From 1986-1995, Andy Griffith played the titular gray suit-wearing, hotdog-loving criminal defense lawyer Ben Matlock. The show was a huge success. But just as Griffith had his doubts about his character Sheriff Andy Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show” at first, he also had mixed feelings about playing Matlock.
Before “Matlock” was born, Andy Griffith played the role of a lawyer in a two-episode mini-series called “Fatal Vision.” His 1984 performance in the role caught the attention of an NBC executive. A year and a half later, Griffith was finally convinced, and the show was set in motion.
In a 1996 interview with “Ralph Emery on the Record,” Andy Griffith talked about how he did tons of work to help develop his character in the first few years. And when Ralph Emery likened Griffith taking the “Matlock” role to his hesitation with Andy Taylor, Griffith elaborated.
“That’s not quite true. That’s not quite true. But Matlock- any character on television is going to- most characters on television, if you have any imagination, are going to evolve. So my character of Ben Matlock evolved as my mind enveloped that character. And I would rewrite scripts. I sent massive, massive notes. But nobody ever changed anything unless I changed it. So I did,” Griffith said.
The way he tells it, Andy Griffith himself was responsible for much of who Ben Matlock became. With that amount of work, it’s no wonder that Griffith had mixed feelings about the role in the first place.
Andy Griffith was Uncredited as a Writer on ‘Matlock’
Despite all that work he did in the first few years, Griffith’s rewrites weren’t recognized to the degree he would have liked. After Season 4, however, a change in showrunner led to increased communication and collaboration.
“I wrote on that show all the time. And in the fourth year, Dean Hargrove was no longer in charge, and a man named Joel Steiger, who had been on the show, became in charge. He became the producer, the executive producer. And that’s when the show really took off, was in the fourth year. And Joel told me, he said ‘I’ll never keep any secrets from you, I won’t lie to you, and we’ll collaborate.’ And we have, all those years,” Griffith continued in his 1996 interview.
Even though Griffith wasn’t credited as a writer, the show’s environment became more collaborative at the least. And rightfully so, as the iconic television actor clearly knew what he was doing in regard to a TV show.