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Ernie Kovacs & Early TV Comedy

Andrew Horton
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    Ernie Kovacs & Early TV Comedy
    Book Description:

    Among the pioneers of television, Ernie Kovacs was one of the most original and imaginative comedians. His zany, irreverent, and surprising humor not only entertained audiences throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, but also inspired a host of later comedies and comedians, including Monty Python, David Letterman, much ofSaturday Night Live,Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In,Captain Kangaroo, and evenSesame Street. Kovacs created laughter through wildly creative comic jokes, playful characterizations, hilarious insights, and wacky experiments. "Nothing in moderation," his motto and epitaph, sums up well Kovacs's wholehearted approach to comedy and life.

    In this book, Andrew Horton offers the first sustained look at Ernie Kovacs's wide-ranging and lasting contributions to the development of TV comedy. He discusses in detail Kovacs's work in New York, which includedThe Ernie Kovacs Show(CBS prime time 1952-1953),The Ernie Kovacs Show(NBC daytime variety 1956-1957),Tonight(NBC late-night comedy/variety 1956-1957), and a number of quiz shows. Horton also looks at Kovacs's work in Los Angeles and in feature film comedy. He vividly describes how Kovacs and his comic co-conspirators created offbeat characters and zany situations that subverted expectations and upended the status quo. Most of all, Horton demonstrates that Kovacs grasped the possibility for creating a fresh genre of comedy through the new medium of television and exploited it to the fullest.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79297-5
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Nothing in Moderation
    (pp. xi-xx)

    Question: what do Monty Python, David Letterman, much ofSaturday Night Live(especially in its early years), Larry David (especially inCurb Your Enthusiasmon which he works without a script),Flight of the Conchords,Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,The Uncle Floyd Show,Captain Kangaroo, and evenSesame Street, to offer but a short list, have in common? One answer is quite simple: they all reflect—whether knowingly or not—the imaginative and wildly creative comic jokes, ludic characterizations, hilarious insights, and zany experiments handed down by Ernie Kovacs (1919–1962) from his years in television and late 1950s Hollywood...

  5. 1} An Overview of the Postwar Era and the Ernie Kovacs Shows in the Context of American Television Comedy
    (pp. 1-12)

    To speak of the Ernie Kovacs shows as being on the cutting edge of early American television comedy is to evoke the larger picture of the United States after World War II. Americans were attempting to come back to “normal” at a time of changing technologies, especially, the change from a “radio culture” to a “television culture.” Clearly in the center of this evolution, Kovacs worked in radio from 1941, during World War II, until 1950. “Radio altered the very substance and form of American culture” (Rico 44), and during its development, Hollywood stars did their time “on the air.”...

  6. 2} The Flow of the Philadelphia and New York Kovacs Shows: Comic Surrealism, Verbal and Visual
    (pp. 13-50)

    “It’s been real” was Ernie Kovacs’ often-repeated conclusion to many of his shows that, as his co-star and wife Edie Adams said, “became as famous as his moustache and cigar” (Adams and Windeler 109). But if anything was actually real, it was the complete surrealism of the verbal and visual combinations of each show. Only one element was for sure: Ernie would do just about anything for a laugh and certainly would shatter anything resembling a “rule” for what television should do, calling attention to the medium of television itself in the process.

    In one episode ofTime For Ernie...

  7. 3} Silents Please! Ernie, California, and Working with Music, Sound, and Surrealistic Visuals on His Specials
    (pp. 51-72)

    Ernie’s California period was from 1958 until his death in January 1962. It was a period in which he combined Hollywood, and thus work in feature films, and work with television specials. The specials actually had budgets, with time to plan and shoot skits and scenes, as opposed to trying to make something up on the spot on live television every day as he had done in Philadelphia and New York.

    During his California years, Ernie split his energies between working in television and learning to play the Hollywood game as he appeared in ten feature films. But our focus...

  8. 4} Ernie in the Movies: From Comic Director to Supporting Character Actor
    (pp. 73-98)

    From 1956 to 1961, Ernie appeared in ten films:Operation Mad Ball(1957);Bell,Book and Candle(1958);Our Man in Havana(1959);It Happened to Jane(1959);Wake Me When It’s Over(1960);Strangers When We Meet(1960);Pepe(1960);North to Alaska(1960);Five Golden Hours(1961); andSail a Crooked Ship(1961).

    In his five brief cinematic years, Ernie never became a famous lead actor. But he came through often as an impressive supporting character in both comedies and dramas and thus proved to be one of those rare actors who could move from television to film...

  9. 5} The Kovacs Legacy: “I Don’t Know. I Just Do It!”
    (pp. 99-104)

    Where is Ernie today? David G. Walley, who wrote a biography of Kovacs titledNothing in Moderation, suggested that he could be anywhere, still playing and entertaining. “[W]herever Ernie is at this moment, there is a game in progress with plenty of Havanas and fountains of Jack Daniels and Wild Turkey … sky’s the bottom line.” And who would be at this game? According to Walley, those playing at the game would include “Aristophanes, Ben Jonson, Petronious, Ernie and Moliere” (221). Can we think of any more appropriate carnival?

    Mikhail Bakhtin, in writing about the nature of carnival in Europe...

  10. Appendix: Summary Of Ernie Kovacs’ Personal Life
    (pp. 105-106)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 107-110)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 111-114)
  13. Index
    (pp. 115-120)