1951?62, 6 discs, 818 mins

By Ken Tucker
April 13, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT
Everett Collection

The Ernie Kovacs Collection

  • TV Show

A full history of TV-comedy styles before that history had really begun, this stunning six-disc set The Ernie Kovacs Collection reveals Kovacs as the first ironic talk-show host, a surrealist sketch comic, and a master satirist. Working in the 1950s and ?60s (he was killed in a 1962 car crash at age 42), Kovacs oozed ease on camera; behind the camera, he wrote and directed complex sight gags (a man takes a copy of Hemingway?s The Old Man and the Sea off a shelf and water gushes out). He hosted both daytime talk and prime-time variety shows. When something went wrong in a live broadcast, he?d wave his cigar and make the camera follow him backstage, to show you who and what had goofed up. He satirized high culture as Percy Dovetonsils (a fussy poet) and was the poignant, silent Everyman clown Eugene. If you don?t know Kovacs, it?s because most of his work was taped over by cheap network execs; his wife and costar, Edie Adams, rescued much of what you see here. And what you see is nothing less than David Letterman, Monty Python, SNL, and 30 Rock all rolled into one. A+

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The Ernie Kovacs Collection

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  • The Ernie Kovacs Collection