8 Non-Objectionable Facts About Matlock

Paramount Television
Paramount Television

It can be difficult for stars of popular television series to repeat their success, but Andy Griffith had no problem scoring a second hit—it just took a couple of decades. Following his much-loved The Andy Griffith Show, Griffith starred in Matlock, a leisurely-paced legal drama that aired on NBC and ABC from 1986 through 1995. Though the show has been a frequent punchline for satirists behind The Simpsons, Griffith’s portrayal of Atlanta criminal defense attorney Ben Matlock and his act-four courtroom grandstanding is the television equivalent of a warm blanket. Check out some facts you might not know about the show, from a guest appearance by ALF to the on-set conflicts stemming from a lack of peanut butter.

1. IT WAS TAILOR-MADE FOR ANDY GRIFFITH.

Following the end of The Andy Griffith Show in 1968, Griffith proceeded to star in a number of made-for-television features, some of which were intended to be the launching pad for new series. In two (Fatal Vision and Street Killing), he played attorneys. None caught on with viewers, save for one: Watching Fatal Vision, NBC entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff thought Griffith’s wry, salty federal prosecutor could be the kind of performance that could sustain a series. Tartikoff enlisted Perry Mason producer Dean Hargrove to write something customized for Griffith. The result was Matlock, a promising pilot guest-starring Dick Van Dyke as a sinister trial judge. As part of a spring 1986 Griffith comeback blitz that included a TV movie, Return to Mayberry, Matlock premiered in March 1986 to an impressive 28 million viewers.

2. GRIFFITH GOT A STANDING OVATION FOR HIS TRIAL SCENES.

In most episodes of Matlock, the attorney is able to finger the real assailant during cross-examination of a witness. These scenes required Griffith to spend considerable time standing—owing to Guillian-Barré Syndrome, he wore knee braces due to temporary paralysis of his lower legs—and delivering lengthy monologues. The actor also carried notes to help him recall dialogue and spent weekends rehearsing. When he finished, the crew would typically applaud the actor for nailing the complex and arduous “gotcha” speeches. According to co-star Nancy Stafford, Griffith almost always got the speech right on the first take.

3. GRIFFITH WANTED MATLOCK TO GET DARK.

Playing morally ambiguous characters was nothing new for Griffith, who had a turn as a power-hungry television personality in 1957’s A Face in the Crowd. But most of America identified him as Andy Taylor, the Mayberry sheriff who doubled as a moral compass for viewers. Doing Matlock, Griffith sometimes butted heads with Hargrove, with the actor arguing for his character to delve into the seedier side of law practice. Matlock, he argued, should have a drinking problem, or maybe land himself in jail. Hargrove fielded character tips, but blanched when Griffith wanted to alter the mystery plots of the series.

4. PEANUT BUTTER WAS A SOURCE OF FRICTION ON THE SHOW.

As the star of a hit show, Griffith was entitled to certain amenities. But he reportedly didn’t have much interest in lavish trailers or special treatment. The only thing he expected the production to cater was peanut butter, which Griffith considered one of his favorite foods. The actor would reportedly get extremely upset when he went to fetch some to use as a dip for his apples and found it missing. “Andy would get distressed sometimes because people who were not part of the crew would come on and eat the peanut butter and the apples,” Hargrove told author Daniel de Vise. “Andy was a hawk-eye on it, too.”

5. ALF MADE A GUEST APPEARANCE.

In 1987, Matlock attempted to entice viewers of other NBC shows to sample Griffith’s by concocting a plot in which Matlock defends a Hollywood producer accused of murdering a network executive. Betty White, Jason Bateman, and Malcolm Jamal-Warner made appearances, and so did the star of one of the network’s biggest hits: the alien-puppet sitcom ALF. The appearance comes at the end of the episode, with ALF remembering the producer’s abrasive demeanor on set. Whether he may have been a puppet or an actual alien in Matlock continuity is left for the audience to decide.

