Andy Griffith explained how he made Matlock into a funnier version of Perry Mason

With a little help from his comedy partner Don Knotts!

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The format of Andy Griffith's legal drama Matlock is pretty much snatched straight from Perry Mason. It featured Griffith as the titular defense attorney, who always manages to get the right guy to confess in the courtroom. But while the structure of each episode connects the two shows, Griffith said the character of Ben Matlock was not inspired by Perry Mason, but instead, the character just naturally came to him. He told the Archive of American Television, “I let my imagination roam. I never worried about the law. They said that Raymond Burr did, but I knew that somebody else was there to look after the law part. I just wanted it to be entertaining within that framework.”

While working on Perry Mason, Burr was famously dedicated to building his character into the moral pillar that remains his legacy. The actor would even work with directors to get the closeups on his face just right, so every twitch of his eye pulsed onscreen with the drama of a revealed red herring. Griffith took a different approach, because his background was in comedy, he wanted his character to bring a lightness to his courtroom battles. Griffith said, “I got in a lot of fights with the judges. I got in a lot of fights with the prosecutor, because it was funny.”

His attempts at adding humor to the show continued, eventually reworking scripts to get his character to read right. Griffith said, “I would orchestrate those fights often. I would get myself thrown out of the courtroom. Put in jail. Because it was funny. Hot dogs. This character loved hot dogs. That’s funny.”

And, of course, when it comes to adding humor to a show, there's no quicker way to do that than to beef up the comedic actors on your cast. That's why Don Knotts said Andy worked his former partner into the show, introducing Knotts as Matlock's next-door neighbor Ace Calhoun. Knotts said in an interview with Archive of American Television that Matlock was challenging for him as a sitcom star, explaining, "I wasn’t on it that much because the stuff that we had done together, you know, was strictly comedy and Matlock was not a comedy show. There was only so much we could do. We couldn’t go too far. We couldn’t do too much.”

For his part, Griffith was always willing to do a little more and go a little further. In fact, he said he barely paid any attention to the legal mumbo jumbo and focused more on Matlock being folksy. Of the legal consultant on the show, Griffith confirmed: “The only thing I learned from him is never to put my hands up on the judge’s table."

And you know who we saw plenty of putting his hand on the judge's table? Perry Mason.

He does it right there in the opening credits at the start of his otherwise extremely by-the-book show. Guess even Perry Mason wasn't perfect!

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Nala92129 19 months ago
Couldn't stand Matlock: the cornball music, the cutesy-poos. I know seniors were said to love the show, but I couldn't make friends with it.
RichLorn 19 months ago
Who would I rather have defending me? Perry Mason, no contest.
joenic27 19 months ago
The early seasons of Matlock followed the Perry Mason pattern, where we don't know who the killer is until Ben uncovers them. Later episodes were more Columbo-like, where we know who the killer is from the get-go and watch how they are caught. I have to say that series hasn't aged as well as most of METVs fare.
Speaking of Perry Mason; it is probably my favorite series on METV (tied with Gunsmoke, and Svengoolie).
RichLorn joenic27 19 months ago
I wonder how many notice that the producer named in the closing Perry Mason credits, Gail Patrick Jackson, is the same Gail Patrick who was a popular movie actress in the 1940's.
F5Twitster 19 months ago
Not a “judge’s table,” it’s the bench.
Hilary 19 months ago
Thanks MeTV for a great legal comparison article. Glad to see that Perry Mason came out on top as the most ethical attorney on television. That’s what Raymond Burr wanted and achieved. I also think that MeTV has given Perry Mason more respect and nicer presentation than when it was on network television. I know because I watched it then, I love it even more now.. As for the judges bench and the hand take it as an early lawyer’s error !
NancyEddy 19 months ago
Sorry, but Ben Matlock was NOTHING like Perry Mason.
Runeshaper 19 months ago
Great story! 2 great lawyers! (-:
Wapkep1982 19 months ago
Of course, the star's client was always innocent, but on Matlock, especially during the latter seasons, it seems like everyone else did it--it was always a conspiracy. I thought that was a lazy way to resolve the mystery. I like both Matlock and Mason, but Mason is much better.
SgtForever Wapkep1982 19 months ago
I totally agree that Mason was better.
cperrynaples 19 months ago
Well, that shot of Burr came from the first season when Perry broke a lot of rules...LOL! And ever notice how many Ace scenes on Matlock were recycled from TAGS! The most obvious is the Karate scene ["Slow motion!"]...LOL!
cperrynaples cperrynaples 19 months ago
PS That ain't a table, that's a desk! Perry had the table! And another mistake: In the first season open, Paul & Della shared the same table with Burger & Tragg! That probably angered Erle Stanley Gardner...LOL!
Pacificsun cperrynaples 19 months ago
I can read stories about the making of Perry Mason all day. Recognizing that my opinion isn't worth anything (I shall proceed anyway - LOL). But for that kind of show, meaning formulaic. I can look at my clock and to the minute know which likely suspect proves wrong. And which one takes it's place. Just like Mannix shifts the storyline exactly at _:47 on my clock.

