‘Matlock’: Why Did Andy Griffith Program Leave NBC for ABC?

by Jon D. B.

1992 spelled huge changes for “Matlock” as the classic switched from NBC to rival network ABC. Fans have long wondered why such a successful show would seek out a new network. As it turns out, however, it wasn’t the show’s decision at all. Nor was it Andy Griffith‘s.

With the end of Season 6, “Matlock” would change things up considerably. Every change, both big and small, to the classic program would boil down to one thing: a switch in primetime networks.

After years with NBC, “Matlock” would begin anew with rival network ABC for Season 7 in 1992. Its first episode airing on November 5 of that year, Season 7 would end up bringing the show far closer to its roots. But how? And more importantly to fans: why?

In simplest terms, “Matlock”s exit from NBC came when then-president Warren Littlefield began restructuring the network towards family entertainment. Research into NBC’s history shows Littlefield made massive efforts to steer clear of programming that didn’t suit “younger audiences.”

The last episode of “Matlock”s NBC era aired on May 8, 1992. But the program wouldn’t be absent from airwaves for long at all. In fact, it would return right on time – with some big changes.

The Good & Bad of ‘Matlock’s Network Switch

(Photo by Frank Carroll/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)

Firstly, “Matlock” would lose several cast members. Nancy Stafford, to begin with, would end her tenure as Michelle Thomas amidst the network switch. Julie March’s character, Julie Sommars, would also leave the classic afterward.

Perhaps most shockingly, however, was the departure of Griffith’s life-long friend and television megastar, Don Knotts. Knotts beloved neighbor character, Les “Ace” Calhoun, would be cut after Season 6, leaving another noticeable gap. His absence, alongside the exit of Clarence Gilyard Jr. as Conrad McMasters, would create a far different feel for Season 7 of ‘Matlock.’

Yet it wasn’t just the cast that left the show feeling “a’new.” As fans know, the entire run of ‘Matlock’ for NBC was filmed in California. This required Andy Griffith to commute to the West Coast for filming every year from his homestead in North Carolina.

To ease the stress of this on the aging actor, ABC relocated production to Wilmington, NC. The switch-up turned out to be a hit for viewers and critics alike, breathing new life into a show that was 6 seasons deep.

All in all, the change of scenery, characters, and lifestyle for star Andy Griffith would do the show well. ‘Matlock’ continued on to reach a commendable 9 seasons. Like the two hour season premiere on October 13, 1994 – the classic would air a two hour series finale on May 7, 1995, giving fans a fond farewell to the beloved icon.