Press Release

HEY YOU GUUUUUYYYYS!

TV’s Iconic Series The Electric Company Delivers a Jolt of Literacy,
and Charges a New Generation

Sesame Workshop’s New Weekly Series Premieres on PBS KIDS GO!sm Friday January 23rd, 2009 with a Special Two Hour Sneak Peek Marathon on Monday, January 19th

Celebrities Plugged Into The Electric Company Include Wyclef Jean, Kyle Massey, Jimmy Fallon, Ne-Yo, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tiki Barber


Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, powers up this January with a new version of one of television’s most beloved children’s series, The Electric Company.   The new series, designed to combat the literacy crisis America’s second graders are facing, has been re-energized with 35 half-hour episodes for today’s media-driven generation with a truly interactive experience. The series launches on PBS KIDS GO! January 19th with a special two hour sneak peek marathon before it settles into its regular weekly timeslot on Fridays beginning January 23rd (check local listings).

With funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the U.S. Department of Education, the new version of The Electric Company is a multimedia literacy campaign charged with reducing the literacy gap between low and middle income families and advancing the idea that ‘reading is cool.’  The show will be supplemented with a richly interactive online environment at pbskidsgo.org/electriccompany and community-based outreach activities taking place in cities with at-risk populations across the country.

The literacy crisis today is as pervasive and alarming as it was in 1971 when Sesame Workshop created the first version of The Electric Company.  Overall 27% of public school fourth-graders score below basic levels on reading.  By demographics, 54% of African American, 51% of Latino/Hispanic, 49% of American Indian, 24% of Asian American and 23% of Caucasian fourth-graders read below basic level.1  Children in low-income families are particularly at risk because they generally hear 30 million fewer words by age three than those in middle or high income families.2  Without a strong vocabulary, it becomes increasingly harder to read school materials and succeed academically.

The new version of The Electric Company’s curricular goals include: decoding, comprehension of connected text, vocabulary and motivation.  These goals are incorporated into the show with vocabulary focusing on specific kid friendly themes such as: the body, animals, games and space.  

“Literacy skill development is a core curriculum area for PBS.  Every child has a different approach to learning and sense of what engages them, and we are excited to launch this multimedia literacy campaign,” said Linda Simensky, Vice President, Children’s Programming, PBS. “The Electric Company’s music, humor and lively cast of characters make learning to read fun and accessible for all children.”

The Electric Company television show is brought to life with a 15 minute narrative storyline that is interspersed with segments that include curricular clusters of music videos, sketch comedy, animation and short films.  

The cast of characters of The Electric Company is a group of do-gooders who keep the neighborhood safe with their literacy superpowers and solve problems often created by a group of troublemakers called “The Pranksters.”  Stationed from their home base, The Electric Diner, the team consists of four core cast members.

bulletKeith Watson,” played by Ricky Smith, is a 13-year-old boy with the power to turn words into graphics/animation.
bulletJessica Ruiz,” played by Priscilla Diaz, is a 13-year-old girl with total aural recall allowing her to replay and display speech as text.
bulletLisa Heffenbacher,” played by Jenni Barber, is a high school student with the power to solve any word problem at super human speed.
bulletHector Ruiz,” played by Josh Segarra, is a 20-year-old college student (and older brother to Jessica) that has the power to visually recall things he’s seen, even if only peripherally.
Teaching letter sounds and words through a series of short films that occur within each episode is vocal percussionist, Chris Sullivan, who plays “Shock,” an Electric Company member who works in the diner and provides the beat as the Company carries out its missions.

Season one of the new The Electric Company will feature comedy segments with Academy Award winning actress, Whoopi Goldberg, kid comedian and actor, Kyle Massey, former NFL superstar and Today Show correspondent Tiki Barber, rapper Common and 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer; music videos with Grammy Award winning musician Wyclef Jean and hip-hop superstar Sean Kingston; and original songs from singer/songwriter Ne-Yo, Saturday Night Live’s Jimmy Fallon and R&B star Mario.

Two years ago, Executive Producer, Karen Fowler, envisioned a multimedia and outreach project that would create a 360 degree experience for viewers. She then gathered an abundance of talent to generate an appealing innovative program.

“The opportunity to redevelop this beloved brand has been an honor and a labor of love,” comments Fowler. “Translating the original genius of The Electric Company to appeal to today's audience has birthed a unique project that has attracted some of the industry's top talent. This generation's The Electric Company is naturally conceived to let children experience it on any media platform while providing support for parents and teachers online and in outreach materials.”