6. IT LAUNCHED A SPINOFF OF A SPINOFF.

A television spinoff series launched by an existing series is nothing new, with Frasier filling the void left by Cheers being one of the most notable examples. But Matlock pulled off a rare double spinoff: Hargrove used a 1986 Matlock episode to introduce Joe Penny and William Conrad as the crime-solving duo Jake and the Fatman. That show ran from 1987 to 1992. In one episode, the “Fatman” received help on a case from Mark Sloan, a physician with an instinct for investigation. Portrayed by Dick Van Dyke, Sloan got his own show, Diagnosis: Murder, in 1993. This byzantine Matlock television universe came full circle in 1997, when Griffith visited Sloan on Diagnosis: Murder to help him with a medical malpractice plot.

7. NBC GAVE IT THE BOOT.

After six seasons, Matlock was in trouble. Incoming NBC entertainment president Warren Littlefield was looking to back away from series that skewed to older audiences. In addition to In the Heat of the Night, he canned Matlock, which still ranked a respectable 40th out of 123 network shows of the era. Griffith and producers managed to move it over to ABC, telling them the show could move filming to North Carolina and save money on production. The show ran three more seasons before going off the air for good in 1995.

8. IT WAS RESURRECTED AS PART OF A PROTEST.

In 2013—long after the series left the airwaves and a year after star Griffith’s death—an NBC affiliate in Cleveland decided to resurrect a two-hour Matlock and air it in place of the network’s standard Thursday night lineup: The Office, struggling sitcom 1600 Penn, and Law & Order: SVU. Surprisingly, it did about as well in the Cleveland market as the sitcoms did nationally, though Law & Order drew a better overall rating. The affiliate, WKYC, decided to air Matlock as a protest to Griffith being excluded from an Oscars “In Memoriam” segment the previous Sunday. Media outlets looking to pick on NBC’s new offerings thought it was amusing that 1600 Penn, a White House comedy, was trumped by a 21-year-old TV movie. The lesson: Never underestimate Matlock.

These Breaking Bad K-Swiss Sneakers Are Heisenberg-Approved

K-Swiss
K-Swiss

On the heels of last week's Netflix release of El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, fans of Breaking Bad have another treat on tap. Sneaker brand K-Swiss just announced a special edition sneaker modeled after the now-iconic RV camper where unlikely drug kingpin Walter White and his sidekick Jesse Pinkman cooked batches of the finest methamphetamine New Mexico had ever seen.

A K-Swiss Classic 2000 x 'Breaking Bad' Recreational Vehicle sneaker is pictured
K-Swiss

The Classic 2000 x Breaking Bad Recreational Vehicle sneakers sport the same distinctive striped pattern as the camper and feature the show’s logo on the tongue. Inside is a lining that resembles the upholstery of the camper’s interior. The shoebox even has a few bullet holes to mimic the ones on the camper’s door.

Unlike Walt's meth, the sneakers are available only in limited quantities. K-Swiss plans on launching the shoe beginning at 6 p.m. PST on Thursday, October 17, at a pop-up store at 7100 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, California. (The “store” is actually the screen-used RV from the series, and fans are welcome to stop by to take pictures with it.) The company will release 50 pairs at the pop-up, with another 250 through K-Swiss.com and through Greenhouse, a designer and collectible shoe app from Foot Locker.

The shoes retail for $80, but unless you’re one of the lucky few able to grab a pair through the routes above, you’ll probably have to consider a marked-up eBay sale. As Walter White well knows, quality comes at a heavy price.

10 Gruesome Facts About Dawn of the Dead

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Anchor Bay Entertainment

In the late 1960s, George A. Romero changed horror cinema forever with Night of the Living Dead, an instant classic that defined zombie storytelling on the big and small screens for decades to come. Over the next decade, Romero—who was reluctant to revisit the creepy world of shambling corpses he’d brought to life—tried other things. But then a chance encounter with a shopping mall and a little help from a fellow horror master changed his mind. The result was Dawn of the Dead, an over-the-top horror comic book for the big screen that remains, for many fans, the greatest zombie film ever made.

