There are handful of gameshows that you can watch over and over again because ultimately you don’t care about the answers or the winning contestant. You are drawn to the mayhem of the host and the panel of celebrities. Over the decades Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life and Match Game have grown their cult as viewers embraced their wildness. They went beyond entertaining as Groucho poked fun of his guests and Nipsy Russell broke out a fresh rhyme. In the Fall of 1959, primetime gameshow fans were given a shock when Ernie Kovacs hosted Take A Good Look right after The Untouchables. Ernie did not disappoint his loyal Mad Magazine reading fans who were treated to a twisted gameshow.
The game is played just like What’s My Line? with a panel of celebrities supposed to guess a mystery guest’s identity. But then everything goes weird. Instead of normal clues, Ernie Kovacs has devised a series of three short comedy sketches that somehow feature hints to the identity of the mystery guest. Often times, the stars are left scratching their heads and laughing as they go nuts looking for the clue as if this was the original version of The Di Vinci Code. They even get confused when Ernie points out the elements in the sketches that were the give aways. Even when they guess the mystery person early, the panelists beg for Ernie to show them the final bizarre clue. The sketches included his famous take on Superman known as Super Clod. It must have startled a few old ladies when Ernie would strip down to his barechest to put on his muscle shirt.
The series debuted after that massive quiz show fraud scandal of the late ’50s. Luckily Take A Good Look was the kind of quiz show that couldn’t be rigged since the guests didn’t get paid that much and the celebrity panelists are completely confused every week. Among the regular panelists were Edie Adams (Ernie’s wife), Cesar Romero (Batman‘s The Joker), Hans Conried (The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show), Ben Alexander and Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show). The first season also included special guests judges that included Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jane Wyatt, Mort Sahl, Jack Carson, Tony Randall (The Odd Couple), Janet Leigh (Psycho) and Jim Backus (Gilligan’s Island). Seems like most of the right picks came from the celebrities once seeing the person on TV before. Ernie had a lot of fun giving bizarre intros to Hans Conried including announcing the beloved star had been busted for streetwalking. The show did try to eventually explain itself a little bit better including Ernie letting the home viewers know the clues ahead of the sketches so they wouldn’t feel completely freaked out.
The guests are an amazing cross section of people that were making headlines in the late ’50s. Among those in the mystery spot are Don Drysdale, Jimmie Foxx, chess great Bobby Fischer, Jack Riley – coach of the 1960 US Olympic Champion ice hockey team and a phone booth stuffer. There’s so many people to confuse the stars with the clues. During one guessing session, Edie Adams reads a fan letter from a viewer also confused by the clue sketches. Ernie acts in the black out gags along with Peggy Connelly, Jolene Brand, and Bobby Lauher. They would be part his 8 ABC specials that were filmed after Take A Good Luck was canceled. Indeed elements from the clue sketches found their way into the blackout sketch segments in the specials. The Nairobi Trio get a test run. This wasn’t just Ernie hosting a gameshow with him asking questions and players pressing buzzers. This was Ernie reinventing the rules of gameshows like everything he did on television.
The show lasted two seasons and The Definitive Collection contains the 49 surviving episodes out of the 53 that aired. The show was rarely seen on TV after it originally aired which is a shame since the weirdness is still potent. This is the kind of weirdness that today’s comics beg to achieve on Adult Swim. Take A Good Look deserves your eyeballs as a comic gameshow masterpiece.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers look fine for a series that was shot on videotape in the end of the ’50s. You can see the smoke from Ernie’s Dutch Masters cigar. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. The levels are fine as they flip between the guests and the sketches.
No bonus features although some of Ernie’s cigar commercials are included in the episodes.
Shout! Factory presents Ernie Kovacs – Take A Good Look. Starring: Ernie Kovacs, Edie Adams, Carl Reiner, Hans Conried and Cesar Romero. Boxset Contents: 49 episodes on 7 DVDs. Released: October 17, 2017.
Joe Corey is the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.