Sunday, October 2, 2011

Classic Television: Kovacs, Hitchcock, and Thriller

Netflix defines "classic television" pretty broadly (and includes some truly horrible television shows from the 1970s in the category just because they are "old").  But there are some gems in the Netflix Watch Instantly collection, and this weekend The Ernie Kovacs Collection began streaming.  Not enough people know Kovacs, perhaps because not too many black and white shows shot on video from the 1950s have had a significant life in syndication.  But Kovacs's experiments with the new medium of television has influenced subsequent playful late night television personalities, and his influence extends to the world of video art as well.

To round out today's entry, I've included one well known and one not so well known suspense shows.  The opening credits for Alfred Hitchcock Presents have been parodied in so many ways that people recognize his silhouette without ever having seen an episode of the show.  But it's worth going back to watch these well made shows, including the episodes Hitchcock directed himself.  I was recently introduced to Thriller with host Boris Karloff by fans of the show, and I'm slowly working my way through its episodes as well.

The Ernie Kovacs Collection (1952-1961, 21 episodes)
Netflix: In the infancy of any medium, there will be some who realize its potential well before anyone else, Ernie Kovacs was such a visionary. Between 1951 and 1962 he broke rules that hadn't been made yet and created a "language" that is taken for granted. Netflix link.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955, 39 episodes)
Netflix: Master of the macabre Alfred Hitchcock brings his creepy-droll sensibility to the small screen in four seasons -- 1955 through 1958 -- of this mystery series that features a parade of stars from that era in chilling stories by leading authors. The legendary helmsman himself directed a number of the episodes, including two -- "Lamb to Slaughter" with Barbara Bel Geddes and "The Case of Mr. Pelham" -- that received Emmy nods.  Netflix link.

Thriller (1960, 37 episodes)
Netflix: The legendary Boris Karloff serves as host for this vintage television series, which began as an anthology of crime dramas and mysteries but later morphed into chilling tales of the supernatural and gothic horror. With episodes based on novels and short stories, the show features a roster of guests ranging from big-screen veterans such as John Carradine and Mary Astor to soon-to-be-stars such as Cloris Leachman and William Shatner.  Netflix link.

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