Ben Matlock (played, of course, to perfection by Andy Griffith) may not be an obvious role model. Matlock was cheap and no fashion icon (he wore the same suit over and over), and he could be cranky. But on the other hand, he wealthy, well-respected, at the top of his career and seemed to be well-liked in his community.
So as The TV Professor tends to do, I started thinking, “Maybe we’d all be living our best lives if we emulated Ben Matlock.”
You may feel that the jury's still out on that idea, though I think there is a strong case to be made, that you could take Ben Matlock's life template and make it your own and lead a pretty good life. That said, The TV Professor has made the case that there are other role models we should consider emulating like Richard Kimble from The Fugitive or, for his healthy habits, Chris Traeger on Parks and Recreation – and one of my daughters wrote an early blog post about female TV role models. Still, we’ll see what you think, by the time this blog post is finished. I think you can make a pretty good case that if you want to be happier, wealthier and more successful in life, trying to channel your inner Ben Matlock is (seriously) not such a bad idea.
Here are six guiding principles that Matlock lived by, which could lead to living your best life.
Today's "TV Lesson" Breakdown:
1. Know Your Worth.
For people looking to hire Matlock, he commanded $100,000 as his fee. In today’s dollars, that’s over $272,000.
So if I’m ever framed for a murder I didn’t commit and in desperate need of a Ben Matlock to hire me, it looks like I’m going to the slammer.
But if you had the money, Matlock made a good argument that you should pay his fee.
“Look, at it this way, Steve,” Matlock said in the pilot episode. “If I win, it'll be worth it. If I don't, they take you to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center over near Jackson, and they electrocute you.”
Steve hired Matlock.
In the fifth episode, when a client says, “You’re not inexpensive,” Matlock makes a similar case, replying: “When I win, I’m considered a bargain.”
And in Matlock’s defense, he does have a law firm to run, and so it isn’t like he pockets all of that cash himself. In the first season, he is working with his daughter Charlene (Linda Purl), and somebody's got to pay her, and somebody’s got to pay his part-time investigator, Tyler Hudson (Kene Holliday), who has expensive tastes. Matlock also had a secretary in the early seasons of the series. So he had to make payroll somehow. And Matlock usually wisely insisted to clients that he was paid upfront, knowing full well that if he somehow lost, he probably wouldn’t see his money.
So, yeah, if you’re working for yourself, don’t be afraid to insist on the prices you deserve (although in a capitalistic society, if you demand prices that are too high and unreasonable, don't be shocked if clients or customers stay away).
And if you’re working for somebody else, and you need a raise, go on into your boss and tell ‘em that The TV Professor said you’re worth more than what you’re being paid. You’ll sound utterly ridiculous, but on the bright side (for me), maybe your boss will check out the blog!
Er, yes, well, onto the next point...
2. Spend time with your family. Work with them, if possible.
Matlock, as noted, worked with his daughter Charlene until she took her talents to a law firm in Philadelphia (we learn this in the first episode of the second season and then she is hardly, if ever, mentioned again). But in later seasons, he also worked with another daughter, Leanne McIntyre (Brynn Thayer).
For reasons we'll never know, Charlene decided to leave her dad’s firm after a year or so of working with him. Maybe she wanted a bigger law firm or didn't feel up to constantly trying to defend people accused of murder (and, sure, there was also the fact that Linda Purl, the actress playing Charlene, reportedly found the role underdeveloped, and so she asked to be let out of her contract).
Where Charlene was kind of prim and proper, Leanne was a lot more like her dad, kind of no-nonsense, and so their personalities may have been more in sync as they worked together for several seasons until she apparently moved to Los Angeles, presumably to also work at a law firm, although Matlock was never clear about that. (The actress, Leanne Thayer, left for reasons unknown, at least to the general public.)
Still, if you’re close with your kids, it seems like you could make a pretty good case that running a business with your adult children offers a pleasant work-life balance.
On the other hand, since viewers never saw Charlene or Leanne show up on Matlock after their characters left, maybe it’s such a great idea. You could end up driving your kids so crazy that they move to another part of the country to be far, far away from you. Still, let's be optimistic and assume that it worked out great for Ben Matlock, to be working with his daughters, and that they called and visited him frequently after they went to work elsewhere, even if the viewers didn’t see it.
