
Hargrove eventually got Andy Griffith to see his vision for Ben Matlock. The show ran on two networks, from 1986 to 1995. Hargrove made Matlock similar to Perry Mason. After all, Hargrove wrote the 1980s TV films featuring the famous lawyer.
Matlock’s forte was confronting the real criminals and getting them to confess at trial. He was a defense attorney and represented his clients well and with a whole lot of southern charm.
Like Andy Taylor, Ben Matlock was a widower. But he lived in Atlanta, as opposed to a small town in Carolina. Rather than a son, Matlock had a daughter, who joined him for a year in his law firm. Matlock was Harvard-educated on the show. And Matlock started his legal career as a public defender. Plus, Don Knotts joined the cast as a recurring character. He was Matlock’s neighbor for three seasons.
There were 193 episodes of Matlock. And 249 of the Andy Griffith Show. So fans of Andy Griffith, who died in 2012 at the age of 86, can still watch so many episodes of their favorite nice guy.