Andy Griffith nearly passed on the chance to star in Matlock because he believed it was too much of a Perry Mason ripoff.
The late star will forever be one of classic TV’s most recognizable and loved faces thanks to his two iconic series, The Andy Griffith Show and, of course, Matlock. The first brought the concept of utopia to the screen with Mayberry. And the second proved how fun it is to crack legal mysteries.
But despite the massive success of Matlock, Andy Griffith initially balked at the concept. The show follows him as Ben Matlock, a high-dollar criminal defense attorney who also has a knack for PI work, which, at its very core, is the same character as Perry Mason.
“Before we came on the air, I couldn’t tell you what made us different or what made Ben Matlock different from Perry Mason,” Griffth told the Associated Press in 1987. “You just don’t know. But once you’re on the air, a show begins to take on a personality. And that’s what’s happening now with Matlock.”
‘Matlock’ Creator Understood That Fans Connected With the Iconic Characters
At the time of the interview, Matlock was airing its freshman season, which, ultimately, ranked as the 14th-best series on TV by the season finale. After taking a chance on the character, Andy Griffith soon realized the possible storylines were endless, and that was further proven when the show ran for ten successful years.
“It’s a wonderfully conceived part,” he continued. “You’re almost unlimited in what you can do in the part. The courtroom scenes are fun to do because they have a theatrical quality about them.”
Interestingly, Matlock creator Dean Hargrove was also behind Perry Mason at the time. He took over the franchise in the mid-1980s with Perry Mason Returns and went on to executive produce 28 more made-for-TV movies. He agreed with Andy Griffith. While he was working on very similar projects, they all stood out from each other due to the brilliance of the characters.
“Everybody has a theory about why a show is successful,” he said in a 1989 AP interview. “I think the audience basically is attracted by characters. And when they have that perfect wedding of character and performer, you have a success.”
“Most successful shows are defined by a name: Lucy, Archie Bunker, Columbo, J.R. Even with shows like Thirtysomething and L.A. Law,” he continued. “I think people tune in for the characters. Basically, I tailor shows for the stars, like Andy Griffith, Bill Conrad, and Tom Bosley.”
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