The Ernie Kovacs Collection
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Televisions Original Genius
In the infancy of any medium, there will be some who realize its potential well before anyone else. Ernie Kovacs was such a visionary, and between 1951 and 1962 he broke rules that hadnt even been made yet and created a language that is now taken for granted.
The Ernie Kovacs Collection includes six DVDs and over 15 hours of programs that span the all-too-brief but brilliant television career of this hugely influential comic artist, from his earliest local morning shows in Philadelphia through his NBC prime-time shows and the ABC specials that represented the peak of his offbeat humor and creative experimentation with the medium. The Ernie Kovacs Collection is a treasure trove of comedy from televisions original genius, most of it unseen for over 50 years.
* 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
* 44-Page Booklet Featuring Rare Photos, Program Notes and an Essay by Jonathan Lethem ( Motherless Brooklyn)
Genius is a term that's tossed around with a considerable lack of care when it comes to entertainment, but in the case of television personality Ernie Kovacs, the appellation is not only deserved but also historically accurate, as this long-overdue retrospective proves. From 1951 until his untimely death in 1962, Kovacs broadened the horizons of the television medium in the most outrageous and creative ways, starting with regional programming in New York and Philadelphia and later through his own shows, including a slew of brilliant specials, on the networks. Kovacs is widely credited as the first television performer to grasp the medium's possibilities, and he tackled them with the wicked glee of a boy let loose in a toy store, experimenting with breaking the fourth wall, early in-camera effects, and visual non sequiturs that rivaled everything from Mad magazine (for which Kovacs wrote) to Marcel Duchamp in their surreal assault on accepted reality. And years before Steve Allen, David Letterman, and Conan O'Brien, Kovacs was also the first television figure to demolish the rules of acceptable on-air behavior by revealing the inner workings of his programs to his viewers or pulling them along for improvised excursions into his studio audience or the street outside his studio.
The material compiled on the six-disc Ernie Kovacs Collection, much of which comprises the only surviving masters of his work (wife and costar Edie Adams spent the four decades following his death attempting to save his shows from the networks, which were all too ready to destroy the tapes), provides an overview of Kovacs's television career, with full discs devoted to his local and national morning shows as well as his prime-time efforts, including the legendary silent special, Eugene, which finds Kovacs's titular innocent abroad in a world driven by visual puns. An episode of his truly offbeat game show, Take a Good Look, is also featured, as well as a sampling of his brilliant commercials for Dutch Masters cigars, and a full disc is given over to his best-loved skits and characters, including the wiggy poet Percy Dovetonsils, proto-horror host Uncle Gruesome, grumpy Hungarian TV host Miklos Molnar (who tangles with Howdy Doody), and the legendary Nairobi Trio, which is still capable of generating gales of laughter, despite its simple premise, after five decades. A treasure trove of supplemental material, from 8mm home movies and short films to a collection of Edie Adams's sultry spots for Muriel Cigars, rounds out this set that cements Kovacs's status as one of television's most extraordinary personalities. --Paul GaitaSee all Editorial Reviews
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It's great fun, and he was a pioneer in American TV technique (it's hard to imagine LAUGH-IN without him), but I for one prefer his better movie work: OUR MAN IN HAVANA, for example.
Our Man in Havana.
But even though I strongly recommend this set, it's not for everybody, for two main reasons:
1) Much of it is "experimental TV" for the 1950s, which means that a lot of people won't find it funny and won't "get it". I'm an avid Kovacs fan, but even I found some of the skits worthy of fast-forwarding.
2) Most of the musical numbers by guests were edited out, due to prohibitive copyright/royalty costs. So instead of today's viewers getting to see 1950s entertainment, idiotic and completely unfair COPYRIGHT laws demand that these skits...be forgotten and never seen again.
I'm grateful to have this set, and Shout! deserves 5 stars for the compilation on multiple DVDs, and especially for the booklet inside.
Both sets have great material and die-hards will want both (there is some overlap, but I'm pretty sure it amounts to less than one disc's worth). This set is more comprehensive in that it covers a broader swath of Ernie's career and does so in a relatively systematic way. This set also presents complete shows (or nearly so - there's a disclaimer on all of the discs that music rights were too expensive so musical numbers have often ben cut) so you get a better feel for what the shows were really like. That's a double-edged sword, though.
I think the WhiteStar set has a greater concentration of high-quality material. All of the best stuff is on there (it really is the "Best Of") and unfortunately I don't think the same can be said for this set. There's lots and lots of great stuff here, but there's also a fair amount of mediocre material as well.
What with the questionable availability of the WhiteStar set, you'll have to weigh costs and so on, but ideally that's the place to start. If you then find that you're in love with the man, this set is a great follow-up. If the other set isn't available or it's too expensive, then this set will certainly deliver the goods.
BTW - if you're new to Ernie and starting with this set, I'd suggest you start with Discs 5 & 6 to see what he was doing at his peak - the earlier material might well strike you (as it clearly has some other reviewers) as lacklustre and unfocused. Once you get pulled into Ernie's world, I would hope you'll come to appreciate the relaxed and casual goofiness that those early shows represent.
As an odd digression I'd like to draw a parallel between Ernie and George Herriman's Krazy Kat. They both seem to come from slower-paced and more gentle times. This means, for me, that with each of them I usually need to immerse myself in that world for a little while before I slow down and settle in. Only then can I really appreciate the more delicate flavors of either. So my suggestion is that you give Ernie (and Krazy) some time to draw you in, to make friends and to transport you to their own goofy worlds. It's well-worth the trip.