The man was a television pioneer and a comedy legend. His TV shows were the American equivalent of the British Goon Show radio program. They helped shape a generation of comedians and stretched the technical limits of primitive television.
Had he not died in a car wreck ten days before he would have turned 43, Ernie Kovacs would still be a household name.
Wednesday, January 23 marks 100 years since his birth, and in tribute, Turner Classic Movies is presenting a night of his television and movies. Shout Factory is re-releasing a boxed set of his ground-breaking TV programs.
On cable and satellite Wednesday night, beginning at 8 PM EST, TCM will broadcast three of his iconic ABC SPECIALS from 1961 & 1962 along with films starring Kovacs including Operation Mad Ball (1957); Wake Me When It’s Over (1960); Bell, Book and Candle (1958) and Five Golden Hours (1960).
Since he died before I was born, my first exposure to Ernie Kovacs came in the 1970s, when PBS stations (locally, WMUL, which is now WPBY) broadcast the best of his shows for the first time in almost twenty years. It was mind-blowing to see such innovative comedy that was all created right before I existed. I can’t really describe how incredible it was seeing Kovacs’ bizarre sense of humor combined with a medium in its infancy in television. He broke forms that hadn’t been established yet. Many of the comedy bits were wordless. Some were just hilariously silly, and lots of them were filled with camera tricks that you would have thought were beyond the abilities available at the time.
Shout Factory is releasing a new 9-disc set boxed set of Ernie Kovacs’ work, which combines two previously-released boxed sets into one. To celebrate the 100th birthday of television’s original genius, this collection combines the previously released volumes of groundbreaking, rule-breaking, surreal and charmingly silly comedy of Ernie Kovacs. Included are over 22 hours of decidedly offbeat entertainment from across his many television shows and specials, all of which showcase an utterly unique sensibility that has influenced such comedy institutions as David Letterman and SNL.
This set includes * Episodes From His Local And National Morning Shows * Episodes From His NBC Prime-Time Show * Kovacs On Music * Five ABC TV Specials * The Color Version of His Legendary Silent Show, Eugene * His Award-Winning Commercials For Dutch Masters Cigars * Short Films, Tributes, Rarities * 18 Bonus Sketches Featuring Many Of His Most Beloved Characters * 3 Complete Episodes Of His Offbeat Game Show Take A Good Look * A Pony For Chris: His Rare TV Pilot For Medicine Man Co-Starring Buster Keaton * The Lively Arts Featuring The Only Existing Filmed Solo Interview With Ernie Kovacs, and The 2011 American Cinematheque Panel.
This all adds up to a fitting tribute to a comedy pioneer who should not be forgotten. Tune into TCM tonight, then order the boxed set so you can enjoy almost everything available from this comedy legend. You can check out a couple of brief clips below…