There’s hope for you, Grampa Simpson — Matlock is coming back. The reboot of the classic series will feature Kathy Bates as Madeline “Matty” Matlock, a senior attorney who dives back into work at a law firm, succeeding on her charm and wiliness.
It’s an excellent choice — Bates is a great actress who has seen triumph on both the small and big screen, and a “Matlock” type character isn’t all that far removed from Jo Bennett, Sabre CEO in The Office.
The cast is rounded out with exceptional talent: Skye P. Marshall (Good Sam) as Olympia, Jason Ritter (Parenthood) as Julian, David Del Rio (Maggie) as Billy, and Leah Lewis (Nancy Drew) as Sarah. Behind the scenes, Matlock is being overseen by executive producers Bates, Jennie Snyder Urman, Joanna Klein, Eric Christian Olsen of NCIS: Los Angeles fame, and John Will. But the question is, why Matlock? And why now? Well, why not? It actually makes sense if one looks at the history of the original show and the television landscape as it exists today.
The original Matlock ran for nine seasons between two networks: on NBC from 1986 to 1992, and on ABC from 1992 to 1995. The series brought legendary actor Andy Griffith back to television as widower Ben Matlock, a well-known senior attorney working out of Atlanta. The Harvard Law School graduate with the Southern charm and cantankerous edge is notoriously thrifty, despite his standard fee of $100,000, and has a penchant for gray suits and gray cars (likely to match his gray hair). And an insatiable appetite for hot dogs.
Typically, episodes would show Matlock meticulously searching for overlooked clues at the scene of the crime, arriving at other theories for how the crime was committed, theories that throw doubt on the “official” summary of events. Then, the episode would end with Matlock questioning someone on the stand about the crime, who invariably would be the one who actually committed the crime, and who ends up being exposed by the wily Southern gent.
‘Matlock’ Was At the Right Place at the Right Time
Matlock and its star are a shining example of being at the right place at the right time. Griffith was still in the mind of viewers from his days on The Andy Griffith Show, having earned a great deal of goodwill as Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, North Carolina. He hadn’t been in a hit series since The Andy Griffith Show ended in 1968 and was about due for another karmic shot at success. That shot came as a result of the wildly popular Murder, She Wrote which debuted in 1984, starring another senior actor, Angela Lansbury.
As author Daniel de Visé tells it, “The success of Murder, She Wrote for aging film star Angela Lansbury had set the networks to wonder what other graying thespians might be ready to pilot their own murder mysteries…[Matlock‘s creator Dean Hargrove] was assigned, along with fellow producer Fred Silverman, to create a new show for Andy. They called it Matlock.” That eventually led to another favorite actor from the early days of television, Dick Van Dyke, appearing in another hit show, Diagnosis: Murder.
That period of time, arguably, was a golden age of sorts for the golden-aged, with The Golden Girls, In the Heat of the Night, and BBC’s Waiting for God just a few that had elderly protagonists. It made sense, given that seniors aged 65 and overspend the most time watching television, averaging over four hours a day.
But speaking of biting the hand that feeds, a 2017 study showed that adults 60 and older represented less than 10 percent of speaking characters on television, and only slightly more than 8 percent of regular characters in a series. Out of 39 series with main senior characters, 41 percent included at least one ageist comment, either through demeaning comments from younger characters or self-deprecating remarks by older characters.
The ‘Matlock’ Time Is Right, Again
The Matlock reboot, though, seems to have inherited the original’s knack for timing. Senior representation on television is perhaps even better now than it was during the reign of Griffith and Lansbury. Shows like Only Murders in the Building, Grace and Frankie, and The Kominsky Method take a much more positive view of seniors. Most of these age-positive shows are on streaming services, however, and although that age group has taken to the luxury of being able to watch what they want when they want, there is still a sizable group that gets their entertainment from standard cable packages.
Interestingly, what plays into the Matlock reboot’s favor is what drew people to Andy Griffith’s original: familiarity. Among the network shows favored by the 65 and over age group when they were on the air were the Hawaii Five-O and MacGyver reboots. The nostalgic element gave these series an advantage, even with any tweaks made to the original premises.
The new Matlock apparently doesn’t have any connection to the original series, other than its name. The trailer for the upcoming revival does name-drop the OG series once, though, as Bates’ Matty tells a group of people that her last name Matlock is “like the old TV show.”
Whether there are other references to the original series is unknown at present, but what is clearly evident is that it shares the same spirit. Matlock is definitely out of the blue, a reboot that seemingly has come out of nowhere and largely unexpectedly (Craig Byrne of Collider almost nailed its return prophetically in a 2016 article about TV series most likely to be rebooted or revived, but called the wrong Andy Griffith project).
Nevertheless, it would be somewhat surprising if the show didn’t catch on with viewers. The timing is better than ever, and the talent both in front and behind the camera is top-notch. And in a world where seniors are reclaiming their voice in society, it makes sense for right now.