Shout! Factory has, for years now, made a name for itself in acquiring the licenses and doing the work to re-release (or sometimes release for the first time) vintage, niche, and cult favorite movies and TV shows. One of their latest releases is Ernie Kovacs: Take A Good Look – The Definitive Collection. This seven DVD set includes all forty-nine existing episodes, restored and digitized for public consumption.
Going into this review, I have to admit I never heard of Kovacs or this unique late 50s/early 60s game show. I did watch a lot of David Letterman in the late 90s though, and if you like that type of comedic personality, or that of Johnny Carson or even Conan O’Brien, you’re probably going to like Kovacs’ style, too. I didn’t expect much out of this show, but dropped disc one in and was pleased with a couple of things right off. First, there were zero fillers — typically a disc is loaded with annoying preview trailers and other logos and such, but this went straight to the menu. The menu was the second thing I immediately liked, in that it listed all of the episodes, including the airdate, the guests, and the panelists, all for easy reference and selection. Note that there are no audio options like alternate languages or subtitles, by the way, which is unfortunate, but forgiveable.
The flow of Take A Good Look is pretty cool. A non-celebrity person comes onto the set to join Kovacs. This guest was recently featured in a newspaper, or in other words, has done something noteworthy. The three panelists vary by episode, but include some celebrities like Caesar Romero, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and others. The guest gets $50, and then round one begins. A short pre-recorded skit is shown to the panelists (and simultaneously to the studio and at-home audience), or an object or sound is shown/played in the studio, and somewhere within these presentations is a clue. The panelists each have about twenty seconds to ask Kovacs and the guest a question about what they just saw and heard to try and figure out who the special guest is, or better put, what they did. After the first round, the guest is awarded $100, and another presentation is given in order to give the panelists another shot at figuring out what the guest has done. This continues for a couple of more rounds, and all the while Kovacs puffs on his Dutch Masters cigars and cracks jokes. Many of these jokes and banter are timely and at least smirk-worthy still today, and some are indeed laugh out loud funny. Panelists are often ribbed a little or make some humor of their own, too.
To my surprise, the show has a good pace and a charm to it that makes it entertaining even today, which honestly I was pretty skeptical about it being. It’s fun to try and unravel what the guest has done, and usually it’s pretty neat like a woman who swam underwater fourteen miles and also stayed underwater for sixty-two hours. Another guest was particularly skilled at shooing birds away.
The DVD release by Shout! is special because these episodes cannot be found elsewhere, and the ‘definitive collection’ in the title of the release is not an exaggeration. Packaging and presentation quality are good, although this is old video that probably wasn’t very good quality or well taken care of to begin with, so expect some technical glitching from time to time. Also, there are no extra features, but there is a nice insert in the DVD case with a written essay by Ben Model, a film and TV historian who talks about the series. That essay is worth a read, and this DVD release on the whole is worth a look for anyone interested in vintage comedy, game shows, or the career or Ernie Kovacs.