3. Eat responsibly – but treat yourself, too.
I'm guessing that even people who are only casually acquainted with Matlock probably know that the attorney loved his hot dogs.
Late in the series, in the episode “The Legacy,” we learn that Matlock’s father, Charlie, liked hot dogs. “I come from a long line of hot dog eaters,” Ben Matlock says.
Hot dogs have been popular in the United States since the 1860s, and so it’s kind of nice to picture Ben Matlock’s great-great grandfather maybe eating a hot dog before practicing law or pushing a plow or whatever he did.
And, yes, The TV Professor is aware that in a Diagnosis Murder episode, where Ben Matlock appears, the famed attorney reveals that he only eats hot dogs due to some lousy advice Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick Van Dyke) gave him. Dr. Sloan, you see, advised Matlock in 1969 to invest his entire life savings, $5,000, into a company that made 8-track tapes, and, well, you can imagine how that went over.
"I didn't have the money to buy these fine, hand-made suits... had to get cheap stuff off the rack. You think it's odd that I eat so many hot dogs? That's how I got started. That's all that I could afford,” Matlock complained.
But clearly, Ben Matlock was just trying to make Dr. Sloan feel bad. Like generations of Matlocks before him, Matlock loved his hot dogs.
So, right, what does that have to do with living your best life? We'll get there. So, hot dogs aren’t exactly a nutritional paradise. The average hot dog is 500 calories, according to Nutritionvalue.org, and has 1,317 mg of sodium... and 45 grams of fat. That doesn't include the bun and toppings. So it's not the best food out there.
The TV Professor isn’t suggesting abandoning your nutritional responsibilities (and listen to your doctor if he or she tells you to stay away from hot dogs), but we’ll assume that Matlock was eating his share of salads and oat bran. Matlock simply made sure that he had some fun with his diet as well. And there’s definitely probably some wisdom in that.
4. Find a place you like to live – and plant roots.
Ben Matlock could have worked anywhere, but he stuck with Atlanta. He was an Atlanta attorney, through and through.
Sure, there’s plenty to be said for making a change and going to a new part of the country, but living in Atlanta worked for him. He had a stellar reputation there and an extensive array of contacts. So becoming part of a community worked for him, and it's a life strategy that works for a lot of people.
5. Don’t suppress your feelings.
Matlock was cranky. Maybe he could have suppressed his feelings some. But on the bright side, you generally knew where you stood with Ben Matlock, who would let you have it, if he thought you were doing something dumb or making a mistake. For example, a few remarks he made to clients when he was frustrated include these gems:
- "Every year I look for the nastiest, hatefullest, meanest man to represent and this year you're it."
- "I'd sooner eat a live chicken than be your lawyer!"
- "What's the matter with you? Did someone cut the wire between your brain and your mouth?"
6. Don’t retire early. Stay engaged.
Assuming that Ben Matlock was the same age as Andy Griffith, that would mean America first met the defense attorney when he was 60. When the series ended, Matlock was 69 years old. In a two-part episode of Diagnosis Murder in early 1997, however, 70-year-old Matlock was still practicing law – he comes to Los Angeles to represent Dr. Jesse Travis (Charlie Schlatter) when he is sued for malpractice. A TV critic at the time found that odd, noting that Matlock worked on murder cases and wouldn’t exactly be experienced in malpractice, which was a good point, although, of course, in the episode, there is a murder, and Jesse becomes a top suspect, and, oh well, we’re getting off track…
Anyway, Matlock was still defending clients and solving crimes at the age of 70. Given that Andy Griffith died at the age of 86, one imagines that Ben Matlock probably remained in the courtroom for quite awhile longer, before hopefully enjoying a pleasant retirement. Or maybe he never retired and was defending innocent people and solving crimes to the very end.
Yeah, I think about this stuff way too much…
Articles similar to this Matlock article: The TV Professor took a look at Richard Kimble as probably the best role model on TV. Or if you're a fan of Andy Griffith's series, The Andy Griffith Show, you might enjoy this blog post about -- well, it's about the term "greased lightning" by way of The Andy Griffith Show. It's kind of hard to explain and an early post, but, eh, you may find it interesting.