Andy Griffith portrayed the affable attorney with a sense of true righteousness in Matlock.
Ben Matlock wore the same off-white suit in the courtroom season after season. There was a sense of commitment toward family and friends. The show seemed, at times, to be aimed at older television viewers. After all, Griffith had outgrown his Andy Taylor days.
Yet what is interesting to note is that Griffith wanted Matlock to have a darker side. He pushed for old Ben to either have a drinking problem or maybe a bad temper. Griffith wanted some piece of the human condition that would afflict Matlock. It’s worth mentioning that the lead actor had a hand in the show’s scripts. Attention to detail in the words mattered to Griffith.
Heck, he even mentioned in interviews after Matlock finished its run that he’d get involved in the show. Quality work and getting it done and done well were high on Griffith’s list. Sure, during Matlock‘s run, there were a few cast changes. That didn’t affect how Ben Matlock was presented to the public.
Andy Griffith Came Close To Changing ‘Matlock’
If Griffith had been in complete control of this show, then we might have gotten a different kind of character. But there was one person in Griffith’s way, and it was a man named Dean Hargrove.
While his name might not mean a lot on the surface, Hargrove spent time producing some programs with familiar or new characters. He was behind the influx of Perry Mason television movies, starring Raymond Burr. Hargrove also oversaw Jake and the Fatman starring William Conrad, Diagnosis: Murder with Dick Van Dyke, and The Father Dowling Mysteries starring Tom Bosley.
Notice that these shows’ lead actors had earlier series in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s where they, again, topped their series. Giving these outstanding actors, albeit older, new series gave their audiences feel-good moments. Yeah, and Griffith wanted to yank that chain off the wall.
Hargrove, though, would not let the “dark” side of Ben Matlock take over. This man, whose work dates back to being a writer on the Fred MacMurray sitcom My Three Sons, kept Matlock on course. There probably are some 20-year-olds out there who remember watching Matlock with their grandmother or grandfather.
That older audience group was whom Hargrove thought about when it came to Matlock. Hargrove knew that giving Ben a bad attitude or some haunting addiction wouldn’t sit well with his geriatric viewers. So, as much as Griffith pleaded his case, Hargrove stood his ground.
Dean Hargrove Kept Show on Track
This often led to some heated arguments, reportedly. Griffith and Hargrove would butt heads. Still, Hargrove looked at where the show was in the ratings. It scored pretty good numbers overall. This helped him probably believe inside himself that Ben Matlock’s presentation suited the audience, SlashFilm reports.
It’s not like Griffith could not play a rather wicked character. He did it beautifully when he portrayed Lonesome Rhodes in the Elia Kazan film A Face in the Crowd. Rhodes goes from country bumpkin into one of television’s biggest stars. Patricia Neal massaged his ego and bravado in this movie. In the end, though, Lonesome is left all alone.
Matlock was a fun, comfortable watch for viewers of all ages. It remains that way as the show is in reruns. You can see them on their own station on Pluto TV.
Hargrove, as a producer, kept Matlock on course as the show aired on NBC and ABC during its run. Even today, watching an episode for fun can pass the time away. Griffith wanted an edgier Matlock, yet Hargrove held the winning cards in his hands.
Matlock marked Griffith’s final journey into episodic television. Of course, his fans still love seeing him as Mayberry’s sheriff on The Andy Griffith Show. Folsky Andy Taylor was different from Ben Matlock. To see Griffith pull off the attorney character as he did was amazing. Hargrove saved Matlock from being considered as just another “attorney show” on TV. His efforts should not go unnoticed.
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