Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ernie Kovacs And Thelonious Monk

This has been rattling around in my mind for some time now: what are the similarities between these two wholly original geniuses, both heroes of mine? Some fun, some serious. Feel free to add more in the comments section.

1. From this article by Jeff Fitzgerald on the "All About Jazz" website:
"Ultimately, the legacy of Thelonious Monk is one of a genius incongruent with his age. Like television pioneer Ernie Kovacs, who was 60 years ahead of his time 50 years ago, we may still not have fully come to appreciate the body of work Monk left behind."
Yes. No argument here; this is the main and most important similarity.

2. As shown in the photo, both men favored cool specs, caps and facial hair. EK, however, never sported a beard except for the fake ones he would occasionally wear in bits (eg, Ernie as King Menelaus satirizing a scene from "Helen of Troy" by Euripides).

3. One of Monk's most famous tunes is a blues called "Straight No Chaser." Ernie liked his drinks that way, especially "'Round Midnight."

4. Both men had wives who absolutely adored them, realized their genius, then encouraged and supported it. For Ernie it was Edie and for Monk it was Nellie. That's not always easy to find. And Edie was a major talent in her own right. Just think what the world might have missed if it hadn't been for both of these great women.

5. Monk's REAL middle name is Sphere. That is too cool. While Ernie's middle name is fairly average his initials spell "EEK." That, in my humble opinion, is also too cool.

6. Ernie was gregarious and and spoke a great deal. Monk was introverted and didn't speak very much. Both men, however, would cause all heads to turn when they entered a room, because both men had a giant presence. When either man spoke their words had meaning and people listened. And, both men were hilariously funny.

7. Both men produced art that on the surface seems abstract and a bit rough around the edges, but upon closer inspection you come to realize that it's very logical and incomparably beautiful. And then you realize that you've never heard or seen anything like it.

8. Ernie and Monk both pushed boundaries, were fearless, ignored critics, broke rules and did things that people said couldn't, or shouldn't, be done. As a result doors were opened for artists everywhere. Who says you can't have milk flowing laterally out of a thermos or a tune that sounds beautiful even though it's loaded with minor seconds?

9. Both men were art forms unto themselves, owing to their singular originality. I would like to think Ernie loved Monk's music and Monk loved Ernie's comedy for this reason.

10. In the final analysis, Ernest Edward Kovacs and Thelonious Sphere Monk were both kind, decent men who advanced their respective art forms to new heights.

I'm sorry I never got to meet either one but am very grateful for the legacy each left behind.

Until next time, Kovacsians, "It's Been Real!"

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ben Model Talks Kovacs On WNYC/NPR - Listen In

I appeared on the "Leonard Lopate Show" on WNYC/NPR on Monday August 22. I had a blast, and even got to chat with Alice Cooper before I went on. Cooper was on the show in the segment before mine, and is a huge Ernie Kovacs fan.

You can listen to the segment with me and Mike Pesca (guest host for the show this week):

Until next time...it's been real.

Ben Model
New York, NY

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"It's Been Real" - A View From The Stage At The Paley Event

(Robert Smigel, George Schlatter, Jolene Brand Schlatter, Pat Mitchell, Ben Model and
Joel Hodgson between flashbulbs on the red carpet at the Paley Center for Media.)

Preparing for the Kovacs panel event on April 12 found me cramming like this was the Kovacs LSAT’s. Re-reviewing less-common content from the new set and boning up on facts in the Kovacs chronology from the three books on Ernie as well as notable facts I’d figured out in my own research. And then the question came up – what about Lollos?

My good friend, photographer Steve Friedman, had introduced me to John Lollos a couple of years back when I’d begun doing research for the Kovacs set. If you’re a credit-reader, you’ll know this name. John Lollos is the guy who conceived and produced “The Best of Ernie Kovacs”  that aired on public television in 1977. He’s had a long and varied career in TV and theater as well, and graciously chatted with me at length about the back-story of making “Best Of” and getting it on the air.

So, when Steve posed this question to me, I had a “D’oh!” moment – John lives in the tri-state area and could certainly get to Paley. It was only fitting that the man responsible for the forty- and fifty-somethings’ having discovered Kovacs through the “Best Of” series – to say nothing of the next generation down who’d found the show on home video or in pieces on YouTube – should be in the house that night. I had bought a block of tickets the moment they went on sale, and had one for Mr. Lollos, and as it turned out he was able to attend the Paley event.

