Ernie Kovacs at AFI Sunday, Nov. 4

There are few video artists as tragic or as visionary as Ernie Kovacs. Posthumously known as television’s original genius, he invented many tropes of television entertainment that are still used today. Like others who made the early move into television, Kovacs was a radio guy; unlike his contemporaries, he tested the new possibilities of television from the beginning. In one of his many violations of the fourth wall, Kovacs took his viewers outside the NBC affiliate studio where he captained a trailblazing early-morning variety show, running through Philadelphia in a gorilla suit. Kovacs’ absurdist comedy clearly inspired the late-night show and sketch-comedy ensemble formats, but video-art scholars and film-history nerds remember him for his inexhaustible playfulness with the medium: fake credits, kaleidoscope lenses, live interaction with the audience, and many other experiments. An Emmy award for his pioneering camera work arrived shortly after his death in a 1962 car accident, and while television audiences never warmed to him then, his ideas are still in use today. In honor of the 50th anniversary of his death, AFI hosts a series of his greatest hits this weekend.

The program begins at 4:30 p.m. at AFI Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $8.50–$11.50. (301) 495-6700.

Our Readers Say

There are TWO completely different 90-minutes shows at AFI Silver, one on Sat at 4:30 and one on Sun at 4:30.
The Ernie Kovacs Collection Volume Two

Eighteen months ago I wrote a review on my blog for a DVD box set called "The Ernie Kovacs Collection". Just last week the Shout Factory released volume two. It's every bit as good (although not quite as comprehensive) as Volume One. Kovacs was one of the twentieth century's most visionary comedians. On top of that, the man was a scream. Sadly, his importance as a visual artist was not fully appreciated until decades after his death in a 1962 automobile accident. This set is essential viewing for any self-respecting fan of Ernie Kovacs. If you order it off of Shout's website, you will receive a bonus disc not available in the stores, eight installments of Ernie's absudist game show, Take a Good Look. Think of it as What's My Line meets Dada: Here's a link to purchase it:
Early in his career, he would close his programs by telling the audience at home, "It's been real!", a phrase he coined. He was a bit of a paradox in that respect. Ernie Kovacs was the real deal alright - and television's first surrealist. Go figure.

Here's my review for volume one (which also contains a link to purchase it):

It's been real!

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