The Electric Company

From Academic Kids

If you are looking for information about electric utilities, see electric company.

The Electric Company was a children's television show which was produced by the Children's Television Workshop for the Public Broadcasting Service. A total of 780 episodes were broadcast from October 25, 1971 to April 15, 1977. Episodes were produced at Reeves Teletape Second Stage (81st & Broadway) in Manhattan, New York City, which during the 1970s had some of the most advanced CGI in the industry, but Reeves later went bankrupt and the building is now home to a Staples store.

Just as CTW's companion series Sesame Street taught children the alphabet and numbers, The Electric Company 's objective was to teach children to read via filmed and taped sketches. The series is considered by some to be one of the predecessors to today's skit-based shows such as Mad TV and Saturday Night Live.

Contents

Regular sketches

Some of the regular sketches performed on Electric Company included:

  • Love Of Chair — Spoof of the soap opera Love of Life about a boy sitting on a chair. Announcer Ken Roberts read the day's story, told in the style of the old "Dick and Jane" primers. Seen primarily during the 1971-1972 season.
  • Fargo North, Decoder — A detective tries to decode scrambled word messages and phrases. His name is a pun based on Fargo, North Dakota.
  • Letterman — Superhero spoof that was a favorite of many viewers. The villianous Spell Binder creates havoc by changing a key letter in a word (e.g., "custard" to "mustard"). After the humorous results are depicted and Spell Binder revels in his fun, the heroic Letterman replaces the incorrect letter with a more appropriate one. The title character was voiced by Gene Wilder and the narrator was voiced by Joan Rivers. First seen during the 1972-1973 season.
  • Five Seconds — Midway point of the show where viewers are challenged to read a word within a five-second time limit. From 1973-1975, in a spoof of "Mission: Impossible," the word would "self-destruct" after the time limit expired. After 1975, viewers had to read the word before a cast member (often from a featured skit) did.
  • Spidey Super Stories — short pieces featuring the Marvel Comics character Spider-man (Danny Seagren) who communicates only in word balloons (much like in the comics). Stories involved the web-masked superhero foiling mischievous characters who were involved in petty criminal activities (such as burglary or assault); cast members filled the supporting roles. One of the best-remembered and loved features, Spidey Super Stories premiered during the 1974-1975 season.
  • The Director — A hapless director (Rita Moreno) tries in vain to make her actors read the correct line as printed on an oversized cue card. Several flubbed takes are depicted before the director gives up in frustration.
  • Tandem bicycle — Two friends (usually Rita Moreno and Judy Graubart) conversing when one of them misuses a word (e.g., "flack" as in "flackjacks," when the other was talking about something with the word "flap"). Several words, similarly tied by prefix or suffix, are humorously misused until they get back to the original word. "That's what I was trying to tell you," remarks one of the characters, after which the other fumes in frustration.
  • Old Soft Shoe — Two cast members appear in silhouette, one giving the prefix of the word, the other the suffix, to form a new word (e.g., "th-" "-ing" to form "thing"). Most notable for the "old soft shoe"-type music that plays during the segment. Done twice through, sometimes with the viewer trying to read the word the second time through.
  • Dr. Doo-lats — Parody of Dr. Doolittle where the title character (Luis Avalos) uses words to cure his patients.
  • Vi's Diner— Customers try to read simple menus to place their order at proprieter Vi's (Lee Chamberlin) eatery.
  • Easy Reader — Segments featuring the title character, played by Morgan Freeman, teaching words of the day. Often associated with Val the librarian (Hattie Winston) after 1973).
  • Jennifer Of The Jungle — Tarzan send-up with Jane-like character (Judy Graubart) and gorilla Paul (Jim Boyd).
  • Count Dracula — Send-up of the Brahams Stoker literary character, played by Morgan Freeman. Sometimes, he is seen with Frankenstein's monster (Skip Hinnant) and the Wolfman (Jim Boyd).
  • Dr. Frankenstein — Another monster-based parody, this time with an evil scientist (Morgan Freeman) and his assistant, Igor (Luis Avalos) trying to read words.
  • Slow Reader — A slow reader is given a message to read by his friend, and has trouble sounding out the words. Each message is advice he needs to follow (e.g., "Do not bother this giant person"), but winds up not understanding the words or meaning until it is too late.
  • "Here's Cooking at You" — Send-up of Julia Child, with Judy Graubart playing "Julia Grown-Up."
  • Road Runner — New segments of the Looney Tunes character and his pursuer, Wile E. Coyote, produced by Chuck Jones. These segments reinforced reading skills.
  • Clayton — During the 1976-1977 season, a Claymation character who often commented on the previous skit or introduced a new concept.
  • Monolith — An animated short, set in outer space, used to introduce segments discussing a sound cluster. A huge Washington Monument-type structure begins to collapse – to the strains of the Richard Strauss composition "Also sprach Zarathustra" (the theme of the film "2001: A Space Odyssey") – and the appropriate sound cluster would be chisled from the structure. A skit was usually built around this segment (everyone always cowering in fear and awe as the music begins).
  • The Corsican Twins — Twin brothers (Skip Hinnant and Jim Boyd) who could hurt each other by punching, biting, kicking, etc., himself, all while reinforcing sounds.
  • Mel Mounds — The disc jockey (Morgan Freeman) who introduced songs, usually by the Short Circus.
  • Vaudeville Revue (aka The Stage) — Skits and songs are presented - variety show-style - "on stage," with music fanfare and canned applause to introduce and end each segment.
  • A Very Short Book— Typically the last sketch of the episode in which a very short story is read. Usually based on nursery rhymes or fairy tales and having a humorous ending.
  • Sign Sing Along — Sometimes the last sketch on a Friday episode, filmed segments married to a sing-along type song (e.g., "I like fish food you do too"), with filmed snippets of a sign with said words. Sung once through, after which the viewers are expected to supply the lyrics the second time around. Alternate: vignettes depicting literal translations of road signs (e.g., slow-motion action of children playing for a "Slow Children" sign).

