18. 'The Ernie Kovacs Show' (1952-1955)
Benny, Berle and Caesar were the giants of 1950s TV, but nobody was more visually innovative or subversively influential than Ernie Kovacs. "He quickly dismantled TV just as it was being invented," Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson told the New York Times. His oddball characters, surrealist visual style and music gags rubbed off on Chevy Chase, David Letterman's Late Night and every non-sequitur-driven skit show from Laugh-In to Robot Chicken. Kovacs had the daring and the range to go from dark and demented in one bit, to silly and sophomoric (in drag or gorilla costume) in the next. Merrill Markoe, Letterman's first head writer, told an audience at an event honoring Kovacs: "On top of it being brainy and genius and so forth, it was a really great kids show…if you were kind of a smart-ass kid who didn't like 'adorable' kid's stuff."