3. 'The Ernie Kovacs Show'
He had a caterpillar mustache, an ever-present Cuban cigar in his mouth and a boundless enthusiasm for exploring the limits of what you could do with this new medium called television; he'd help pioneer the morning-show format and bent the comic variety-show template to accomodate his bold, brainy, bugged-out ideas. If Milton Berle was TV comedy's first genuine star, Ernie Kovacs was its first real pioneer, the guy who'd use technological tricks like green screens and fourth-wall-breaking gags to beam the first wave of conceptual humor into living rooms. Though he'd spread his work out over a number of networks and time slots during the Fifties and Sixties, Kovacs commanded his biggest audience during this primetime summer-replacement slot from July through September 1956 for NBC — people who expected to see Sid Caesar's silliness instead got their head scrambled by a trio of classical musicians performing in gorilla masks and Kovacs playing a Coke-bottle glasses-wearing, cocktail-sipping poet named Percy Dovetonsils. This is ground zero for modern(ist) TV comedy, and no less a superfan than David Letterman said "It's 60 years later, and we still haven't cuaght up" to what Kovacs achieved.—DAVID FEAR