Performers

Many cast members, such as Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno, and Hattie Winston, went on to become stars in their own right in the decades that followed. Among those also appearing in the show were Luis Avalos, Jim Boyd, Lee Chamberlin, Judy Graubart, Skip Hinnant, and Danny Seagren.

Members of the Short Circus included June Angela, Gregg Burge, Irene Cara (who went on to star in the 1980 movie Fame, and years later won an Academy Award for co-writing the theme song to Flashdance), Todd Graff (Ilene Graff's sister; he went on to become a successful actor as an adult, co-starring in James Cameron's The Abyss), Douglas Grant, Melanie Henderson, Bayn Johnson, Steve Gustafson, Rodney Lewis, Réjane Maglorie, Janina Matthews, and Denise Nickerson (who previously co-starred as one of the children in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory). June Angela was the only Short Circus member to remain with the show's cast throughout its run (she was 12 when The Electric Company began, and 17 during its final season); others lasted anywhere from one to four years.

Music

Tom Lehrer wrote some songs for the series. The L-Y Song and Silent E are among the more memorable. (see link)

The lyrics to the Electric Company theme, composed by the late Joe Raposo, are often misheard. Here are the correct lyrics from the final two original seasons of the show as follows:

Rita Moreno: Hey You Guys!
The Short Circus:
Moving out in a new way
Moving out in a new way
We're gonna turn it on
We're gonna bring you the power
We're gonna light up the dark of night
Like the brightest day in a whole new way
We're gonna turn it on
We're gonna bring you the power
We're gonna tell you the truest word that you ever heard anybody say
Moving out in a new way
Moving out in a new way
We're gonna turn it on
We're gonna bring you the power
We're coming down on the line strong as we can be
Through the courtesy of The Electric Company
—Theme From The Electric Company by Joe Raposo (c) 1971 Jonico Music

The original soundtrack album won a Grammy award for the show's cast.

Following the last original episode on April 15, 1977, the series continued on PBS in reruns until late 1985, with the final two seasons shown in rotation (these are the episodes most familiar to viewers). The earlier 1971-1975 shows never surfaced again until January 31, 1999, when the Noggin network (at the time partly owned by Sesame Workshop) acquired the syndication rights. A two-hour feature-length compilation special reintroduced the series to a new generation whose previous one grew up on the show. Noggin ran select episodes until 2003, when they were pulled from the program lineup. The series has not been seen since then, but Sesame Workshop has announced plans for a regeneration of the show, set to air in 2006. It is just as well, for the series remains a bench-mark to which all comedy and educational shows are compared.

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