‘Matlock’: Andy Griffith Was Adamant on Making Show Stand Out from Serious Law Programs

by Joe Rutland

Andy Griffith didn’t want “Matlock” to follow other lawyer-type programs, such as CBS’s “Perry Mason.” He had different ideas.

For example, he wanted humor involved in the show. “Perry Mason,” which starred Raymond Burr in the lead role, had no laughter or humor in its shows. That show, based on the books of author Earle Standley Gardner, was played straight up from murder to courtroom trial.

Griffith definitely wanted a sense of humor in defense attorney Ben Matlock.

“I let my imagination roam,” Griffith said according to an article on ME.tv. “I never worried about the law. They said that Raymond Burr did, but I knew that somebody else was there to look after the law part. I just wanted it to be entertaining within that framework.”

Andy Griffith Had Natural Humor With ‘Matlock’

For Griffith to add a humorous edge to “Matlock” was more aligned with his previous work. Obviously, viewers all over the world know Griffith from his role as Sheriff Andy Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show.” That was situation comedy with a touch of small-town flavor in each episode.

Even before his TV series, Griffith did a lot of comedy work, ranging from TV talk-show appearances to comedy albums. He played Will Stockdale in “No Time For Sergeants” on both the movie screen and Broadway stage. His country-flavored sound when talking about things like football games made people laugh.

Griffith really wanted Ben Matlock to not be so buttoned-up when it came to practicing law. That’s why you will see him eat hot dogs a lot or even find himself behind bars in episodes. It’s funny situations that make him very different from Burr’s portrayal of Mason.

In reality, Andy Griffith hardly listened to his show’s legal consultant. Oh, he did care about how the court situation looked on the show. But when it came to hardcore technical how-to’s as a lawyer, he really was not that interested.

“The only thing I learned from him is never to put my hands up on the judge’s table,” Griffith said. He never did in the series.

Yet Griffith was always gung-ho when it came to taking the show and his character a little further out on humor. It was a natural thing to see Ben Matlock yuck it up with his co-workers in his office. It was a natural thing to see him sitting down and playing his guitar.

Heck, that’s even a throwback to the times that Andy Taylor would spend playing his guitar with the Darlings or by himself on “The Andy Griffith Show.” Comedy and humor were Griffith’s go-to strengths in his acting. He did take his work seriously, but he wanted “Matlock” to be a friendly law show.

Today, “Matlock” can be seen in syndication and in reruns on TVs all over the world. Looks like Andy Griffith reached his goal in spreading humor and good feelings to a lot of viewers.