The Electric Company (1971)

Archive The Electric Company 1971The Electric Company

Righteous, Delightious, and Out-of-Sighteous!

 

 

When The Electric Company first brought the power in 1971 with the goal of addressing increasing reading failure among American schoolchildren, it quickly grooved its way to the top of the educational television charts. Drawing inspiration from Motown, Broadway, Vaudeville, and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, the now-classic program sought to teach second, third, and fourth graders basic phonetics and grammar concepts through the use of comedic skits, word play, songs, and cartoons.

Focusing specifically on seven- to ten-year-old students who were having difficulty learning to read, The Electric Company employed a more mature form of humor than Sesame Street, featuring parodies of celebrities (such as Julia Child, in the skit “Here’s Cooking at You”) and irreverent takeoffs on popular characters (“Jennifer of the Jungle” was the Yiddish answer to George of the Jungle).

The Electric Company’s original cast featured seven adult performers, including Bill Cosby, a relatively little-known Morgan Freeman, and Broadway and film star Rita Moreno. It also brought in the likes of Joan Rivers and Mel Brooks, while featuring the songwriting skills of satirist Tom Lehrer.

The show’s recurring skits included “Giggles, Goggles,” in which two friends humorously misuse a word; “The Blue Beetle,” featuring a bumbling superhero who tries to help people but makes things worse; “Fargo North, Decoder,” in which an Inspector Clouseau-type detective tries to unscramble words; and “The Soft Shoe Silhouettes,” in which one person speaks the beginning of a word, another speaks the end, and the two then put the whole word together.

One of the most popular segments was “The Adventures of Letterman,” which featured a flying young super hero who wore a varsity sweater and a football helmet as he fought the evil Spell Binder. Morgan Freeman’s Easy Reader character was another favorite; he played a smooth-talking hipster who loves the printed word so much he eagerly reads every word he sees, while singing “Easy Reader, that’s my name, umm, umm-umm!”

The Electric Company was on the air from 1971 to 1977 and continued in reruns on PBS until 1985. Noggin also aired reruns from 1999 until 2003.

Two DVD boxed sets, The Best of The Electric Company and The Best of The Electric Company Volume 2 were released in 2006. In late 2006, PBS aired a one-hour television special called The Electric Company’s Greatest Hits and Bits.

Sesame Workshop is currently developing a new version of The Electric Company that will be broadcast on PBS starting in late 2008.

Notable Quotes

“Hey, you guyyyys!” (Rita Moreno as Millie the Helper)

From the theme song:

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 comin’ down the line, strong as we can be, through the courtesy

Of the Electric Company! The Electric Company! The Electric Company!

Faster than a rolling “O”! Stronger than silent “E”! Able to leap capital “T” in a single bound! It’s a word, it’s a plan, it’s Letterman! (Joan Rivers as the narrator in “Adventures of Letterman”)

“I would if I could, but I can’t, so I won’t” (Jim Boyd as bumbling superhero Blue Beetle)

Trivia

The Electric Company was created in response to a Nixon administration initiative declaring the 1970s the “Right to Read” decade.

Notable Cast Members

Luis Avalos

Jim Boyd

Mel Brooks

Lee Chamberlin

Bill Cosby

Morgan Freeman

Judy Graubart

Skip Hinnant

Rita Moreno

Zero Mostel

Joan Rivers

Danny Seagren

Gene Wilder

Hattie Winston

Number of Seasons

Six (1971-1977)

Number of Episodes

120 for each season

Episode Runtime

30 minutes

Format

Magazine format

Producers

Sesame Workshop (Children’s Television Workshop)

Broadcasters

PBS: 1971-1977 (new); 1978-1985 (reruns)

Noggin: 1999-2003 (reruns)

Target Audience Age

7-10