The “green room” for us panelists was upstairs in the executive offices where there was a large antique card table and bookcases whose shelves also hosted many radio mike frames with call letters of stations long gone. When I entered I found Mr. Olbermann chatting with the Schlatters, exchanging stories of classic broadcasting comedy…Bob & Ray, Laugh-In etc. Paley Chief Curator Ron Simon invited me to sit at the table and, after being introduced, I basically nodded and smiled while stories were told. Smigel and Hodgson arrived soon after, and I chatted with them a little. I'd been in touch with Joel in the late 90s when he was doing an online ant farm website. After that I hovered in the background, being a little more comfortable hanging out with curator folk.

Photos were taken, and then we were escorted downstairs where we were miked just outside the Paley’s video control room. (Mr. Schlatter disappeared inside for a few minutes...I'm sure it was hard to resist.) We then entered the auditorium to applause, and the evening began.

The clip reel, assembled by Paley curator Barry Monush, ran 17 minutes (impressive, considering how much material there is) to a great response. It won’t really be necessary to go into details on what was discussed during the panel here. I noticed when I took my seat onstage that there were two young-ish people in the back row typing on laptops. Turns out the event was being tweeted live on the Paley’s Twitter feed. Rather than make you go there and try to find April 12 on it, I got screen grabs of the evening’s feed, and have posted them here (scroll way down to the bottom).

Ron Simon and I had coordinated running a pair of Dutch Master spots during the panel, but the discussion and Q&A went on without an opportunity to run these. I managed to point out John Lollos, seated in the second row, during the evening and he got a real nice hand. During the Q&A John spoke and talked about the challenge of including the DM spots on the “Best Of” shows, as commercials were not shown on PBS in 1977. Olbermann picked up on this and made it a segue to the DM spots, which we then ran.

We each made a final statement to wrap up the evening, with Keith’s closing being a warm call to arms for all us fans to share Kovacs programs with people, now that we all have our hands on them.

In the end, many of the Kovacs facts I'd crammed my cranium with went unused, and I managed to hold up okay alongside everyone else on the panel who had way more credibility, fame, etc than I did. Part of what helped was the way Olbermann addressed me and asked questions. My agenda was to make sure we all acknowledged Edie Adams and the work she did with Ernie and later, saving his shows. I managed to work that in, and Keith pointed out Josh Mills in the audience. The evening was a spectacular success and I think we were all floating for a bit for a few hours after it all ended.

With all the pre-ordered DVD sets arriving in fans' mailboxes this week, my hope is that the euphoria over Kovacs will expand and ripple outward...once you've all come up for air after what will probably be a number of marathon viewings of the 15+ hours of Kovacs shows (not 13 hours – you did order from Shout, didn't you?).

It's really been real.

Ben Model
Kovacsland Online

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Kovacs Hates TV" - Vintage Article From 1953

Here's a vintage article from May 1953, published during the run of "Kovacs Unlimited" on CBS, in a magazine called Focus, whose focus wasn't on TV. I'm not sure what it focused on, as its articles cover a range of topics possibly of interest to the supermarket shopper or newsstand browser. The mini-magazine itself measures 4" x 6". Still, it's an interesting early look at the early Ernie. I picked this up on eBay a bunch of years ago and have been meaning to post it.

Here you go.

Ben Model
curator, The Ernie Kovacs Collection DVD set
webmaster, Kovacsland Online

Monday, April 11, 2011

Springtime For Ernie Kovacs And Edie Adams: Paley Center And DVD Set

Spring is here and there is a great deal going on in Kovacsland. I haven't posted anything in a while and in light of all that is happening I figured it was about time that I did (my thanks to Ben Model for posting and keeping the blog fresh with some great news).

1. If you're going to be in New York City (Manhattan) tomorrow, I strongly suggest that you buy tickets to It’s Been Real: The Life and Legacy of Ernie Kovacs at the Paley Center For Media.  This event features a stellar panel, including our own Ben Model, and starts Tuesday, April 12th, 2011, at 6:30pm. 

