Andy Griffith pushed for Kari Lizer to join Matlock

It was her first regular role on a series, and it completely changed her life.

When Kari Lizer joined Matlock, she couldn’t believe her luck getting cast to play a law student named Cassie Phillips.

After eight long years of hard times scraping by in New York and L.A., sometimes holding down three waitress jobs at once, it was the first time she was getting paid every week for her acting.

"I really can’t yet fathom being in a series with a weekly income," Lizer told The Herald in 1987. "The job means everything to me and not just because of the money. The whole quality of my life has changed."

Lizer’s acting career started when she was in high school.

At the age of 15, she joined an acting workshop with a friend, and by the time the workshop had ended, the workshop teacher had become agent to both her and her friend.

Lizer got cast right away in commercials, mostly selling stuff like soda pop or cheesing for brands like KFC. She told the Chino Champion in 1978 that doing commercials taught her to respect everyone’s time onset.

"Filming commercials is fun and exciting, but it’s scary too," Lizer said. "There’s all this money and time being spent and everyone’s depending on you. But so far, it’s been very nice."

Lizer had hoped that her acting career would continue picking up, but unfortunately, she faced hard times instead.

A quirky young woman, when she couldn’t afford the fashionable clothes she wanted, she invented her own personal style.

"When I was starving, I bought a lot of secondhand men’s silk pajamas and boxer shorts," Lizer said. "I sewed up the flies and wore them in public because they were fun and unusual. I couldn’t afford to be fashionable, so I decided to go for laughs. But my parents don’t see the humor."

Before Matlock, Lizer featured in small roles in movies and TV shows like Who’s the Boss? and Growing Pains.

Then, her agent got her cast to guest star in an episode of Matlock called "The Angel," where Griffith’s character defends her character — a Madonna-like rock star — and she was so impressive that Griffith took notice.

That’s why when Linda Purl backed out of Matlock after the first season, Griffith personally recommended the series cast Lizer as her replacement.

For Lizer, catching Andy Griffith’s eye completely changed her life, but she said she was so determined to continue acting that even if she didn’t get offered the role of Cassie Phillips, "I would have kept trying."

She was happy for the opportunity when the Matlock role arose.

"This is a wonderful role for me," she said.

Lizer appeared on Matlock throughout the second season, with her final appearance in the episode "The Genius."

After Matlock, she joined The Van Dyke Show, playing Barry Van Dyke’s wife. She continued acting through 2011, more recently contributing to TV as a producer.

Although it took her time to find her footing as an actor, she said she was grateful she experienced so many growing pains when she was young because she felt it helped her grow into the person she became.

"In a way I’m happy I didn’t land in a television series when I was 15," Lizer said.

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Mannixishot 23 months ago
Can't help but wonder if Andy wasn't difficult to work with...Matlock actors and actresses had a high turn over rate. I know Kene Holiday was let go due to drug use. Don't know if any other reason was offered for why anybody else left but you have to admit it was strange seeing all these people going after only a short spell or a few seasons...
AndreaZ Mannixishot 23 months ago
IMDB and Wiki explain a lot of the turnover. None of it was attributed to Andy, except for Purl, and that was more about a lack of mutual onscreen chemistry.
retrodfw Mannixishot 23 months ago
"Difficult" isn't the word I would use. According to Nancy Stafford, Andy Griffith (being someone who was old skool) was however extremely disciplined in his trade and held his younger castmates to a similar standard.
Wiseguy70005 Mannixishot 2 months ago
Also Benson had a high turnover rate. Every time Benson got promoted he lost his secretary.
Sooner 23 months ago
I really like her character. I thought it provided some really fun and creative ways to play off of Andy's character. I was disappointed she didn't continue on. She was really unique.
cperrynaples 23 months ago
Without a doubt, the worst written story in MeTV history! You guys owe us an apology for this travesty!
cperrynaples cperrynaples 23 months ago
Well at least they changed the picture, but I'm still not sure If Lizer or Stafford was Andy's choice! I can confirm that BOTH actresses appeared in Season 1: Lizer was a Madonna wanna-be and Stafford was a prostitute!
CoreyC cperrynaples 23 months ago
Most of Andy's Matlock female co stars had previous roles.
Wiseguy70005 CoreyC 2 months ago
Also Daniel Roebuck.
CoreyC Wiseguy70005 2 months ago
Daniel Roebuck was currently on 9-1-1. The husband who was shot.
15inchBlackandWhite 23 months ago
In the late 80's buying men's boxers and sewing-up the fly became something of a fashion trend for women. Perhaps she invented it?
Andybandit 23 months ago
I am sorry. I only remember Charlene, Julie, and Michelle. I don't remember Cassie.
cperrynaples 23 months ago
Another complaint with this article is that they brushed off Lizer's career as a producer! She created The New Adventures Of Old Christine with Julia-Louis Dreyfus! Most recently she did Call Your Mother with Kyra Sedgwick! Both shows were loosely based on Lizer's real life as a wife and mother!
Michael 23 months ago
But it seemed like they didn't make much of her. She is in season 2. But Michelle Thomas starts in that season too. When I watched a few years ago, she was a perioheral character. There was an investigator so she didn't need to do that.
MrsPhilHarris 23 months ago
I’ve never heard of The Van Dyke Show.
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MarkSpeck MarkSpeck 23 months ago
Correction...not Scatman Crothers, but Whitman 'Grady' Mayo.
MarkSpeck MarkSpeck 23 months ago
And Maura Tierney, later of NewsRadio, was also a regular on The Van Dyke Show.
cperrynaples MarkSpeck 23 months ago
Yep, I believe Scatman was dead when TVDS was on! And yes I forgot the Hallmark movies! That channel has only 2 types of films: Rom-coms and cozy mysteries!
MrsPhilHarris MarkSpeck 23 months ago
Lol yes I suppose it would not be surprising it was father and son. I’ve just not heard of it.
CoreyC 23 months ago
The photo does not look like Kari Lizer but Nancy Stafford her Matlock co star.
Jeffrey CoreyC 23 months ago
That's because it IS Nancy Stafford! MeTV used the wrong photo.
Pacificsun Jeffrey 23 months ago

I thought she looked familiar!
cperrynaples CoreyC 23 months ago
Yes, and I question the whole post because Stafford was actually Purl's replacement! Kari Lizer's character was kind of like Ben's Della Street!
Jaxter14 cperrynaples 23 months ago
In the 2-part pilot episode Charlene was portrayed by another actress and Linda Purl replaced her when the series was picked up.
Michael CoreyC 23 months ago
They fixed the picture now.
harlow1313 23 months ago
In acting, I often get the feeling that there is a fine line between success and failure, one that may or may not have much to do with talent. The behind-the-scenes politics may well be very ugly.
Pacificsun harlow1313 23 months ago
I've heard actors say (through interviews) it's a combination of talent and timing. You can't have one, without the other.

But I think we should be cautious about assuming "politics" in the sense you're probably thinking of, doesn't exist in many other situations where people are trying to get ahead. And prepared to do so.
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