There are few video artists as tragic or as visionary as Ernie Kovacs. Posthumously known as television’s original genius, he invented many tropes of television entertainment that are still used today. Like others who made the early move into television, Kovacs was a radio guy; unlike his contemporaries, he tested the new possibilities of television from the beginning. In one of his many violations of the fourth wall, Kovacs took his viewers outside the NBC affiliate studio where he captained a trailblazing early-morning variety show, running through Philadelphia in a gorilla suit. Kovacs’ absurdist comedy clearly inspired the late-night show and sketch-comedy ensemble formats, but video-art scholars and film-history nerds remember him for his inexhaustible playfulness with the medium: fake credits, kaleidoscope lenses, live interaction with the audience, and many other experiments. An Emmy award for his pioneering camera work arrived shortly after his death in a 1962 car accident, and while television audiences never warmed to him then, his ideas are still in use today. In honor of the 50th anniversary of his death, AFI hosts a series of his greatest hits this weekend.
The program begins at 4:30 p.m. at AFI Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $8.50–$11.50. (301) 495-6700. afi.com/silver.