Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Ernie Kovacs Show

Ernie Kovacs (January 23, 1919 – January 13, 1962) was a brilliant pioneer of television comedy and of special video effects. He has no direct connection to Cleveland, but I did see a number of the packages of his work that were put together for broadcast on PBS when I was a kid. They were funny then, I think they are hilarious now.

Film began as a strictly visual medium, and so the idea of visual sight gags is not something he invented ... but he did more to play with the limitations of television, and expand on them, to create not only amusing but interesting sketches. Also, his use of unusual musical pieces as a jumping off point for brilliant physical gags was unparalleled.

My favorite, featuring Esquivel's "Jealousie" & "Sentimental Journey".
First aired 1961

In 1954 you could catch him on NBC as host of The Ernie Kovacs Show, playing what for him was a much more "normal" television host, subverting the traditions of the time by adding odd sound effects to say, fish being fed, or suddenly having a hammock near him. I remember the thrill of originally watching David Letterman turn the conventions of Johnny Carson on their head by having a big, old-fashioned (fake) microphone on his desk, or by making his banter with his sidekick Paul even more transparently inane than Johnny's was with Ed. David had nothing on Ernie, but he's always known that.

Here is a broadcast from August 13, 1956, featuring lounge exotica singer Yma Sumac performing Tumba. Unfortunately, his interview with Bela Lugosi is apparently lost to history.

For your information ... The Ernie Kovacs Show would have been broadcast in 1954 on WNBK, Channel 3, the Cleveland NBC affiliate. this was before Westinghouse took ownership of the station in 1955.

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