Matlock is a legal drama series starring Andy Griffith as defense attorney Ben Matlock - a Harvard-educated, fiery southerner who charges $100,000 a case to brilliantly defend his clients by finding the real killer.
A running joke on The Simpsons is the idolization of Andy Griffith's Ben Matlock by the aged residents of the Springfield Retirement Home. Watching Matlock’s inaugural season, it's no wonder that viewers "of a certain age" would take comfort in watching Atlanta defense attorney Matlock defend the falsely accused and, to quote <>The Simpsons, "put young people behind bars where they belong." Matlock was something of a departure for TV icon Griffith. While he's got his southern drawl goin' on, he left Andy Taylor back in Mayberry. Folksiness only goes so far in the big city. Matlock's fee is $100,000. And even if Opie or Aunt Bea were menaced, one can't imagine sheriff Andy threatening to feed the perpetrator to the D.A. "piece by piece." Matlock hews closely to the Perry Mason playbook. Most episodes incriminate a suspect, only to have the tenacious Matlock ("Next to injustice, I hate losing," he states) exonerate him or her with some flashy, last-minute courtroom theatrics that threaten to turn the courtroom into a "sideshow." One notable exception is the episode, "The Judge," featuring guest star Dick Van Dyke as a judge and old friend of Matlock who murders his mistress, and then presides over the trial of the man arrested for the crime. Other notable guest stars are Jose Ferrer as a terminally ill crime kingpin arrested for murder in the two-parter, "The Don," and Pat Hingle as a surly and disliked man likewise accused of murder in "Santa Claus." Season One is an auspicious beginning for the series that would run for six years on NBC and then three more on ABC. Casting tweaks and the addition of new characters would improve the proceedings. Bland Lori Lethin, who appears in the pilot episode as Matlock’s daughter, a neophyte lawyer, was replaced in the series by the more experienced Linda Purl. The episode, "The People vs. Matlock" introduces Julie Sommars as feisty assistant district attorney Julie March, a foil and friend to Matlock. Nancy Stafford, who appears "The Seduction," would join the cast next season as Matlock’s assistant, Michelle Thomas. Matlock even inspired a spinoff; the episode "The Don" pits Matlock against his "bitter enemy," William Conrad’s James McShane, a cop-turned-district attorney who would later be transformed into Jason McCabe, aka "Fatman" in Jake and the Fatman (his future costar, Joe Penny, costars in the episode as one of the Don’s highly suspect sons). In a prime time loaded with grisly police procedurals, the old school Matlock is a not-at-all-guilty pleasure. --Donald Liebenson