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Thursday, October 18, 2012

'The Ernie Kovacs Collection' V2: A Wry and Crazy Not Ready for Prime Time Player

'50s and '60s comedian Ernie Kovacs is a hilarious hybrid between Groucho Marx, Jackie Gleason, and Bob Newhart. Thanks to the defenders of awesome classic television at Shout Factory, Kovacs' wonderful humor will not be forgotten.

Shout is following up its six-disc "The Ernie Kovacs Collection" with the aptly named three-disc collection "The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Volume 2." The latter is being released on October 23, 2012.

Kovacs V2 contains eight episodes of Kovacs' 1955-1956 NBC morning comedy/variety show, three episodes of his equally hilarious early '60s offbeat game show "Take A Good Luck," and a herd of incredible extras.

The morning show reminded me of David Letterman's late '70s morning show that introduced us to Letterman's slightly less offbeat humor. 

Ala Carson, Kovacs would talk to the audience, perform skits in character, and promote his sponsors' products. A dungeon set and performances, which included America's Top 40 of the day, by Kovacs' wife and later archivist Edie Adams contributed to the show's quirky tone.

(Shout very candidly acknowledged that it could not acquire the rights to most of the musical performances. This really does not detract from the shows.)

One of my favorite bits, which also reflected Kovacs' history in radio, had sound effects represent off-screen activity on which Kovacs commented. An especially amusing example of this, which would never be aired today, had an unseen inebriated man stumble through the studio and drive drunk.

"Take  A Good Luck" was an even better reflection of Kovacs' unparalleled odd outlook on life and strong commitment to presenting that vision. This program was the version of "What's My Line" that I imagined that "SCTV," which often reflected Kovacs' style, would have presented.

The format was that the guest would appear before Kovacs' celebrity panel, who were instructed to cover their ears while the announcer told the audience who the guest was and what made him or her famous. The guests ranged from newly-elected Hawaiian Congressman Daniel Innouye to Asta the then 26-year-old dog from the Thin Man films. 

After the guest was introduced, Kovacs would show short bizarre skits in which he appeared. Trying to figure out what part of those often Bunuel-quality surreal presentations was the clue to the guest's identity was more fun and frustrating than figuring how that clue related to the guest.

A particularly funny moment that demonstrated Kovacs' style consisted of an opening shot showing a potato in a paper cup that the announcer declared was of no importance and would not appear on the show. Kovacs then picked up the potato solely to prove the announcer wrong.

The extras include Kovacs' famous skits with the same type of memorable and popular characters that Gleason created. We also get the even rarer treat of the unaired pilot of Kovacs' Western sitcom "Medicine Man" with his co-star silent film legend Buster Keaton playing a mostly silent indian. (This was well before the days of "native American.") 

This amusing show, which featured Kovacs as traveling Restoration Era carpetbagger who sold a "miracle tonic" was no "F Troop" but was much better than the 1981-82 disaster "Best of the West." This decent humor, and the rare chance to see Kovacs play down his persona, makes this must see TV.

The primary problem was that placing a primarily art-house performer like Kovacs in a conventional sitcom was comparable to casting Adam Sandler in an Oscar Wilde play.

I particularly enjoyed the bonus of the only one-on-one interview that was ever conducted with Kovacs. Seeing him seriously discussing his art while interjecting the wonderfully wry remarks, which included joking about shooting down a plane that flew overheard during the interview, for which he was known was a real treat.

Shout also included its standard high-quality booklet that provided an interesting overview of Kovacs himself and the shows in the collection. Learning while being entertained is always good.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Volume 2" is encouraged to email me.

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