Sunday, August 18, 2013

Classic TV: Matlock (1986)

Andy Griffith had tried a few series ever since his iconic, self-titled sitcom had ended in 1968. Two of them came & went in the same season. Then, in 1986, came another iconic character that redefined Griffith yet again.

Matlock was equal parts Perry Mason and Columbo, the latter because of lawyer Ben Matlock (Griffith) being a bit of an eccentric in terms of crime solving. While he employed an ever changing staff of investigators, Matlock frustrated, flustered, and sometimes infuriated prosecutors and judges with his defense of clients.

The series lasted longer than The Andy Griffith Show did, ending its run in 1995 after 9 seasons---6 on NBC, the last three on ABC, where Griffith had failed with two previous projects. There were touches of the old Andy, as Ben often would pull out an acoustic guitar to play a tune once in a while. Former castmates such as Don Knotts, Jack Dodson, & Aneta Corsault made guest appearances, with Knotts joining the series as Ben's next door neighbor, Les, for a while at the end of the NBC run.

Matlock came from producers Fred Silverman & Dean Hargrove, who'd also revived Mason as a series of TV-movies around the same time for NBC. The two had, in essence, created their own universe, enabling Ben to interact with characters from their other shows. For example, Griffith turned up in an episode of Dick Van Dyke's Diagnosis: Murder, and, Jake & The Fatman stars Joe Penny & William Conrad figured in the episode, "The Don":

Unfortunately, "The Don" has been deleted by YouTube due to copyright issues. Here's the open, uploaded by spudtv:

True story. My parents were away on vacation one time, and despite having a head cold, I had a friend over for pizza, and we watched the show. We had the case solved before it was over. Today, the friend is in law enforcement, but hasn't spoken to me in nearly 20 years. Go figure.

Kene Holliday (ex-Carter Country) was cut after 3 seasons, but his replacement, Clarence Gilyard, Jr. (ex-The Duck Factory), would move on to Walker, Texas Ranger when Matlock shifted to ABC. In the final season, the series expanded into a movie-of-the-week format, which spelled the end. INSP & Hallmark share the cable rights to the series, with Hallmark playing marathons at least once a month.

Rating: A-.


magicdog said...

I was way too young to be the intended demographic for this show, but darn it if I couldn't help liking it anyway. Andy Griffith was a big part of that.

I also thought it was a nice touch having various former TAGS co-stars appear - especially Don Knotts. He & Griffith still had chemistry together despite being in a different show, different characters and many decades later.

For years, there have been discussions about who would win in court if pitted against one another - Matlock or Perry Mason. I keep thinking it would be a consistent draw since they always managed to get the real culprit to confess on the stand. Too bad that never happens in real life.

hobbyfan said...

Well, let's put it this way. Ben Matlock was a Southern version of Mason. Some of the plots could've been rejected Mason scripts, for all we know.