Daniel Roebuck finally felt like a star on Matlock
He even used his star power to get one of his best hometown friends a guest role!
The Matlock episode "The Haunted" is about a case where a patient gets accused of murdering her plastic surgeon, but it’s not Ben that’s defending the accused. It’s a case that’s among his sidekick Cliff Lewis’ earliest, and it becomes increasingly hard for Ben not to be a backseat driver and get involved on the case.
Playing Cliff Lewis was Daniel Roebuck, who appeared in 55 Matlock episodes after his character was introduced in 1992.
His casting came after Roebuck appeared as a doctor in Matlock’s first season, and Griffith reportedly became so impressed that he promised Roebuck to make him a regular.
It took five years before that happened, and in the meantime, Roebuck appeared on Matlock as two other characters, one a lawyer, the other a prosecutor. But eventually Griffith did come calling and make good on his word. That’s the way it usually goes when Griffith notices great acting.
When Roebuck’s episodes started airing, TV critics were amused by the "earnest aide who’s always been one sandwich short of a picnic," as one critic wrote in a Washington Post review that called Cliff Lewis "more like a new character and a half" on the show.
Before Matlock, Roebuck took part in an eclectic filmography, memorably appearing in major roles in 1990s movies like The Fugitive and TV shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation. But he never felt he got the star treatment until he walked on the Matlock set.
He felt so at home there that when a jury foreman role came up in 1994, Roebuck asked the casting director if the show would let one of his best friends from his hometown fill it, even though his friend had never really appeared on TV or in movies before.
The casting director took Roebuck’s word that Rod Gilson would fit the bill, and cast the newbie for the role with no audition.
By then, Roebuck’s character had shifted some, from the naïve aide to the more steady-handed sidekick, ready to take on his own cases. Roebuck described why he liked that character shift for Cliff Lewis in 1994:
"He’s going to be less naïve, more on the ball," Roebuck said. "It’s been nice playing that not-with-it character, but I’m enjoying dressing nicer and being smarter."
When his old pal Rod came onto the show, Rod said he got a taste of the star treatment that his buddy Dan had so enjoyed about his time on Matlock.
"It was a lot of fun being with Dan and meeting the people," Gilson told The Morning Call in 1994. "They really treated me like I was a lead. They really pampered me. And Dan said they treat everyone that way."
By the end of Matlock’s run, Cliff Lewis had become so central to the show’s story that the final episode of the entire series finds Roebuck’s character accused of murder. And we all know who he chooses to defend him in "The Scam."
After Matlock, Roebuck has continued acting on TV and movies, right up to today. He’s most recently been cast in the upcoming Munsters reboot as Grandpa Munster.