There are only so many ways to commit murder and so many motives. So, like with Columbo, the process became the focus. We understand the wheels working in Columbo's mind. And he picks over his clues. But an awful lot of declaration has to be done at the end of PM episode.

But it doesn't matter. That's the beauty of the series. RB kept that focus perfectly on PM. It's beautifully produced with so little they had to work with. We can count on a couple of fingers, the scene changes. The bad guy, the really bad guy, and the murderer. The rest are just whiners.

I loved it best when the principles of the cast had a personal reason for the case. When Della dragged in a poor soul. Or PM drove on the "wrong side of the street" just to prove his friend was innocent. I mean, did the character 𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙧 get paid?

RB's work ethic was amazing. I mean Shatner had studio accommodations. But I doubt he hung around at the end of a six hour week to "tweak" the camera angles on his facial muscles. And I love ST:TOS, don't get me wrong.

But RB gave a decade of his life to that character and that production. He was fortunate to have lived as long as he did, considering his physical challenges.

But he had fire in his soul for leaving a legacy.

Maybe it was the child he never had.

𝒷𝓊𝓉 𝒽𝑒 𝓌𝑜𝓃'𝓉 𝒷𝑒 𝒻𝑜𝓇𝑔𝑜𝓉𝓉𝑒𝓃
Andybandit 19 months ago
I love the show Matlock. I think it is funny that Ben wears the same suit all the time.
SgtForever 19 months ago
Well In my opinion Nobody can be Perry Mason and There can't be a show that is better then Perry Mason with Raymond Burr acting. Even though I do like AG, it's just my opinion.
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MrsPhilHarris SgtForever 19 months ago
About the actors on the old Svengoolie movies? One night there had to be a half dozen people in one movie that had appeared on. Perry Mason.
MrsPhilHarris cperrynaples 19 months ago
That is correct.
Coldnorth MrsPhilHarris 19 months ago
They all smoked and drank hard liquor straight. I always wondered if was really iced tea or whiskey
MrsPhilHarris Coldnorth 19 months ago
🤔 It seemed like most characters had a bottle or a decanter in their living room. Lots of boozing. 🥃
Michael 19 months ago
Another repeat. At least it will be September tomorrow, time for the new season.

But Don was just an annoying neighbor. He had nothing to do with Matlock's law practice. Well, he bought a car, and that caused legal problems.
cperrynaples Michael 19 months ago
Well, Lisa once told Oliver he could catch the summer reruns...LOL!
Bill 63 months ago
I could have done without the Billy Lewis clown.
ClassicFan Bill 63 months ago
I didn't really like him either. Cliff was okay.
MrsPhilHarris Bill 63 months ago
I don't remember him.
MarkSpeck MrsPhilHarris 37 months ago
He was Matlock's childhood friend...I think they were both interested in the same girl, who wound up marrying Ben. And like our dear lawyer, Billy was fond of the word 'jackass', which he often used to describe Ben.

Billy was played by Warren Frost, who always seemed to have another role going while he was on Matlock. When he first appeared on Matlock, he was also a regular on another ABC series, Twin Peaks, co-produced by his son Mark Frost. Near the end of his Matlock stint, Warren Frost began his recurring role as Susan's (George Costanza's fiancee) dad on Seinfeld.
MrsPhilHarris MarkSpeck 37 months ago
Oh right! Now I know the character. I was on a leave from work for a couple of months watching everything and anything on tv. Caught some Matlock episodes with Billy.
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