DVD Review HTF DVD Review: The Ernie Kovacs Collection **Highly Recommended**

Discussion in 'TV on DVD and Blu-ray' started by Todd Erwin, Apr 22, 2011.

  1. Todd Erwin

    Todd Erwin Cinematographer
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    The Ernie Kovacs Collection


    Studio:Shout! Factory
    US DVD Release Date: April 19, 2011
    Rated: Not Rated
    Running Time: 780 minutes
    Number of Discs: 6
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 full screen
    Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
    Subtitles: None



     
    Movie: 4.5 out of 5
    Ernie Kovacs was a pioneer of television, although he never achieved the ratings or status of the likes of Milton Berle, Sid Ceasar, or Jack Benny, at least during his brief lifetime. I was first introduced to his style of comedy in 1977, when PBS ran a series of Kovacs’ TV specials. I was hooked by this odd-style of humor, and would not see anything remotely similar until the summer of 1980, when NBC gave David Letterman a morning talk show. Ernie Kovacs had a tremendous influence on television comedy, including Chevy Chase, Terry Gilliam, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Joel Hodgson, and the aforementioned David Letterman, to name but a few. Without Kovacs, we would not have Saturday Night Live, Laugh-In, and many of the late-night comedy talk shows.

    Shout Factory! presents a good sampling of programs over six discs, each disc covering an era of his career.
     
     
    Disc One: The Early Years
    It’s Time For Ernie -  March 7, 1951 (8:37)
    It’s Time For Ernie - June 1951 (8:42)
    Ernie In Kovacsland - July 6, 1951 (15:12)
    Ernie In Kovacsland - August 23, 1951 (20:00)
    Kovacs On The Corner - January 1952 (16:55)
    Kovacs Unlimited - May 28, 1952 (17:29)

    Kovacs’ television career began at NBC affiliate WPTZ channel 3 (now known as KYW, and a CBS-owned station), with a local morning show, Three To Get Ready. The success of this show led NBC to pick up a 15-minute version that was broadcast nationally, called It’s Time For Ernie, that aired from May 14 through June 29, 1951. This set gives us a brief glimpse of the test runs of this show, as well as an excerpt from an actual broadcast. It is here that Kovacs uses the controls of a television set to distort his face, simulating the vertical and horizontal hold adjustment knobs us old-timers fondly remember.
     
     
    Kovacs then moved into prime time a month later with a summer replacement series for Kukla, Fran and Ollie called Ernie in Kovacsland. This series was also broadcast by NBC from the WPTZ studios in Philadelphia, and Kovacs was still writing and performing Three To Get Ready as well as an afternoon cooking show for local television. Six months later, Kovacs would be back on the NBC network morning schedule with Kovacs On The Corner, a more kid-friendly show produced at WPTZ. Corner lasted for three months, until Kovacs moved his show to both CBS and New York, now called Kovacs Unlimited. The show would run for 21 months. All of these early shows are somewhat crude, but were produced on a very low budget for a medium that was still very much in its infancy. These three shows also featured Mrs. Ernie Kovacs herself, Edie Adams, as a member of the ensemble cast.
     
     
    Disc Two: The NBC Morning Show
    The Ernie Kovacs Show - December 19, 1955 (21:00)
    The Ernie Kovacs Show - February 20, 1956 (24:48)
    The Ernie Kovacs Show - March 15, 1956 (18:47)
    The Ernie Kovacs Show - April 12, 1956 (18:13)
    The Ernie Kovacs Show - June 12, 1956 (16:21)
     

    December of 1955 is where Kovacs’ career really becomes interesting. After a brief late-night stint at the ill-fated DuMont Network, Kovacs moved back to NBC with a morning show performed in front of a live audience. In addition to Edie Adams, future David Letterman announcer Bill Wendel was also a valued member of the cast. This morning show, which ran from December 1955 thru July 1956, was Kovacs’ training ground, where he perfected one of his most famous characters, poet laureate Percy Dovetonsils.
     
     
    The show featured other recurring sketches: The Kapusta Kid, an often funny spoof of televised puppet shows; Howard, The World’s Strongest Ant, voiced by Edie Adams and interviewed by Kovacs; Mr. Science, where Kovacs plays a bumbling science professor joined by Johnny, the kid next door; and The Nairobi Trio, with Kovacs, Adams, and a special guest star all dressed in gorilla suits performing Robert Maxwell’s Solfeggio.
     
     
    Watching these excerpts, it is evident that David Letterman used this show as the basis for his own NBC morning program in 1980. The similarities are striking.
     