It’s been more than 40 years since Dawn of the Dead first arrived in theaters, and the film remains a wickedly fun piece of horror satire full of exploding heads, mischievous bikers, and one very dangerous helicopter. In celebration of four decades of terror at the mall, here are 10 facts about the making of Dawn of the Dead.

1. We can thank the mall (and Dario Argento) for Dawn of the Dead.

When Night of the Living Dead became a massive hit after its release in 1968, Romero began fielding various offers to potentially revisit the world of ghouls that he had created. Romero, who’d made a living making TV commercials in Pittsburgh before Night of the Living Dead was made, was "paranoid" about the idea of returning for a second film, and left it alone for years until an idea unexpectedly came to him.

As Romero explained on Anchor Bay’s Dawn of the Dead commentary track, the idea for the film initially came to him when he touring Pennsylvania's Monroeville Mall, which was owned by some friends of his. During the tour, he was shown some crawlspace within the mall where various supplies were stored, and started thinking about what might happen if people holed up in the mall to try and ride out a zombie apocalypse.

The second big ingredient that led to Dawn of the Dead was Dario Argento, the acclaimed Italian director best known for Suspiria and Deep Red. Argento offered to help Romero get financing for a Night of the Dead sequel, and even invited him to Rome to work on the script.

“They got us a little apartment, I sat in Rome and banged this out,” Romero said.

2. George A. Romero came up with the most famous line while drinking.

A photograph of George A. Romero
Vittorio Zunino Celotto, Getty Images

The most famous line in Dawn of the Dead—a line so famous it became the movie's tagline and was later reused in Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake—belongs to the character of Peter: “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” As catchy and unforgettable as it is, Romero doesn’t recall any grand moment of inspiration. He was just drunk one night, trying to get the script finished.

“I just made that up. Truly. On a drunken night when I was really crashing to finish the script and I thought that was kind of nice. It was from something Dario Argento told me,” Romero told Rolling Stone in 1978. “My family is Cuban and Dario said, ‘Well you have a Caribbean background and that’s why you’re into the zombie thing; zombies originated in Haiti.’ I said, well, all right, and I just figured that’s something a voodoo priest might say. Whee! I’m just having fun, man.”

3. Multiple versions of Dawn of the Dead exist.

Argento helped Romero find financing for Dawn of the Dead and served as a “script consultant” on the film. In exchange, Argento retained the right to recut the film for various foreign markets, while Romero retained final cut for North and South America. As a result, the Italian version of the film was shorter than Romero’s U.S. version, as Argento trimmed certain jokes he felt Italian audiences wouldn’t get. This increased the darkness of the film, which led to certain content cuts in other foreign markets. This is why several different cuts of the film wound up existing around the world, including an R-rated re-release that was re-cut for drive-in theaters in 1982.

4. Dawn of the Dead was released unrated in America.

Dawn of the Dead was released first in international markets, arriving in Italian theaters in the fall of 1978, months before it would land in the United States. In just a few weeks, the film was a commercial success overseas without ever playing to American audiences. So, when Romero and company ran into MPAA demands that they cut the film down or get an X rating, they doubled down and released the film unrated without any cuts to the gore.

5. The zombies didn’t get a lot of direction.

Though he’s renowned among horror fans as the man responsible for building zombies into one of the most effective movie monsters, Romero didn’t spend too much time guiding his undead ghouls. The director felt that if he tried to offer detailed direction in terms of zombie behavior, the zombies would all start acting one way instead of like a group of individuals. So, direction was kept to a minimum.

“You just have to say, ‘Be dead,’” he later recalled.

