‘Matlock’: How a 1980s TV Movie Led to Andy Griffith’s Late Career Success

by Megan Molseed

Andy Griffith found massive success with his fan-favorite classic TV sitcom series The Andy Griffith Show. However, when the series came to an end in 1968, the man who spent years portraying the Mayberry Sheriff wasn’t sure about a return to the genre. However, the success of one TV movie inspired him to make a very well-received return to network programming.

After leaving the popular series in the late 1960s, Andy Griffith went on to star in a variety of projects. Including stepping into a variety of guest-starring roles in popular TV shows like The Mod Squad, Hawaii FiveO, and Here’s Lucy. Griffith also appeared in a few popular miniseries productions such as Washington: Behind Closed Doors, Centennial, and From Here to Eternity.

However, in 1986, Griffith found himself portraying a defense attorney in a TV movie titled Diary of a Perfect Murder. In this made-for-television installment, Griffith plays an attorney who joins his daughter, Charlene in Atlanta, Georgia for a sensational case. A famous TV reporter has been charged with murder, and Charlene, her father (Griffith), and a few other players are the only ones who can prove the reporter innocent. This character, of course, goes by the name of Ben Matlock.

Andy Griffith Finds Huge Success With His First Turn As Ben Matlock

Fans and critics alike loved the made-for-TV film. And, it was clear from the start that Griffith was the best actor to step into the role of the clever and theatric attorney. This, as it turned out, started a very successful nine-season run of the primetime courtroom drama series, Matlock.

In a 1987 interview with the Associated Press, the former Mayberry Sherrif notes that his role as Ben Matlock, the aging defense attorney, was the “best role he ever has had on TV.”

“It’s a wonderfully conceived part,” Andy Griffith says about the character. “You’re almost unlimited in what you can do with the part.”

The Longtime Star Had A Hand In The Development Of The Matlock Character

It is fairly well-known that Andy Griffith had a big part in the development of The Andy Griffith Show. And, the longtime actor took on a similar role when he took on the role of Ben Matlock years later.  

“I wrote on that show all the time,” Andy Griffith has said.

“And in the fourth year, Dean Hargrove was no longer in charge,” the actor explains. “And a man named Joel Steiger, who had been on the show, became in charge.”

Steiger, Griffith adds became Matlock’s showrunner. A move, the star adds, that took Matlock straight towards success.

“Joel told me, he said, ‘I’ll never keep any secrets from you, I won’t lie to you, and we’ll collaborate,’” Griffith relates. “And we have, all those years.”