     
    Disc Three: The NBC Evening Show
    The Ernie Kovacs Show - July 2, 1956 (43:44)
    The Ernie Kovacs Show - July 30, 1956 (42:41)
    The Ernie Kovacs Show - September 2, 1956 (36:21)
     
     
    When Sid Caesar’s variety show went on its summer hiatus in July of 1956, NBC turned the timeslot over to Kovacs and gave the comedian a larger studio, a larger budget, and a full orchestra to create his own variety show. The summer series gave Kovacs a chance to really experiment with television, using early keying effects to simulate flying, dancing ghosts, etc. Many of his famous characters would lend a hand to the show, most notably Percy Dovetonsils and the Nairobi Trio.
     
     
    This was also the early days of color, and Kovacs used this as a gag since his show was broadcast in black and white by placing tags on every item of the set indicating what color the item was.
     
     
    Disc Four: The Late 1950s
    Saturday Color Carnival: The Ernie Kovacs Show - January 19, 1957 (25:32)
    Kovacs On Music - May 22, 1959 (51:10)
    Take A Good Look - July 21, 1960 (26:56)
     
     
    In 1957, NBC gave Kovacs complete creative control, color cameras, and a 30-minute timeslot to experiment. The show was almost entirely without dialogue, and used interesting lighting effects for its title sequences. Unfortunately, the existing kinescopes of this series are of such poor quality that watching this one episode can be rather taxing. The real treat is being introduced to Eugene, a character that lives in a non-spoken world filled with visual and auditory gags.
     
     
    When his 30-minute color experiment ended, Kovacs took time off to appear in a few movies, but returned in 1959 with his last one-hour (“it only seems longer”) special for NBC, Kovacs On Music. As the title suggests, music was the key element to this program, with many of the sketches set to music or about music, including a gorilla ballet.
     
     
    In October of 1959, Kovacs moved to ABC with his take on the celebrity panel game show, Take A Good Look. Kovacs hosted the show, and the celebrities had to guess (usually incorrectly) the identity of each week’s mystery guest based on three clues Kovacs created prior to taping (many included Percy Dovetonsils). The show aired for two seasons.
     
     
     
  2. Adam Gregorich

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    Thanks for the great review Todd. I appreciate the recommended viewing order. Here are some video clips about the set I found for those not familar with Ernie Kovacs:


     
  3. The Obsolete Man

    The Obsolete Man Screenwriter

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    And if you pre-ordered through Shout and got the bonus disc, the airdates would pretty much put those between discs 3 and 4 in viewing order.
     
  4. Gary OS

    Gary OS Producer

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    Are any of the episodes, perhaps those that originally aired in December, Christmas-themed?



    Gary " " O.
     
  5. Todd Erwin

    Todd Erwin Cinematographer
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    There is one sketch, I think it was from the December ABC special, where Santa got stuck in a chimney and Ernie climbed up on the roof and made sure he got his Dutch Masters cigars. That was the only holiday-themed sketch, though.
     
  6. SeanAx

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  7. Gary OS

    Gary OS Producer

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    Quote:


    Thanks, Todd. I appreciate that info.


    Gary "wish their would have been more than just one sketch" O.
     
  8. Richard Gallagher

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    I'll have to pick this one up. I've always been a fan of Ernie Kovacs.
     
  9. DeWilson

    DeWilson Cinematographer

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    I wonder if it sold well enough for the possibility of a second set - this was only the tip of the ice burg of existing material.
     
  10. Albert71292

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    I hope so. Ordered the first set directly from Shout to get the bonus disc. Wanted as much Kovacs as I can get! Also have the old White Star DVD set of the PBS airings.
     
  11. Charles Ellis

    Charles Ellis Screenwriter

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    Just what is on the bonus disc?
     
  12. Executive

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    Ernie was the best! I used to laugh at his old ABC TV specials on my local PBS station when I was a kid in 1977.


    Jolene Brand was one of the most beautiful women on TV in the early 1960s, and her girl in the bathrub bits

    were as much fun to watch as her parody of "The Perils of Pauline" when she was tied to a railroad track and menaced

    by a villianout Ernie. After her association with Kovacs ,Jolene never had much of a career since. I think she retired early on.
     
  13. Albert71292

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    Two partial episodes of "Tonight!" from October 22, 1956 and December 11, 1956, hosted by Ernie.


    Episode of "Tonight! America After Dark" from July 26, 1957.


    An hour of clips from "The Ernie Kovacs Show", summer replacement series on NBC from July 2-September 10, 1956.
     

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