Ernie Kovacs Show, The (1955-1956)

Ernie Kovacs spent much of the fifties wandering from network to network and show to show, doing essentially the same program. The critics loved him and his innovative brand of comedy. Audiences liked him but not enough to make any one show enough of a hit that he stayed in one gig for very long.

Today, when you see clips of his work, the emphasis is on silent bits that pushed the envelope of what was technically possible in television at that time. I always thought those compilations, though impressive, missed the point of Kovacs. First of all, a lot of the visual stuff was his wholly the work of his writers. (Kovacs isn’t even in some of the most-seen excerpts.) Secondly, some of them are merely a matter of replicating in a TV studio bits that had previously been done on film by Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd or even — in the case of one clip in particular — The Three Stooges. That’s the one where he’s sitting on a tree branch, sawing off the branch he’s sitting on…and the tree falls while the branch remains in the air.

The clips that suggest Kovacs was worthy of his exalted reputation are the ones where he talks…as one of his characters (like the effeminate poet, Percy Dovetonsils) or even as Ernie Kovacs. He was a very funny man without the gimmicked props and the trick photography.

No one ever seems to have compiled a definitive list of all the shows that Kovacs starred in over the years. Some did not last long and there were even times when he was doing two shows at the same time. Most articles about him, for instance, will tell you of an hour-long prime-time series he did on Monday nights for NBC from December of 1955, lasting until the following September. It was called The Ernie Kovacs Show but the above tickets are from a rarely-mentioned half hour daily morning show with the same name that he was doing during the same period. At some point in there, he stopped doing the morning show and was filling in for Steve Allen on Tonight.

Later on, there were other shows…on and off, here and there, until his death in a car crash in 1962. It robbed TV viewers of one of the funniest human beings they ever got to follow from show to show.