Just as it took time to find his character on The Andy Griffith Show a proper love interest, so on Matlock finding celebrated defense attorney Ben Matlock the perfect right-hand daughter took some time. Nine seasons of time.
‘Matlock’ came at just the right time for Griffith
In Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show, author Daniel de Visé remarked on Matlock‘s magic ratings touch.
“Matlock aired at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday nights, opposite ABC’s Who’s the Boss? and Growing Pains, both top 10 shows in the 1986-87 season,” he wrote.
One of the show’s producers, Joel Steiger, was quoted by de Visé as saying, “Our job was to come in a strong second. And we did it, forever. We knew almost immediately that this show was going to be successful and was going to continue.”
Griffith loved playing ‘Matlock’
After having played Sheriff Andy Taylor for nearly 10 years in the 1960s, Griffith needed a new start. He’d portrayed various characters in the years between the Griffith Show‘s end in 1968 and Matlock‘s start in 1986. He didn’t know it, but Matlock was his next sure thing.
“I loved the character of Matlock,” the actor explained to the Television Academy Foundation in 1998. “Matlock’s very bright, he’s very cheap, very vain, all the things I’m not. I enjoyed that character a lot. I just wanted it to be entertaining within that framework. I got in a lot of fights with the judges, I got in a lot of fights with the prosecutor because it was funny. I would orchestrate those fights, often. I’d get myself thrown out of the courtroom, put in jail, because it’s funny.”
Ben Matlock’s 3 ‘daughters’
Throughout the show’s nine seasons, the characters of Ben Matlock’s daughters changed in casting regularly.
Matlock went through three “daughter” actors on the series.
Lori Lethin was Ben’s younger daughter Charlene in the pilot episode in 1986.
The Office‘s Linda Purl then assumed the role of Charlene in the first season. Speculation has swirled as to whether Purl left due to a lack of attention in scripts to her role or if she was let go from the legal drama.
Nancy Stafford played something of a daughter figure. Stafford was Ben Matlock’s law partner Michelle Thomas on the show from 1986 to 1992. By 1992, the show was dropped by NBC and then picked up by ABC the same year.
During the move to ABC, Stafford left the series and in her place, Brynn Thayer joined the cast as Ben’s older daughter Leanne McIntyre and stayed from 1992 to 1994.