Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Mr. Novak: The Television Series

Mr. Novak makes a comeback. Rarely broadcast in reruns during the last three decades, the 1963-65 television series provided a realistic rendition of school teachers and the social problems faced by their students. Comedic elements ala Our Miss Brooks or Dobie Gillis were not part of E. Jack Neuman's grand design when he created a series that took place in a high school. Gaining insight to the educational system, he quickly developed a program that -- he hoped -- would provide social commentary with no interference from the executives at NBC. Dramatic storytelling was never better -- sometimes equalled with such greats as The Defenders, Sam Benedict, Naked City and Route 66. Sadly, the last this program aired over television was in the 1980s over TNT. According to offside sources, music rights have held up a commercial DVD release of this groundbreaking series.

Chuck Harter, co-author of the telephone book-sized tome about Harry Langdon (a book I recommend), wrote this 372 page tome, available in paperback and hard cover. He covers all of the bases, in extraordinary detail. From a biography of E. Jack Neuman, filming the television pilot, controversies that arose from various productions, memories from cast and crew, a list of the awards the series garnered, columns as they appeared in Teen magazine, and a novelization of the two-part Mr. Novak/Dr. Kildare crossover teleplay, "The Rich Who Are Poor."

What appealed to me the most -- and was a fascinating read -- was the history of the program in chronological order. Episodes that generated vast mail from viewers, how teachers across the country endorsed the program for the authenticity portrayed on camera, makeup magic, charity benefits, cast changes between seasons, fan mail, how one script was initially rejected by the network because the subject matter dealt with drug addiction and venereal disease, a spoof sketch on The Danny Kaye Show, LP records and premiums, and details about the episode I first saw twenty years ago on VHS -- the death of a school teacher as a result of a heart attack and how the students and other teachers coped. Yeah, this was serious stuff. 

Reviews from critics, commentary from directors who lensed some of the episodes, behind-the-scenes photos, and the board game are all included. Harter tracked down Neuman's family to seek out information not found available anywhere. This is the kind of book I wish were assembled for every television program out there -- no hack job here. It portrays an insightful viewpoint of how Mr. Novak came to be, the battles Neuman had with the network to ensure social commentary was evident, and is the kind of book you would consult piece meal -- watching one episode at a time while reviewing the write-up to gain deeper insight. My only complaint is not of the book but rather the film studio. I understand why the television series has never been released to DVD -- music rights take time to clear because third parties believe they have million dollar properties. If anything this book makes me want to petition the studio to make the series available for everyone to sample and enjoy. As of present, until a commercial DVD release happens, this book is the next best thing.

Chuck spent considerable time seeking out cast and crew who were still alive to gather any recollections they had during their film shoots. Beau Bridges, Richard Donner, Diane Baker, Frankie Avalon, Ed Asner, Brooke Bundy, Johnny Crawford, Patricia Crowley, Tony Dow, Sherry Jackson, June Lockhart, Walter Koenig, Tommy Kirk, Buck Taylor, Beverly Washburn, and many others. The late Martin Landau wrote a foreword for the book, who aptly mentioned: "The work that Chuck Harter has been doing over the last several years in researching his book deserves to be rewarded." I could not describe a book review any better than Mr. Landau.

You can purchase your copy of the book here:

and here: