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The Ernie Kovacs Collection, Volume 2 DVD Review

The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Volume 2 DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Volume 2 (1956)
The Ernie Kovacs Show & DVD Details

Directors: Jac Hein, Barry Shear / Producers: Jac Hein, Perry Cross / Writers: Ernie Kovacs, Rex Lardner, Deke Hayward

Cast: Ernie Kovacs, Edie Adams, Matt Dennis, Bill Wendell / House Band: Archie Koty and The Orchestra

Running Time: 172 Minutes (8 morning show episodes) + 276 Minutes (extras) / Rating: Not Rated

Episodes Originally Aired January 1956 to March 1961
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Mono 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned
DVD Release Date: October 23, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $29.93
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s) / Clear Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Follows The Ernie Kovacs Collection ($69.97 SRP), which is also on Amazon Instant Video

Buy The Ernie Kovacs Collection on DVD from Amazon.com: Volume 2 / Volume 1

Buy Volume 2 with exclusive "Take a Good Look" bonus disc at Shout! Factory Store

Shout! Factory continues to bring the innovative television comedy of Ernie Kovacs to DVD. In April 2011, they issued The Ernie Kovacs Collection, a loaded 6-disc set that unquestionably stood as the definitive release of the late funnyman's esteemed body of work. In April 2012, they made one of that box's discs, The ABC Specials, available on its own. And now, on October 23rd, Shout! gives us The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Volume 2,
a 3-disc compilation unearthing more of the comedian's television show episodes, sketches, and miscellany.

On Discs 1 and 2, we find eight mostly complete episodes of "The Ernie Kovacs Show", a half-hour NBC national program that aired weekday mornings from December 1955 to July 1956. As disc-opening disclaimers and notes in the booklet explain, most of the musical performances, those whose rights were deemed cost-prohibitive, have been cut. That is unlikely to be a deal-breaker for any Kovacs fan, for he is the main attraction.

Like all comedy sketches, his are hit and miss. A recurring animal puppet act, for instance, is dull and overlong, while some of the ethnic caricatures haven't aged very well. The most consistently entertaining part of the morning show is Ernie being Ernie at the top of the episode. Kovacs is leisurely and laid-back, but also playful and quick-witted. Audience interaction is a highlight as are the "news" stories he tells with endings that defy expectations and the interesting mail sent in by viewers that he shares.

Ernie Kovacs is at ease as the host of his eponymous 1955-56 NBC daily morning show. A parody of children's puppet shows, Kapusta Kid in Outer Space tells the tale of an intergalactic lisp-addled bear.

Even within the confines of a daily morning show, Kovacs proves to be eccentric and unorthodox. He sits back surprised at the unannounced arrival of invisible but audible guests. He casually distributes sponsors' promotional gifts (from perfume to albums) to select audience members. He regularly breaks the fourth wall in sketches and occasionally just breaks into laughter.

The format, seemingly left to Kovacs' own devices, raises questions. Who watched this show at 10:30 AM? Housewives? Preschool kids? The unemployed and retired? Kovacs' strange later ABC specials had me wondering the kind of audience he drew and those aired in primetime. If nothing else, the short-lived NBC show established Kovacs as a talent on the rise, for whom bigger (if not necessarily better) things would come before his 1962 automotive death at the young age of 42.

I watched half of the NBC morning show episodes and detail their contents below.

Disc 1

1. January 6, 1956 (24:10)
Edie Adams, Kovacs' wife and frequent performer, sings. Kovacs plays a trap worker appearing on the talk show of self-absorbed Eastern European Zaza Esterhazy. In the closing minutes, he plays magician Matzoh Hepplewhite.

2. January 23, 1956 (18:21)

3. January 30, 1956 (20:27)
There is a long Kapusta Kid in Outer Space puppet sketch featuring the eponymous lisp-addled bear. Much of the rest of the episode shows us "Troubled Lives of Bessie and Albert", a family soap opera whose soundtrack gets mixed with various other programs.

4. March 16, 1956 (23:36)

A working-class man (Ernie Kovacs) appears on the talk show of self-absorbed Zaza Esterhazy (Edie Adams) in a January 1956 episode. Ernie Kovacs wanders into the crowd attending one of his last morning show tapings and finds several of them promoting his new primetime series' launch.

Disc 2

5. January 26, 1956 (21:43)

6. April 17, 1956 (21:18)
In the best of the episodes that I watched, fish make funny observations about audience members, Ernie interviews a globe-trotting author with nothing to say in "Welcome Transients", and then he lets the audience leaves so he can close the show with their point of view.

7. May 17, 1956 (22:00)

8. June 27, 1956 (20:44)
The Kapusta Kid deals with a water works issue. Ernie portrays a tough city cab driver. And he and others promote a Monday, July 2nd debut of his primetime series, which would succeed this on Kovacs' resume. This episode ends with a pie fight.

Ernie Kovacs and mystery guest Daniel Inouye (the future and still U.S. Senator from Hawaii) have a laugh on "Take a Good Look." Ben Alexander, Edie Adams, and Cesar Romero ask questions to figure out the mystery guest of "Take a Good Look."

Disc 3

Titled "Rarities", the final disc holds three complete episodes of "Take a Good Look", Kovacs' "offbeat" weekly game show that ran on ABC from 1959 to 1961. A mystery guest appears and three celebrity panelists trying to guess his identity ask him any question they can think of that might shed light. Comic video clues featuring Kovacs and collaborators are of little guidance. Less concerned with who wins or loses than keeping us entertained, this delights in that old time game show mold. Kovacs' creative commercials for Dutch Masters cigars remain intact.

1. April 21, 1960 (26:29)
Panelists: Ben Alexander, Edie Adams, Tony Randall / Guests: X-15 test pilot Scott Crossfield; Clarence Nash, the voice of Donald Duck

2. April 28, 1960 (26:59)
Panelists: Ben Alexander, Edie Adams, Cesar Romero / Guests: Keystone Kops producer Mack Sennett, Hawaiian congressman and future U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, The Thin Man's Asta the Dog

3. March 2, 1961 (27:42)
Panelists: Cesar Romero, Edie Adams, Hans Conreid / Guests: comedian Carl Reiner (with a funny voice and a sack over his head), pro golfer Bob Rosburg


Unsurprisingly, these old daily "Ernie Kovacs Show" episodes are plagued by their age and cost-effective production methods. Specks and scratches do show up with some regularity to sully the black and white picture. Some episodes and some scenes look better than others; one episode opens covered with scratches, but soon improves. One of the most troubling aspects is that between one and five small, distracting black spots remain fixed on the screen throughout the broadcasts. Considering their origins and the fact that they've been unavailable until now, the shows are presentable enough.

"Take a Good Look" is comparably better looking, with no real debris, but still suffers from video flaws when transitioning to and from clips.

The Dolby 2.0 mono soundtracks are not as plagued by issues. Although the recordings are clearly thin and aged, they remain intelligible enough not to mind Shout!'s usual lack of subtitles and closed captions.

Ernie is stumped by an archaeology professor who won't answer his questions. The googly-eyed poet laureate Percy Dovetonsils shares some of his poetry. Ernie Kovacs grants the CBC's "The Lively Arts" a Halloween 1961 interview.


Eighteen bonus sketches from "The Ernie Kovacs Show" join those episodes on the first two discs. They run anywhere from 1 to 12 minutes each for a total of 98 minutes.

Disc 1's sketches find Kovacs interviewing a silent archaeology professor, watching an ant on a date, dragging out writers to make them endure a weak opening, and ranting on television and singing in a silly voice.
Thoughts are shared by chef/craftsman Miklös Mölnar from his home workshop and poet laureate Percy Dovetonsils. Longer sketches include a Kapusta Kid space tale, a Brazilian murder mystery featuring a Charlie Chan parody, and a chat with a ditzy beauty queen.

Disc 2 treats us to Chinese Tin Pan Alley songwriter Irving Wong, more Percy Dovetonsils, Edie Adams as an opera singer, more of the world's strongest ant, a Hollywood reporter with the latest movie business news, a monologue that pages through the newspaper from coverage of Grace Kelly's wedding to Dear Abby, a chat with Al Kelly posing as an "art collector" in the audience, a silent "lost soundtrack" sketch, and magician Matzoh Hepplewhite performs tricks with an assistant's help.

The remaining features turn up on Disc 3 and begin with what the set calls "the only existing filmed solo interview with Ernie Kovacs." It was shot in Kovacs' backyard in 1961 for the Canadian Broadcasting Company series "The Lively Arts" (20:23). Kovacs proves to be very serious about his comedy, discussing the technical challenges, working with Alec Guinness, his future plans, and the state of television.

The 1961 "Medicine Man" pilot cast Kovacs as miracle cure salesman Doc and Buster Keaton as his silent assistant Junior. Jolene Brand, George Schlatter, and Bob Odenkirk are among the participants in a 2011 Ernie Kovacs Panel Discussion at Grauman's Egyptian Theater.

Another fascinating curiosity is Screen Gems' unaired 1961 pilot episode for a black and white Western sitcom called "Medicine Man." This show, uncharacteristically conventional for Kovacs, was to star him as post-Civil War traveling potion salesman Doc and silent film legend Buster Keaton as his (mostly) mute Indian assistant Junior. This episode (25:33), titled "A Pony for Chris", finds Doc trying to make good on his promise for his nephew's (Kevin Brodie) birthday present. To raise the money, Doc hatches a Confederate trading money scam to dupe a group of crooks. The pilot's picture and sound are better than everything else on the set of age.

Next comes a video of an Ernie Kovacs Panel Discussion (39:49) conducted August 2011 at Grauman's Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Harry Shearer moderates a panel that also includes Kovacs actress Jolene Brand-Schlatter and her husband George Schlatter; famous Kovacs fans Bob Odenkirk, Jeff Garlin, and Merrill Markoe; and Kovacs historian Ben Model. Brand-Schlatter discusses working with Kovacs, while the others express their admiration, consider his trademarks, herald his work ethic, touch on his personal life, and acknowledge his influence on comedy. Though the panel focuses more on his specials than his morning show, it's still a great inclusion.

Kovacs' wife Edie Adams goofs around for the camera in home movies of a golfing weekend with Jackie Gleason. Bing Crosby offers a colorful endorsement in the trailer for "Five Golden Hours." Disc 1's main menu offers a CG recreation of the Ernie Kovacs morning show's set.

Silent color home movies (5:45) capture Kovacs and his wife Edie's goofy golfing weekend in Pennsylvania with Jackie Gleason and his then girlfriend Honey.

Finally, we get original theatrical trailers for two movies that starred Kovacs near the end of his short life:
1960's Wake Me When It's Over (3:06) and 1961's Five Golden Hours (1:58). The former is presented letterboxed with severely faded colors and promoted by celebrity testimonials. The latter is in black and white.

The scored menus provide access to the episodes over backgrounds like a CG recreation of Kovacs' set and a burning cigar, with animated touches and transitions.

Packaged in one of Shout!'s preferred, standard-sized clear keepcases, the discs are joined by an insert promoting other Shout! classic TV DVDs. More exciting is an 8-page booklet which supplies an overview and great series-specific background information from the set's curator Ben Model.

Those who buy The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Volume 2 directly from the Shout! Factory Store will receive as a free bonus a bonus fourth disc titled Ernie Kovacs: Take a Good Look, which holds an additional seven episodes of the ABC game show:

1. December 17, 1959 (26:18)
Panelists: Cesar Romero, Edie Adams, Hans Conried / Guests: Max Conrad, Mrs. Murray Scott

2. December 31, 1959 (26:30)
Panelists: Cesar Romero, Edie Adams, Hans Conried / Guests: Dr. Chelsey M. Martin, Elaine Shepard

3. April 14, 1960 (27:34)
Panelists: Ben Alexander, Edie Adams, Cesar Romero / Guests: Rogers Hornsby, Joe Foss

4. May 19, 1960 (26:51)
Panelists: Cesar Romero, Edie Adams, Hans Conried / Guests: Sally Rand, Jack Nolan

5. May 26, 1960 (26:10)
Panelists: Ben Alexander, Edie Adams, Hans Conreid / Guests: Mildred Burke, Sylvia Hollos

6. December 1, 1960 (26:13)
Panelists: Cesar Romero, Edie Adams, Hans Conried / Guests: John Quinn, Jeri Cobb

7. February 9, 1961 (26:45)
Panelists: Cesar Romero, Edie Adams, Carl Reiner / Guests: Bobby Fischer, Lillian Rogers Parks

With a false nose, Ernie Kovacs plays a gruff city cab driver in this June 1956 morning show sketch. Ernie Kovacs is magician Matzoh Hepplewhite and wife Edie Adams is his assistant/volunteer in this Disc 2 bonus morning show sketch.


Ernie Kovacs' comedy is definitely not for everyone. His earlier work compiled here is both more accessible and less memorable than his widely acknowledged, inventive primetime specials.

A random sampling of surviving episodes and standout sketches feels appropriate for a daily show like this and Kovacs fans will no doubt enjoy seeing this long-unavailable material. Shout! Factory has also added plenty of value to this set with a strong line-up of fitting bonus features. While the morning show's picture leaves a good deal to be desired, that seems to be the product of source limitations and not a lack of studio effort. Though not as expansive as Volume 1, this collection makes for a fine shelf mate. It is a must-own for Kovacs devotees and worth considering by anyone fond of vintage television comedy.

Support this site when you buy Shout! Factory's Ernie Kovacs DVDs now from Amazon.com:
Vol. 2 Collection / Vol. 1 Collection / The ABC Specials

Buy from Amazon.com

Buy Volume 2 with exclusive "Take a Good Look" bonus disc at Shout! Factory Store

Related Reviews:
Ernie Kovacs: The ABC Specials
New from Shout! Factory: All in the Family: The Complete SeriesSteve Martin: The Television StuffAn American Christmas Carol
Love Is On the AirHoliday Treats: T.V. SetsEd WoodThe ApartmentThe Parent TrapThe Shaggy Dog (1959)
1950s Television (Walt Disney Treasures): Your Host, Walt DisneyThe Mickey Mouse ClubThe Hardy BoysZorro: The Complete First Season

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Reviewed October 15, 2012.

Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1956 NBC, 1960-61 ABC, 1961 Screen Gems, and 2012 Shout! Factory, Edi Ad. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.