Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Take a Look at the Unappreciated Genius of TV Pioneer Ernie Kovacs

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire May 2, 2012 at 4:06PM

Ernie Kovacs, the funniest guy you've never heard of, was just shy of his 43rd birthday when he died in a 1962 car accident in Los Angeles. Over the course of his tragically short career, he logged hundreds of hours of live TV on things like "Take a Good Look" (1959-61) and the various incarnations of "The Ernie Kovacs Show" (1953, 1954-55, 1955-56, 1956, 1957), displaying an undeniable fourth wall-breaking genius and pioneering a unique comedic voice that would go on to influence everyone from David Letterman to Captain Kangaroo -- everyone who was lucky enough to have seen him, that is, as a lot of his work was erased, discarded or never recorded in the first place, surviving only in videotape and kinescopes snippets.
0
Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams
Ediad Productions Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams

Ernie Kovacs, the funniest guy you've never heard of, was just shy of his 43rd birthday when he died in a 1962 car accident in Los Angeles. Over the course of his tragically short career, he logged hundreds of hours of live TV on things like "Take a Good Look" (1959-61) and the various incarnations of "The Ernie Kovacs Show" (1953, 1954-55, 1955-56, 1956, 1957), displaying an undeniable fourth wall-breaking genius and pioneering a unique comedic voice that would go on to influence everyone from David Letterman to Captain Kangaroo -- everyone who was lucky enough to have seen him, that is, as a lot of his work was erased, discarded or never recorded in the first place, surviving only in videotape and kinescopes snippets.

Kovacs panel

A talent ahead of his time, Kovacs, who often worked with his collaborator and wife Edie Adams, has gotten more recognition posthumously, his growing repution meriting a new box set of his work released last year by Shout Factory and a series running at the Museum of the Moving Image until May 27th.

To kick off the event, the museum hosted a panel of people who knew or simply loved Kovacs work on April 27th, moderated by comedian Robert Klein and including series and box set curator Ben Model, legendary Broadway producer Harold Prince, original "Saturday Night Live" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" writer Alan Zweibel, journalist Jeff Greenfield and TV critic David Bianculli. Between clips of Kovacs' available work, the six men shared anecdotes and thoughts on the underappreciated Kovacs and his legacy.

"You think of the '50s stereotype -- it's plaid and it's bland and it's Ozzie and Harriet, it's people's sleeping in twin beds and eight layers of clothing. And in fact there's a lot of subversion that goes on the in the '50s," said Bianculli. "You have Mad Magazine, which in the first days was very edgy -- Superman is a coward, Archie is a drug dealer. You have Lenny Bruce, you have Tom Lehrer, whose records couldn't be bought in a store because they were so naughty. Ernie Kovacs was the kind of guy who came on TV and just wiped out the conventions. Everybody on TV in that era would say 'Thank you for letting us into your home.' Kovac's line was 'Thank you for letting us into your home, but couldn't you have cleaned up a little bit?'


"To me that's the essence of him -- the glint in the eye," Bianculli continued. "He's just playing, he doesn't have a fourth wall, he'll schmooze with the cameraman in the middle of the bit, he'll bring the audience in. In a time when there were no computer graphics and you had to do this all in very primitive ways with a budget of a dollar. He exemplified a time in the '50s that's been forgotten that to me is a really important part."

In Kovacs' time, Zweibel marveled, "there weren't that many conventions. When we started 'Saturday Night Live' 20-some odd years later, there was the sitcom form, we knew what the straight line was, so we knew what we were parodying. He was there at such an infancy, whatever conventions there were, he played with them, but he also created just being funny in and of itself without doing satire."

This article is related to: Television, TV Features, Ernie Kovacs, Edie Adams






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More