Ernie Kovacs’ ‘Take a Good Look’ DVD Review: Early Edginess


You don’t expect to find old TV game shows on DVD, but the wacky work of early tube comedy master Ernie Kovacs is an exception. Rife with historic value, his series and specials already are widespread on DVD. And now his 1959-61 ABC series, Take a Good Look, joins them in a nearly complete box set.

The weekly show lasted 53 episodes, and a whopping 49 come to light via Shout! Factory’s Oct. 17 release of a seven-disc Ernie Kovacs: Take a Good Look: The Definitive Collection.

The show is — well, what? A parody, a mocking, a send-up, an homage, a rip-off?  You decide. But it clearly follows the essence of other popular game shows in which a panel of celebs tries to guess someone’s identity. (Think What’s My Line, To Tell the Truth and I’ve Got a Secret.) Kovacs’ spin was to add brief film clips, sketches and sight gags as vague clues.

Puffing a large cigar (there was SO much smoking in ’50s and ’60s TV) under his signature black mustache (John Astin’s Gomez Addams followed suit), Kovacs hosted behind a talk-show desk with dry wit and sometimes edgy asides. He often went beyond mere zaniness to sly irreverence, but with a conspiratorial smile.

For instance, in explaining the show’s $50 increments of prize money, which never topped $300, Kovacs noted “It’s not enough to be crooked.” (Early TV game shows such as The $64,000 Question later were found to be scandalously fixed.)

Shot in Hollywood in black-and-white, of course, Take a Good Look‘s half-hour shows run about 23 minutes each on DVD, even with some commercials and promos built in. Dutch Masters cigars were a natural fit.

Sample an episode or two and you’re likely to see the likes of Cesar Romero, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Jim Backus on the panel, gamely trying to guess who was a former Miss America or an infamous Harvard goldfish swallower, while Kovacs makes havoc.

Riddled with interruptions and moments of near chaos, the show could be informal to a fault — raw, at times, in production values. But considering how pre-programmed and canned today’s game shows can be, its spontaneity and irreverence compensated for bumps in its road.

Kovacs’ improvisatory nuttiness for TV series and specials was an inspiration for generations of TV creators to come — even though his life was cut short when, at age 42, he died in a single-car crash on Jan. 13, 1962.

One wonders what other wonders he could have concocted as a producer, writer and performer. Though we’ll never know, at least we have artifacts such as Take a Good Look to show the pioneering paths he took.

— Bruce Westbrook











Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: