Remembering TV Pioneer Ernie Kovacs
April 28, 2011
If you’re accustomed to the zany TV host-in-a-chair-in-front-of-a-studio-audience antics of Comedy Central’s John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, they’re part of the long tradition of Trenton-born TV pioneer Ernie Kovacs. Kovacs’ daily two-hour morning program produced for NBC affiliate WPTZ came out of a Center City Philadelphia studio starting in 1950. The radio personality introduced artistic, unorthodox techniques to the early TV uninitiated: trick photography, silly original characters, improvisation and going beyond the fourth wall talking to the crew and audience. He spoofed commercials and created fake news segments. Many of Johnny Carson’s, David Letterman’s and Saturday Night Live’s comedy bits are clearly inspired by “It’s Time for Ernie” and “The Ernie Kovacs Show.” You can even see Kovacs' influence in cable news: MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow uses prop humor and occasionally engages her production crew on-camera on her show. Shout! Factory has produced a new collection of DVDs called “The Ernie Kovacs Collection” and DAVID BIANCULLI, Fresh Air contributor and creator and editor of tvworthwatching.com, and 1812 Productions’ co-founder and comedienne JEN CHILDS come in to discuss the man who originated the TV formulas we grew up on.