‘Mr. Novak’: 1960s’ #28

Every Saturday, The Savvy Screener’s Boomer Box is counting down “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960s,” in reverse chronological order, as researched and written by Todd M. Pence. (This series ran originally in the Classic 1960’s TV Facebook group.)

#28: Mr. Novak: ‘With a Hammer in His Hand, Lord, Lord!’

One of the most exemplary of the fine crop of television programs which made their debuts in the fall of 1963 was NBC’s Mr. Novak, a high school-centered drama starring James Franciscus as an idealistic young English teacher. Although it never got the ratings to keep it on the air for more than two seasons the show gained recognition both among television critics and real-life professional educators for its realism.

During its run, Mr. Novak dealt uncompromisingly with hotbed issues such as drug use, teen pregnancy, racial strife, and student-teacher relationships. Decades after Mr. Novak went off the air, teen dramas were taking credit for being the first to deal with themes that this program had already pioneered.

One of the most notable of many excellent episodes aired early in the show’s second season, on September 29, 1964. “With a Hammer in His Hand, Lord, Lord!” featured Simon Oakland as a strict shop teacher who comes into conflict with a headstrong student (Tim McIntire). The confrontation leads to a violent attack upon the teacher.

Gene Roddenberry was so impressed with this episode that he sought out its writer, John D.F. Black, and convinced him to be the story editor for the new science fiction series he was putting together. The segment also has another connection with Star Trek: one of the guest stars was a young Walter Koenig, later to play the role of Ensign Chekov.

Mr. Novak, although almost never rerun in the decades since its initial run, nonetheless continues to be fondly remembered, as a recent book about the series [Mr. Novak: An Acclaimed Television Series by Chuck Harter, 2017] was published and the first season was released on DVD. Sadly, it does not appear that a season two DVD will ever see the light of day.

(Top photo: James Franciscus and Dean Jagger in ‘Mr. Novak.’ Source: Wikimedia Commons)

About Todd M. Pence

Todd M Pence has been an amateur historian and scholar of American television for the past 35 years. “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960” is the product of decades of research, not just in active viewing but in extensive combing of newspaper and magazine archives to read the original reviews of programs at the time they aired. He has also reached out to fellow television researchers to get their opinions. Pence maintains that the decade of the 1960's constituted the zenith of American primetime television drama, and that we will probably never see its like again. His purpose in compiling this list was to preserve this history and to spotlight many exceptional programs which have been forgotten and consigned to the dustbin of history. Pence holds a BA in Journalism from West Virginia University and has worked for the past 20 years in the Fairfax (Virginia) County Public School system

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