Andy Griffith was already in his mid-thirties when he began playing everyone’s favorite country sheriff on “The Andy Griffith Show” in 1960. And for almost two decades after it ended in 1968, finding another hit show eluded him. So he was only a few months away from turning 60 when “Matlock” premiered on NBC.
Griffith’s Sheriff Andy Taylor in “The Andy Griffith Show” allowed him to present a kinder, gentler version of rural America where police were dedicated to protecting and serving their communities. Taylor didn’t see any need to wear a gun, and most “law and ordering” relied on his homespun philosophy.
One of the few people who could trip him up was his son Opie, played by Ron Howard.
In many ways, attorney Ben Matlock was an extension of Taylor. He also lived in the South — a suburb outside of Atlanta, Ga. — and presented himself as a simple country lawyer. Then again, Matlock went to Harvard Law School, and his retainer to take a case was $100,000.
A direct connection between the two shows occurred when Griffith and Don Knotts, who played Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show,” recreated an iconic knife fight — of sorts! — from the fifth season episode “Barney’s Uniform” on “Matlock.”
The Enduring Appeal of Andy Griffith
The 1960s were a turbulent time in the U.S., and a period marked by unease and uncertainty. Sheriff Taylor and the town of Mayberry were a safe space for viewers to visit.
Griffith explained on the “Today” show in 1996: “Well, though we never said it, and though it was shot in the ’60s, it had a feeling of the ’30s. It was when we were doing it, a time gone by.”
Casting director Craig Fincannon noted: “What made ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ work was Andy Griffith. … A character might be broadly eccentric, but the character had an ethical and moral base that allowed us to laugh with them and not at them. And Andy Griffith’s the reason for that.”
Matlock also provides order in an uncertain world. A comforting, grandfatherly figure, he always proves his clients’ innocence and publicly exposes the true wrongdoer.
The world remains a place that frequently feels topsy-turvy. Andy Griffith passed away in 2012, but Sheriff Andy Taylor and Ben Matlock still have the power to comfort viewers today.