Andy Griffith Wanted ‘Matlock’ To Be the Opposite of Andy Taylor
The Andy Griffith Show was a family favorite from 1960 to 1968. With Andy Griffith playing widowed Mayberry sheriff Andy Taylor, the sitcom also featured Don Knotts, Frances Bavier, and a very young Ron Howard.
Griffith’s iconic character on the show was the picture of wholesomeness and morality. When he took on the role of criminal defense lawyer Ben Matlock in 1986, Griffith wanted to explore a darker side.
Andy Griffith intended ‘Matlock’ to be an ‘antihero’
After years of playing the straight-laced Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, the actor wanted to stretch his wings on Matlock. Show creator Dean Hargrove didn’t share his vision.
“Andy harbored enormous ambitions for Matlock,” Daniel de Visé wrote in his 2016 book, Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show. “He envisioned Ben Matlock as a sort of antihero, more complex than Andy Taylor, vain, uncultured, cheap, and vaguely unlikable.”
Griffith wanted to delve into areas of rebellion and addiction for Matlock, but Hargrove wasn’t on board.
“[Griffith] imagined Matlock struggling with alcohol addction, getting thrown out of court, tossed into jail,” de Visé explained. He wanted Matlock to jam with Atlanta bluesman. Andy approached Dean – and later, [producer] Joel [Steiger] – with hundreds of ideas for Matlock. Some they liked; most they didn’t.”
Andy Griffith discovered a new ‘balance of power’ since ‘The Andy Griffith Show’
The Andy Griffith Show had been off the air for almost 20 years when Matlock came along for the actor. Television sitcoms had evolved to include many more figureheads on production teams. Griffith noted the younger generation taking more control of content.
“When I was doing the Griffith Show, the network was only your host,” Griffith recalled in de Visé’s book. “They came down once a year to say hello. When the network gained control and they put all these children in these offices, it all went to hell then. It was all so easy in the early days.”
Adjusting to the new system was challenging for Griffith, who hadn’t worked on a TV show in approximately two decades.
“On the Griffith Show, Andy was accustomed to rewriting his lines he didn’t like,” de Visé explained. “Now, Andy found that the balance of power had shifted. And he found himself clashing with Hargrove, the man who had rekindled his career.”
‘Matlock’ creator had Andy Griffith stick to comedy
While Hargrove had enormous respect for Griffith and his vast experience, he wanted the actor to focus on the comedic side of the show.
“His ideas of comedy were unparalleled,” Hargrove said in de Visé’s book. “When it had to do more with the plot, the mystery, that was when we’d tend to stay with what we had. It would be like trying to pull the threads out of a sweater.”
Despite Griffith’s frustration that Ben Matlock didn’t develop the somber personality he had hoped for, the sitcom star added a playfulness and wit that kept viewers coming back each week.
“It was Andy who imbued Matlock with humor,” de Visé wrote. “Over its nine-year run, Matlock became an increasingly whimsical series, with the formality of early episodes giving way to a looser, warmer, more Southern style. … Ben Matlock didn’t make viewers laugh: He made them smile.”