‘Matlock’: Why Andy Griffith Pushed for Kari Lizer to Join the Show

by Taylor Cunningham

After struggling in Hollywood for years, Kari Lizer landed a major role in Matlock. And it was all thanks to a reference by the one and only Andy Griffith.

Lizer’s first appearance in the classic TV series was in a 1986 episode titled The Angel. In a guest role, she played a primadonna rockstar who ended up on trial for murder after a drunken night on the town lead to her music manager’s death.

When Lizer took the job, she was barely making ends meet. After graduating high school, the aspiring actress moved out to New York and then L.A. to have a better chance at a career in film. But like most people, it took years for her dream to come to fruition.

While living in the cities, she barely made ends meet by working several waitressing jobs while juggling as many TV and commercial gigs as possible. But she was certain that with enough work, someone would recognize her talents. And luckily, her premonition came true. Because after guest-starring alongside Griffith, he wanted to work with her full time.

Not long after appearing in The Angel, Linda Purl walked away from her spot as Charlene Matlock, Ben’s daughter. And the series needed to put another leading lady in her spot. So Griffith recommended that Lizer be her replacement.

Kari Lizer ended up becoming a series regular as Cassie Phillips, a law student who helped Ben crack his toughest cases on Matlock. And when she joined for her second episode, titled The Therapist, in 1987, it marked her first-ever recurring role.

“I really can’t yet fathom being in a series with a weekly income,” she told The Herald that year. “The job means everything to me and not just because of the money. The whole quality of my life has changed.”

The ‘Matlock’ Star Went on to Become an Emmy-Nominated Producer

Kari Lizer starred in 25 total episodes of Matlock before making an unexplained exit. But despite her stint in the legendary series being so short, she admitted that it was a “wonderful role” for her.

Immediately following Matlock, Lizer began playing Barry Van Dyke’s wife, Chris Burgess, in The Van Dyke Show. And she continued taking guest roles until 2011.

But in the early 2000s, Lizer also moved behind the camera and began producing. Some of her most high-profile series include The New Adventures of Old Christine and Will and Grace. The Latter earned her four Emmy nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series.

And the star thanks her early dedication and hard work for her career in the industry. But she knows that she never would have had as much success had she not struggled from the start.

“In a way,” Lizer said, “I’m happy I didn’t land in a television series when I was 15.”