Rumor has it
While the character of Ben Matlock is completely fictional on the television show, it has been rumored that he was actually based on a real southern lawyer who made waves in the courtroom. His name was Bobby Lee Cook, and he was based in a small mountain town in Georgia, rather than Atlanta like Matlock. Cook was called the “dean of Georgia criminal defense attorneys.” Apparently he began practicing in the 1940s and rose to prominence as the years passed both in civil and criminal cases.
The television show itself was actually created for actor Andy Griffith. Griffith had finished filming “The Andy Griffith Show” back in 1968 and since then had starred in some smaller features for television but nothing had showed great promise. When he appeared in a program called “Fatal Vision” where he played a sarcastic lawyer, he finally caught NBC’s eye. They decided to write a show specifically for him where he would play a criminal lawyer. Thus, “Matlock” was born.
Atlanta or Los Angeles?
“Matlock” itself is supposed to be set in Atlanta, Georgia, to give it that nice southern flair that tends to go over so well with audiences. However, the series was not actually filmed in the south but rather in a more star-studded location – Los Angeles. It may appear that the Fulton County Courthouse is actually in Atlanta, but in reality it is actually the Second Church of Christ, Scientist in L.A. Now you can see if you recognize any other prominent landmarks upon watching it again.
Andy Griffith is known for both his roles as lawyer Matlock, and as Andy Taylor, the widower sheriff, on the “The Andy Griffith Show.” While more episodes featuring him as Andy Taylor were filmed, in terms of actual screen time he was Ben Matlock much more often. This is due to the fact that Matlock had an hourly format rather than the 30 minute format employed for the Andy Griffith Show. One could say that Griffith really was the man of the hour.
Standing was difficult
As a trial lawyer, Griffith was expected to stand for long periods of time, while filming the courtroom sequences for each episode. However, this was not an easy thing for him to do, as he suffered from Guillain-Barré Syndrome. This meant that he had to wear knee braces during these scenes, as he would have temporary paralysis of his lower legs while standing. It is a testament to his character that he persevered through these scenes.
Whose line is it anyway?
If you have ever had to be in a school play or comparable production, you know that it can sometimes be difficult to memorize your lines. This was not something actor Griffith had a problem with. He was well known for getting his trial monologues perfect on the first take. He would spend entire weekends rehearsing and memorizing his lines. This meant that he only had to stand for that long period once, and multiple takes were not needed. He would often get standing ovations from the crew.
Hot dogs vs. peanut butter
Matlock was known for having a fondness for hot dogs, but Griffith himself was known for his love of peanut butter. Some stars want nice trailers and other amenities, but all Griffith asked for was that nobody would eat his peanut butter and apples. The food catering company was always expected to have peanut butter available. Apparently if Griffith went to get some and it was unavailable this would cause him a great degree of stress.
The first couple of seasons of Matlock were fraught with cast changes. Matlock’s daughter was first played by actress Lori Lethin in the television feature, but when it was bumped up to a regular series she was replaced by Linda Purl. Kari Lizer was also cast as file clerk Cassie Phillips, but for unknown reasons simply disappeared at the end of season two. Julie Sommars was then cast as a series regular as Matlock’s rival Julie March.
The daughter’s departure
Matlock’s practice was meant to be that of a father and daughter. However, after the first season his daughter was completely written off of the show. The storyline was that she had moved to Philadelphia to start her own law firm. In reality, this was because Linda Purl, the actress who played his daughter Charlene, decided she no longer wanted to act. So she left Hollywood and acting altogether, and allegedly became a jazz musician instead.
The love interest
While Matlock itself was primarily a legal drama focused on the big trial scenes Griffith became so well-known for, there was a flirtation that was thrown into the mix. His rival in the courtroom was an attorney from Nebraska named Julie March, who was played by actress Julie Sommars. She was considered his love interest on the show. In court they were fierce adversaries, but outside of the courtroom they were quite friendly. Their supposed romance gave the show a bit of a lighter tone after their fierce trials.
