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'Matlock': The Classic Southern Series Made for Andy Griffith's Return to Television

Actor Andy Griffith and Dick Van Dyke pose on the set of the series ?Matlock? in which Griffith stars in March 1986. (AP Photo)

Andy Griffith really had a knack for starring in hit TV shows. Well, two hit shows, to be exact. Twenty years after wrapping his eighth season playing Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, he starred in the legal drama Matlock

Criminal defense attorney Ben Matlock was a Harvard Law School graduate who opened up a practice in Atlanta. The series began with Matlock practicing law with his daughter Charlene Matlock (played by Linda Purl). He was joined by his private investigator Tyler Hudson (played by Kene Holliday). After Charlene's departure to open her own practice in Philadelphia at the end of the first season, Matlock works with a slew of other partners throughout the series -- Cassie Phillips is a driven file clerk in season 2, Michelle Thomas (played by Nancy Stafford) is Matlock's partner in seasons 2-6, Conrad McMasters (played by Clarence Gilyard Jr.) joins the team to replace Tyler Hudson as Matlock's private investigator in seasons 4-7, Cliff Lewis (played by Daniel Roebuck) is Matlock's last partner in seasons 7-9, and Jerri Stone (played by Carol Huston) is his final assistant and private investigator in season 9.

The storylines of each episode generally focus on a "whodunnit" case, with Matlock showing up to court in his trademark grey suit to reveal the real killer and save the day. In seasons 3-6, he goes up against his rival, District Attorney Julie March, in court, though they have a flirtatious friendship outside of the courtroom. The show was incredibly popular with the older audience that loved him from his Andy Taylor days -- so much so that Matlock was consistently a top 20 show.

 

Here are some things you might not know about the beloved series. 

1. NBC made the show for Andy Griffith

Actor Andy Griffith is all smiles following his being named top male perfomer in a new TV program "Matlock" at the 13th Annual People's Choice Awards in Santa Monica, Calif, March 13, 1987. (AP Photo/Mark Avery)

Griffith starred in various television projects after The Andy Griffith Show, including the 1984 NBC miniseries Fatal Vision. The network was really impressed with the way he played a federal prosecutor and decided he could probably lead his own legal show. 

Dean Hargrove was hired to create something specifically for Andy Griffith, and the result was Matlock, centered around the grouchy yet renowned defense attorney in Atlanta, Georgia.

2. The show was rumored to be inspired by a real lawyer

Bobby Lee Cook, now in his 90s, is a renowned defense attorney from a small mountain town in Georgia. He has been practicing law since the '40s and earned the nickname "dean of Georgia criminal defense attorneys" after gaining worldwide acclaim for his work representing everyone from major corporations to rural folks in his home state.

3. Griffith would receive standing ovations after nailing his trial speeches

Griffith had Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which meant that in addition to needing to wear knee braces, it made standing in court scenes difficult and painful. When he was standing up, he would have temporary paralysis of his lower legs. But like a champ, Griffith would nail his big courtroom speeches mostly on the first take, which would be met with applause from the cast and crew. 

Read More: Andy Griffith and Don Knotts' Friendship Shines in Classic Clip from 1965 TV Special

4. There was clashing over the character of Ben Matlock 

Griffith really wanted to be involved with the creative process of the show, even though Dean Hargrove was already a seasoned mystery writer. According to Daniel de Visé, author of Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show, Griffith and Hargrove would frequently squabble over the character development of Matlock. Griffith wanted him to be dark, have a substance abuse problem, and be pretty much as far from Andy Taylor as possible. Hargrove would welcome some character suggestions, but wouldn't let his star alter the plot of the story. 

5. After moving to ABC, the filming location changed

The show was shot in Los Angeles when it was aired on NBC. The L.A. location was a long commute for Griffith, who was based in North Carolina. ABC moved shop to Wilmington so that it would be a more manageable travel schedule for Griffith, who was wanting to spend more time with his family.

Though the Fulton County Courthouse is really located in Atlanta, it was filmed at the Second Church of Christ, Scientist when filming was in California. 

6. The show had two spin-offs

The CBS series Jake and the Fatman was a spin-off from a Matlock episode in the first season. William Conrad starred as District Attorney J. L. "Fatman" McCabe, who teams up with Detective Jake Styles, played by Joe Penny. Hargrove was the executive producer on the show, which ran for five seasons. 

Diagnosis: Murder was a spin-off of Jake and the Fatman. The series starred Dick Van Dyke as Dr. Mark Sloan, a crime-solving doctor joined by Van Dyke's real son, Barry Van Dyke, as a homicide detective. The show ran for eight seasons on CBS.

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'Matlock': The Classic Southern Series Made for Andy Griffith's Return to Television