6. Yes, it was filmed in a working mall.

The Monroeville Mall was not a Romero invention. It was a real, working shopper’s paradise, owned by friends of his, which meant that it wasn’t just going to be shut down for weeks at a time so a zombie movie crew could come in and wreck it. Though Romero and his wife Chris later recalled having to stay out of the mall while the Christmas decorations were up (which is when scenes set elsewhere were shot), once the crew did get into the mall they could only shoot at night.

To make that easier, the crew replaced many of the lights in the mall with color-corrected lighting, so they could essentially shoot wherever they chose. At 7 a.m. each morning the mall’s Muzak would automatically start playing, which meant shooting was done for the day, and the cast and crew could shamble home for a little rest. (The Monroeville Mall, which is located about 10 miles from Pittsburgh, is still in operation today.)

7. Many of Dawn of the Dead's gore effects were improvised.

Though he would eventually become known as one of horror’s great gore wizards, at the time of Dawn of the Dead Tom Savini’s career as a special effects artist was still quite young. As he recalled later, he was doing a play in North Carolina when Romero called him and said: “We got another gig. Think of ways to kill people.”

Savini later recalled that he was given a great deal of freedom to play with different ideas for the many, many gore effects in Dawn of the Dead, so much so that many of the most memorable effects were made up on the day of shooting, including the scene in which a zombie takes a screwdriver through the ear and the exploding head during the SWAT raid on the housing project near the beginning of the film. Savini’s knack for improvisation also served him well in another capacity: The character of Blades the biker, which Savini plays, was not in the original script. He was simply added during shooting.

“George let us go play,” Savini recalled.

8. Dawn of the Dead is packed with cameos.

Like many of Romero’s films, Dawn of the Dead’s production was based in his native Pittsburgh, which meant that getting people to be in the movie was often as simple as contacting friends and family and inviting them to appear on camera. Romero makes a cameo in the film himself, alongside his future wife and producer Chris, in the film’s opening sequence at the TV station, where the couple is sitting side by side at a control panel (Romero, Savini noted on the commentary track, is also wearing his “lucky scarf”). Other cameos scattered throughout the film include Chris Romero’s brother Cliff Forrest as the man who leans over a sleeping Francine in the opening shot, and Tom Savini’s niece and nephew as the two zombie children who burst out of a closet at the landing strip and attack Peter.

9. The bikers were not actors.

As with some of the smaller speaking roles, getting extras to show up in Dawn of the Dead was often a matter of simply asking around Pittsburgh for the right people. As a result, the National Guardsmen present in the film, as well as some of the police officers, were real National Guardsmen and real cops.

For the legendary sequence in which a biker gang stages a raid on the mall, the production also managed to find real bikers in form of a group called The Pagans, who brought their own motorcycles for the shoot.

“I don’t remember who contacted them, but they just showed up,” Chris Romero later recalled.

10. Dawn of the Dead almost featured a darker ending.

During production on Dawn of the Dead, George Romero told Rolling Stone writer Chet Flippo that the film had, in Flippo’s words “no beginning and two endings.” Romero explained that this was because he was working “moment to moment” on the film. He eventually figured the beginning of the film out, of course, and went with an ending in which Peter and Francine fight their way out of the mall and onto the roof, where they escape in the helicopter. So, what was the other ending?

On the film’s commentary track, George and Chris Romero and Tom Savini all discuss a much darker concept to close the film, in which Peter would have shot himself (which he contemplates doing in the final cut) while Francine would have leapt into the spinning blades of the helicopter, mirroring one of the most famous zombie deaths earlier in the film. That ending would have followed in the footsteps of Night of the Living Dead’s dark ending, but Romero ultimately decided on something lighter.

Still, the original plan didn’t go to waste: Savini had already made a cast of actress Gaylen Ross’s head to use for Francine’s death scene, so he repurposed it—with the help of some makeup and a wig—for the famous exploding head shot during the housing project raid.

Additional Sources:
Shock Value by Jason Zinoman (The Penguin Press, 2011)
Dawn of the Dead DVD Commentary (Anchor Bay, 2004)

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