2.  The Paley Center festivities are a week prior to the official release of Shout Factory's "The Ernie Kovacs Collection" 6 DVD set , which is Tuesday, April 19th, 2011. If you pre-order the set, you'll get a bonus 7th DVD for free; you can do so by clicking on the link or on the banner in the upper left corner of this blog. To get the bonus disc you must order the set directly from Shout Factory and clicking one of the aforementioned links takes you directly to the set's page on their site; do not order from Barnes And Noble, Amazon, etc., if you want the bonus disc.  Ben Model was the curator for this fantastic new release, the first of Ernie's work in years and much of it not seen since it originally aired.  I've discussed it with Ben and you have my word that this is the definitive collection and one that Kovacs fans everywhere should own.  The two emails that I get most frequently ask whether it's possible to see the live color version of "Eugene" ("The Silent Show") or footage of Ernie hosting "Tonight".   They are included on this new set, "Eugene" on one of the main discs and the "Tonight" clips on the bonus disc.    You can read a full summary of what's on the discs here.   

3.  A special thanks goes to Josh Mills, Edie Adams son who runs Ediad Productions Inc., for bringing all of this wonderful new material to the fans.  Josh has started two websites, one for Edie and one for Ernie (screen captures of the sites are to the left).  The information provided on them is great and I'm thrilled to have both join with my site and Ben's to continue promoting the legacy of these two wonderful video artists. If you need to acquire the rights to any video footage Josh is the person to contact and you can do so through either of the sites he runs; I'll often get emails asking about this.   

Until next time Kovacsians, "It's Been Real!"

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Television's Original Genius" - Out Of Print, But Still Viewable

While you're waiting for the release of "The Ernie Kovacs Collection" DVD set, here's something you can watch. While poking around for Kovacs pics, Google Images took me to a shot of Ernie on a website called "John Barbour's World". Yes, it's the John Barbour who made the documentary "Ernie Kovacs: Television's Original Genius" (1982), which aired on Showtime and was available on VHS a long time ago.

Mr. Barbour has posted the entire documentary on his website. Click here to go to his page for the show, where you can watch it, in eight somewhat lo-fi Quicktime file segments.

Ben Model

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wish Ernie Kovacs A Happy 92nd Birthday...Online!

It's Ernie Kovacs' birthday tomorrow, January 23rd. Now that an official website, Facebook page, Twitter account and MySpace page have been set up for Ernie, here's your chance to give an online shout-out to Ernie on what would have been his 92nd birthday.

Kovacs fans are being asked to say Happy Birthday on all these social media and to sign off with "It's Been Real"...if you're on Twitter, be sure to use the catch-phrase as a hashtag (#itsbeenreal).

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/realerniekovacs
Twitter: @erniekovacs
Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/realerniekovacs
Official website: www.erniekovacs.com

And here's a quote from Terry Gilliam about Ernie that's just been posted:
"One of my strongest memories as a kid growing or not-growing up in the countryside of Minnesota was having to go to our neighbour's house to watch television. I had no idea that the Nameless God of Surreal Humour was hunting me down. I felt happy with the ......world as it was. But, one night that dark god coaxed the neighbours into switching the TV to The Ernie Kovacs Show. I was ambushed. Knocked sideways into a world where the bizarre and the daft and the preposterous all lived happily alongside wisdom, wit and perception. I had never experienced anything so visually absurd and inventive. It was sublime. It hurt. I was 11 years old. Was this some new form of child abuse? If it was, it was one of the most momentous things that ever happened to me. Ernie Kovacs scarred me for life. Thankfully, I've never recovered."
And...remember to brush with Koda-Dent, the toothpaste with the film in it!*

Ben Model

*this was a spoof product Ernie did a mock commercial for on an episode of his DuMont late night show...a predecessor of the infamous Schnitzel-Dent spot from 1956.

Monday, January 10, 2011

"The Ernie Kovacs Collection" DVD Box Set Available For Pre-Order!

Good morning, Kovacs fans!! Wonderful news: Shout!Factory is releasing a 6-disc DVD set entitled "The Ernie Kovacs Collection", and contains 13+ hours of Kovacs shows, sketches, and other rarities. I've been working on curating the set for Shout since May of last year, and had been asked to keep "hush-hush" about it until today, when Shout Factory's press release goes wide.

The set will be released on April 19, 2011 but is available for pre-order today on Shout's website. You'll want to order the set on Shout!Factory's website as it's the only way to qualify to receive a 7th bonus disc that includes an hour of sketches from the 1956 summer replacement show plus material from the two surviving "Tonight!" shows Ernie hosted (one of which includes the first-ever Eugene tilted-table sketch). Click here to go to Shout Factory's website and pre-order the set.

Click here to read the press release, which lists all the programming.

It's been real...

Ben Model