Matlock: Season 8
There is a triumvirate of genres that have dominated the landscape of broadcast television since it became the most popular form of entertainment in the American home; medicine; Police procedural and legal drama. Other types of series have been persistent such as science fiction or westerns but none have had the endurance and fundamental pervasiveness as the aforementioned trio. I seriously doubt that there has been a single TV season without at least one representative example of each. Throughout this same period of time virtually every format has been tried. In the case of shows depicting the legal profession we have seen a range in characters running the gamut from high price defense layers to the intrepid State prosecutors seeking justice on behalf of the constituents in their jurisdiction. One archetype of lawyer has been overlooked more than most types; the old county Lawyer. Perhaps the reason might have to do the perceived lack of excitement and intrigue that is found in the court rooms of the big cities. One series did successfully attempt to challenge that premise, ‘Matlock’. He is the epitome of this piece of true Americana, the bastion of jurisprudence more at home sitting around the cracker barrel than the board room. One of the elements that garnered this series so many fans is the actor in the role of the titular attorney, Andy Griffith. Most of us quite literary grew up watching this county entertainer from his many appearances on the popular variety shows and, of course his iconic series best remembered as "Mayberry’. He could handle as scene as an actor just or pick up guitar, start strumming and sing a down home song. To most of us Griffith was initially a fatherly figure that effortlessly slide into a grandfather persona. This might not mean a lot to many of the younger viewers out there but for the baby boomer generation it was like a cup of warm Ovaltine on a chilly winter’s morning, comforting and familiar. This pervading feeling made Matlock a hit among the often under considered more mature audience. In fact, it has become a bit of a trope that retired people drop everything to watch ‘Matlock’, reinforced in our pop culture by series like ‘The Simpsons’.
Ben Mattock (Andy Griffith) has been an attorney for as long as most people can recollect. Matlock is a Southern to the core; polite to the lady folk and tenacious as a hound dog when challenged. He did the unthinkable to achieve his professional credentials traveling up North to receive his degree from Harvard University. This elite training enables this country lawyer to change a flat fee of $100,000 to provide his services. The ability to afford him is not the only criteria to take on a new client, he has to have his curiosity aroused and, most important of all, Matlock has to firmly believe that a wrong has been perpetrated and must be quickly resolved. From his practice in Atlanta Matlock continues to fight the good fight; a knight in a rumpled gray seersucker suit. He has accumulated sufficient financial means to retire and relax work and commitment is intrinsically a component of his core personality.
The eighth season under consideration here was the penultimate one. While the series has never been one of NBC’s jewels as far as ratings are concerned it always retained a loyal fan base. After the sixth season ‘Matlock’ was cancelled by NBC in a move to attract a younger demographic. The fans may have been significantly older than the group sought by NBC but ABC had a broader view of their audience. In a move than while not unique is exceptionally rare, especially back before the age of streaming video services and so much original content on cable. Although saved from an immediate demise the series would continue on impulse only three more seasons. Typical of a series now struggling to survive the new network resorted to the time honored tactic of shaking up the cast. Matlock had a team to assist in his cases; his legal associate was traditionally a female attorney, originally his daughter. Fir this season the network uncovered a previously unknown daughter, Leanne McIntyre (Brynn Thayer). The backstory provided to the character is she had racked up a couple of divorces and had been working as a prosecutor in Philadelphia. Moving back to Atlanta she mends fences with her father joining his practice. Like her dad Leanne had a courtroom style that frequently resulted in the exoneration of their client. Series like this require some action outside the courtroom battle. Typically it is provided by the no nonsense private investigator kept on retainer. Matlock had been through his share of such detectives, his latest leaving for greener pastures. This left Conrad McMasters (Clarence Gilyard Jr.) to look into the crime and provide the evidence Mattock required to free his client.
The changes were a valiant effort but the ratings continued to sink. The bottom line is the series always exhibited a great deal of quality. Griffith held his own better than most lawyers on TV, exhibiting a gentle sense of authority combined with a home spun wisdom. That was his strength as a lawyer; he didn’t depend on the modern advances in forensic science but rather used his keen understanding of the law and a good old fashion ability to read people. This might be what attracted a mature audience, the reliance on the human element in the investigation and subsequently the defense. Even though the series was on a decline it remained one of the better choices for family entertainment.