The Ernie Kovacs Collection
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)
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.
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.
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 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)
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)
Kovacs Special - September 21, 1961 (26:50)
Kovacs Special - October 28, 1961 (26:54)
Kovacs Special - November 24, 1961 (28:48)
Kovacs Special - December 21, 1961 (26:37)
Kovacs Special - January 23, 1962 (28:24)
More sketches from Ernie Kovacs’ NBC shows, 11 from the morning show and 8 from the evening show.
Ferrante & Teicher Perform “Oh Susannah” - February 2, 1956 (3:10)
Mr. Question Man - January 25, 1956 (6:27)
Drawing With John Magee - April 11, 1956 (815)
Leena, Queen of the Jungle in “Deadly Danger of the Devil Demons” - April 26, 1956 (11:20)
News Report with Leroy L. Leroy - May 8, 1956 (7:23)
A Series of Magazine Ads - June 5, 1956 (2:40)
Tales From Uncle Gruesome - April 23, 1956 (9:02)
Crossed Skillets - February 13, 1956 (6:33)
Leonard and Lola - June 20, 1956 (10:27)
Percy Dovetonsils Almost Reads An Ode - July 12, 1956 (6:14)
The Late, Late, Late, Late Hungarian Movie - July 9, 1956 (3:48)
Mr. Science - July 9, 1956 (6:08)
Nairobi Trio - July 16, 1956 (3:16)
Let’s Take A Visit - August 6, 1956 (6:38)
Howdy Deedy - August 15, 1956 (7:03)
TV Backstage - August 27, 1956 (6:12)
Trapizza - August 27, 1956 (11:40)
Vas You Dere? - September 10, 1956 (9:00)
The source material presented on this 6-disc set came from either 16mm kinescopes (a crude process used to archive live video before the invention of videotape) or black and white videotape, all circa 1950s and early 1960s. The producers of this set have obviously tried their best to make the shows and segments look as good as they possibly could. That being said, much of the material will likely never look as good as it did when it originally aired. Many of the kinescopes have built-in dirt and scratches, not to mention occasional skewing errors and electrical interference. The only color program on Disc 4 suffers the most, almost appearing like a bootleg. The videotapes also exhibit occasional skewing errors and electrical interference. However, detail is still quite good overall when taking all of this into consideration, and compression artifacts are minimal if not non-existent. Some younger viewers may balk at the video quality of this release, expecting pristine and crisp transfers of these classic television programs. Television owes a debt of gratitude to Ernie Kovac’s widow, the late Edie Adams, who purchased as many of these programs outright from NBC, CBS, and ABC before the networks destroyed them to either make room in their vaults or to recycle videotape. Otherwise, much of this material would have been lost forever.
Audio: 3 out of 5
The audio, which is Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, suffers mostly due to the source material. There is some hiss, with some pops and other anomalies that are audible, but it is obvious that the soundtracks have been cleaned up as best they could. Fidelity is limited, but these shows were never meant to be heard on a multi-channel sound system. Instead, they were meant to be listened to through a single speaker.
Shout! Factory’s set includes a wealth of bonus material:
First off is a 44-page color booklet including photos, press releases, program notes, and essays by Joshua Mills, Jonathan Lethem, and TV critic David Kronke. This is a very good read.
1987 Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame Induction (11:01): Carl Reiner, Jack Lemmon, and Edie Adams reminisce about Ernie Kovacs’ career in this excerpt from the 1987 ceremony.
Remembering Ernie With George Schlatter & Jolene Brand (20:58): Jolene Brand and George Schlatter discuss working with and knowing Ernie Kovacs in recent interviews produced for this set.
Baseball Film (4:09): Kovacs would occasionally make short films for his shows, and often played multiple roles, as he does here, playing not only every position on both teams including umpires, but also members of the crowd. He would re-use these films often, and two narratives are provided, one from July 1951 and one from July 1956.
Making of Baseball Film (3:14): Film historian Ben Model narrates these 8mm color home movies shot by Kovacs’ production assistant Andy McKay during production of the Baseball Film.
The Mysterious Knockwurst (8:05): This short film is Kovacs’ homage to the silent era comedies, with Ernie playing the heavy with handlebar moustache, who is smuggling messages stuffed inside a knockwurst.
Andy McKay Home Movies (6:50): More home movies from Andy McKay, narrated by Ben Model, shot during production of both Three To Get Ready and Kovacs On The Corner.
Five more sketches from Ernie Kovacs’ NBC morning program.
Percy Dovetonsils: Ode To Stanley’s Pussycat (5:25)
Martin Krutch, Public Eye (14:24)
Rock Mississippi in: Fingers Under Weskit (11:44)
Howard, The World’s Strongest Ant (3:14)
J. Burlington Gearshift (10:16)
Superclod Test (2:39): Kovacs was a perfectionist, as seen here in this kinescope test footage for the flying sequence from the Superclod sketch from the July 2, 1956 episode.
Take A Good Look Clues (19:46): Four more sets of clues (less the panel questions) from the series.
Take A Good Look Sales Film (3:36): A sales pitch to sponsors and programming executives. There is some controversy if this was a legitimate sales film or not, as Kovacs talks about the series having been broadcast for two seasons, trying to sell it for a third.
Silents Please (8:35): The wraparounds for a 30-minute program of abridged versions of silent classics, hosted by Ernie Kovacs.
Our Man In Havana Behind The Scenes Footage (3:21): On location footage from the Cuban sets of Our Man In Havana with Alec Guiness and Ernie Kovacs, including an early test of the underwater smoking gag.
Dutch Masters Cigars Commercials (11:54): Dutch Masters was a major sponsor of Ernie Kovacs’ shows on the ABC Network, and 12 commercials are featured here from Take A Good Look.
Trailer for Operation Mad Ball (4:28): Ernie Kovacs was allowed to create his own trailer for his first film role, which contains little to no actual footage from the movie itself.
It Happened To Ernie (5:07): Another promotional trailer created by Kovacs for the film It Happened To Jane, documenting how he changed his appearance for the film.
Muriel Cigars commercials (7:06): Edie Adams was also known as the spokesperson for Muriel Cigars, and 9 of those television spots are presented here.
Overall: 4.5 out of 5
The genius of Ernie Kovacs is captured and presented very nicely in this six-disc DVD set from Shout! Factory. If you are unfamiliar with his work, I recommend viewing this set starting with the Hall of Fame presentation on Disc One to familiarize yourself with the time period these shows were produced, then watch Discs 3, 5, 6, 2, 1, and 4 in that order. Discs 1 and 4 are for the most ardent fans. Highly recommended!!