The appearance of ALF
In 1987, NBC wanted to grab viewers’ attention and get them to tune in to Matlock, so they concocted a plan to entice viewers by doing a crossover episode. The storyline was that Matlock had to defend a big Hollywood producer accused of murder. The character of ALF, who had his own wildly successful series, showed up at the end of the episode to testify against the producer. It’s still unclear if ALF was supposed to be a real alien, or a puppet on the episode.
Matlock actually worked to launch two spinoff series, basically a spinoff from a spinoff. In 1986, it introduced the spinoff series “Jake and the Fatman” which revolved around a crime solving duo named J.L. “Fatman” McCabe and Jake Styles, who were played by Joe Penny and William Conrad. Then, in an episode of “Jake and the Fatman,” they got some help from Dick Van Dyke who played doctor Mark Sloan. This then launched his show “Diagnosis: Murder” in 1993.
The series itself, which is now a cult classic, was considered both a critical success and a fan favorite when it first started airing. The audience appreciated all of the different filming locations, as it was not simply shot in a studio, like a lot of the legal dramas at the time. They also liked that it was not based in Hollywood, even if unbeknownst to them it was shot there. The detective style was also changed from a “who commited the crime,” to a “let’s catch them” style.
One of the issues Griffith had with his character was the fact that he was so morally upright. He wanted his character to be much darker, and not the moral compass that Andy Taylor had been in “The Andy Griffith Show.” He wanted Matlock to have some darker qualities, and deal with some cases that were less morally compatible with the image the show wished to portray. This desired image was not necessarily a wholesome one, but the cases he was involved in were considered safe topics by the studio.
A tale of two networks
Matlock actually aired on two networks. It was picked up by NBC in 1986 and aired until 1992. Then, it was cancelled because it was considered for a more mature audience. The president of NBC Warren Littlefield decided to cancel it because he wanted shows that appealed to younger audiences. The show’s producers then managed to move it over to ABC where it was able to run for three more seasons. Production was also moved to North Carolina in order to save money and the show itself.
Matlock first aired in 1986 as a 2-hour feature on NBC, and was re-shown in Cleveland, Ohio, by an NBC affiliate in 2013. This was a year after Griffith’s death. This was done because he had been left out of the In Memoriam segment during the Oscars that year. Shockingly, it actually brought in the same amount of ratings as their regular lineup which consisted of shows like The Office and 1600 Penn. It would appear that Matlock still has a major following.
If you watched The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock, you may have noticed that both Andy Taylor and Ben Matlock had a similar taste in vehicles. Throughout the years, both shows had Ford vehicles for the titular characters. Matlock always had a grey Crown Victoria, and Taylor always drove Galaxie 500 sedans. Clearly Ford knew the importance of good product placement, specifically in shows with a large audience. Every couple of years, the model of Ford was updated for the show, which reflected Ford’s new line for the models portrayed.
A brief stint on CBS
Matlock officially aired as a regular series on NBC and ABC, but two years after it was cancelled, Griffith reprised his role in two episodes of Diagnosis: Murder which had been picked up by CBS. This would actually be Griffith’s last appearance as Matlock and the only time his character ever appeared on CBS. According to the 2-part episode, Dr. Sloan and Matlock had known each other since the late 1960s and remained friends, hence the crossover episode.
Cheap suits and hot dogs
You may have wondered why Matlock was seen in cheap suits and constantly eating hot dogs throughout the series. Well, the main reason for this was because Dr. Mark Sloan from Diagnosis: Murder had advised Matlock to invest his life savings in the eight-track tape industry. The industry never really took off, and this left Matlock somewhat destitute. Therefore, he could only afford cheap suits and hot dogs until his legal career picked up again. However, it became a habit for him to live frugally throughout the series.
Now, Matlock may have led a frugal lifestyle, but he was anything but cheap if you wanted to put him on retainer. His fee for each case was $100,000, not exactly a small amount. You would often hear his clients complain about his fees, but his retort was always that when he wins, “He’s considered a bargain.” So if you are ever in trouble, Matlock is the one for the job. Why don’t you put on the television and watch some old episodes. It’s time to get nostalgic!