Co-Executive Producer and Head Writer, Willie Reale, MacArthur Fellow and Tony and Academy Award nominee, (A Year With Frog and Toad, Dreamgirls) leads The Electric Company writing team and has brought in other outstanding writers including the Cox Brothers (Blades of Glory), Deirdre O’Connor (Hero, Penicillin, White Jesus) and Jerome Hairston (Law & Order: Criminal Intent, am Sunday) to create 35 half-hour episodes.  To establish a musical team that will connect with the audience, Fowler tapped some of the creative forces behind Broadway’s Tony Award winning hip-hop, dance musical, In the HeightsChris Jackson (“Benny”), Thomas Kail (Director), and Bill Sherman (Arranger/Orchestrator) are The Electric Company’s musical directors and bring urban beats and rhythmic tunes to the literacy objectives of the program.

In addition to recognizing the power of media, Sesame Workshop has always extended its educational content beyond television. The goal of The Electric Company outreach program is to service at-risk first-to-third graders through community partnerships while enriching their literacy skills, self-expression and motivation.  The thoughtfully designed outreach kit will be available for teachers to use as supplementary classroom materials, for out-of-school time and community programs.  The outreach efforts will be supported through local partnerships with several national organizations including: The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Urban Libraries Council, National Council of La Raza, National Urban League and others.

The Electric Company outreach program will include:

bulletThe Electric Company Outreach Kit - A DVD with episode content, a CD with downloadable activity sheets and a printed guide with instructions and games.
bulletThe Electric Company Magazine – A literacy publication that will contain activities, interviews, character and comic elements as well as trading cards to foster learning and self-expression.
bulletThe Electric Company Circuit Tour – Community outreach events organized in at-risk markets that will include hands-on literacy activities and an interactive The Electric Company stage show.
bulletThe Electric Company Outreach Orientation – Programs targeting PBS member station outreach staff with a train-the-instructor format for consistent community usage.
The new Web site at pbskidsgo.org/electriccompany invites kids to experience the world of The Electric Company within an interactive environment. Launching in conjunction with the television program, the Web site blends elements of popular kid-friendly internet applications that encourage kids to create, share, and rate each others' video creations and decorate their own profile pages.  Kids will also be able to play educational games, based on the curriculum featured in each episode, and win points in support of their favorite The Electric Company characters. The site will stream full episodes that will have aired the day before on TV, Web exclusive behind the scenes segments, cast interviews, outtakes, bloopers and celebrity clips. In addition, extensive downloadable outreach materials will be available to support the TV series and supplement the curriculum that parents, caregivers and teachers will be encouraged to use.

The Electric Company is part of PBS KIDS Raising Readers, a national literacy initiative focused on using public media to improve the reading skills for children ages two to eight.  PBS KIDS Raising Readers is funded by a Ready To Learn grant from the U.S. Department of Education and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

About Sesame Workshop

Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit educational organization that changed television forever with the legendary Sesame Street.  As the single largest informal educator of young children, local Sesame Street programs produced in countries as diverse as South Africa, Bangladesh and India are making a difference in over 120 nations.  Using proprietary research to create engaging and enriching content, Sesame Workshop produces programs such as Dragon Tales and Pinky Dinky Doo.  In addition, multimedia needs-driven initiatives provide families tools for addressing such issues as children’s health, military deployment and emergency preparedness.   As a nonprofit, product proceeds and philanthropic donations support Sesame Workshop’s educational research and creative content for children around the world.  Learn more at www.sesameworkshop.org.

About PBS KIDS and PBS KIDS GO!

PBS KIDS, for preschoolers, and PBS KIDS GO!, for early elementary school kids, offers all children – from every walk of life – the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television, online and outreach content. Like its programming counterpart, PBS resources - including PBS KIDS online (pbskids.org), PBS KIDS GO! online (pbskidsgo.org), PBS Parents (pbsparents.org), PBS Teachers (pbsteachers.org), PBS KIDS Raising Readers and literacy events across the country - leverage the full spectrum of media and technology advancements as well as community to build knowledge, critical thinking, imagination and curiosity. Guiding children towards empowerment for success in school and in life, only PBS KIDS and PBS KIDS GO! have earned the unanimous endorsement of parents, children, industry leaders and teachers. PBS is a nonprofit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation’s 356 public television stations, serving more than 65 million people each week and reaching 99% of American homes.  

About the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

CPB, a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, is the steward of the federal government's investment in public broadcasting. It helps support the operations of more than 1000 locally owned and operated public television and radio stations nationwide, and is the largest single source of funding for research, technology, and program development for public radio, television, and related on-line services.



1U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2007 Reading Assessment.

2Hart, B. and Risley, T., The 30 Million Word Gap. American Educator, Spring 2003.

The contents of this release were developed under grant #PRU295A050003, from the Department of Education.  However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.


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