Appellate Judge James A. Stewart suspects Ernie Kovacs ran a Vermont inn in some alternate universe.
"Those of you who do figure out the game: drop me a line, explain it to me. I'd love to know it goes."—Ernie Kovacs
I don't know what Ernie Kovacs would have done if he hadn't died in a 1962 auto accident. As it stands, he's a comedian you've always heard of, but barely seen, because of his sadly shortened life. Even so, I've seen him in Bell, Book and Candle and Our Man in Havana.
From 1959 to 1961, Kovacs hosted a panel show, Take a Good Look. Panel shows are essentially game shows that involved a celebrity panel, with the emphasis on humor rather than whatever contest is at hand. Match Game would be the first example that springs to my mind. Sometimes, you can find a panel show like Just a Minute on BBC radio online, but they aren't a big part of today's television diet.
In Take a Good Look, Kovacs asks his panel—usually Cesar Romero, Hans Conried, and Edie Adams (Kovacs' wife), with Ben Alexander or Carl Reiner substituting at times—to guess why his guests are in the news. Usually, the viewers are given the answer. As you'd expect, the panelists get to ask questions, which the guests answer mostly with "yes" or "no" (although some have to look to Kovacs for guidance). What you might not expect is the comedy sketches. For each guest, three sketches yield three clues. Somehow, Superman and Zorro parodies are clues to the identity of a White House housekeeper who served under four presidents, for example. Naturally, Kovacs' explanations of the sketches are funnier than most of the sketches themselves.
Ernie Kovacs: Take a Good Look offers a sampler of seven episodes of the series, each with two guests:
• December 17, 1959—A "flying grandfather" and a lady who's a fast draw with a gun.
• December 31, 1959—A "family doctor of the year" from Oklahoma and the only female reporter who covered President Eisenhower's global tour.
• April 14, 1960—Baseball Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby and then-new American Football League Commissioner Joe Foss.
• May 19, 1960—A Pony Express re-creator and fan dancer Sally Rand.
• May 26, 1960—"Girl wrestler" Mildred Burke and Hedy Lamarr's stand-in.
• December 1, 1960—The first woman to qualify for space flight and a father who chained himself to his pregnant wife (I, for one, would have liked more explanation on that one—or perhaps not).
• February 9, 1961—A longtime White House housekeeper and chess master Bobby Fischer.
Although the clues embedded in the sketches aren't that much help, the game on Take a Good Look isn't impenetrable. The panelists are sharp and ask mostly good questions, despite all the joking around. Sometimes, they even guess—or know (everyone knew Sally Rand, for example)—who the guest is. There's a tendency among the regulars to laugh too much at their own and each others' jokes. The jokes hit home about as often as they do on a modern late-night talk show (David Letterman or Jay Leno, for example) and everyone's generally good-natured.
This was a cheap show; even adjusted for inflation, the $300 top prize for the guests would only be $2,385.64 today, according to the government's official site. You'll also notice painted backdrops rather than full sets for the sketches.
Kovacs makes a lot of comments about time-shifting the show and watching it later. For young ones, he's not talking about DVRs, Hulu, or DVDs. Instead, he's talking about stations that aired it in different time slots, a clue that this wasn't exactly a hit show.
Presented in standard definition 1.33:1 full frame with a Dolby 2.0 Mono track, the picture quality isn't that good. You'll find lines and flickers in the black-and-white image, and there's the occasional sound drop. It's watchable, but not impressive.
There are no bonus features, though I would have liked it more if somebody at Shout! Factory could have tracked down the original newspaper stories. After all, this is more than a half-century old, and most viewers won't remember them.
Take a Good Look is a bonus disc offered to those who purchase The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Volume 2 from the Shout! Factory store. This is a limited time offer and only exists while supplies last.
It's a pretty good panel show, but it's still a newsmaker panel show from 1959-61. If that's something that piques your interest, though, it's a decent selection of episodes. In addition to celebrities like Bobby Fischer and Sally Rand, it also puts the spotlight on some accomplished women, reminds us that pro football was really just taking off back in 1960, and generally shows an age when reality shows (yes, this would be one) were kinder and gentler. It also shows an age when cigar commercials—in this case, Dutch Masters, were part of everyday TV fare.
Not guilty, but not essential.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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