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electric company

This article is about the original 1970s series. 

For the 2009 reboot, see The Electric Company (2009 TV series). For other uses, see Electric company.
The Electric Company
Ec logo 800.jpg
The series title card
Created by    Paul Dooley
Joan Ganz Cooney
Lloyd Morrisett
Directed by    Robert Schwarz
Henry Behar
John Tracy
Starring    Morgan Freeman
Judy Graubart
Skip Hinnant
Rita Moreno
Jim Boyd
Lee Chamberlin (1971–1973)
Bill Cosby (1971–1973)
Luis Ávalos (1972–1977)
Hattie Winston (1973–1977)
Danny Seagren (1974–1977)

The Short Circus
June Angela
Irene Cara (1971–1972)
Robert Douglas Grant (1971–1973)
Stephen Gustafson (1971–1975)
Melanie Henderson (1971–1975)
Denise Nickerson (1972–1973)
Bayn Johnson (1973–1975)
Gregg Burge (1973–1975)
Janina Mathews (1975–1977)
Réjane Magloire (1975–1977)
Rodney Lewis (actor) (1975–1977)
Todd Graff (1975–1977)
The Adventures of Letterman (1972–1977)
Country of origin    United States
Original language    English
No. of seasons    6
No. of episodes    780
Running time    28 minutes
Production company    Children's Television Workshop
Distributor    Children's Television Workshop
Original network    PBS
Original release    October 25, 1971 –
April 15, 1977

The Electric Company is an American educational children's television series created by Paul Dooley and produced by the Children's Television Workshop (CTW; credited as Sesame Workshop on home video releases since the company changed its name in 2000) for PBS in the United States. PBS broadcast 780 episodes over the course of its six seasons from October 25, 1971, to April 15, 1977. After it ceased production in 1977, the program continued in reruns until October 4, 1985, as the result of a decision made in 1975 to produce two final seasons for perpetual use. The Workshop produced the show at Second Stage, located within the Reeves Teletape Studios (Teletape), in Manhattan, which had been the first home of Sesame Street. The series reran on Noggin, a channel co-founded by the CTW, from 1999 to 2002.

The Electric Company employed sketch comedy and various other devices to provide an entertaining program to help elementary school children develop their grammar and reading skills.[1] Since it was intended for children who had graduated from CTW's flagship program, Sesame Street, the humor was more mature than what was seen there.[citation needed]

The show was directed by Robert Schwarz (1971 and 1977), Henry Behar (1972–1975), and John Tracy (1975–1976), and written by Dooley, Christopher Cerf (1971–1973), Jeremy Stevens (1972–1974) and John Boni/Amy Ephron (1972–1973).

In many areas, a preview special, Here Comes The Electric Company, was seen in syndication through sponsor Johnson Wax on many local commercial stations during the week before its 1971 debut.[2]

    1 Performers
    2 Selected sketches
    3 Selected recurring characters
    4 Short Circus
    5 Cameo guest appearances
    6 Music
    7 Visuals
    8 Show numbering
    9 Cancellation
    10 Revivals
        10.1 1999 rebroadcast
        10.2 DVD releases
        10.3 iTunes
        10.4 Internet rebroadcasts
    11 In popular culture
    12 See also
    13 References
    14 External links


The original cast included Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno, Bill Cosby, Judy Graubart, Lee Chamberlin and Skip Hinnant. Most of the cast had done stage, repertory, and improvisational work, with Cosby and Moreno already well-established performers on film and television. Ken Roberts (1971–1973), best known as a soap opera announcer (Love of Life; The Secret Storm), was the narrator of some segments during season one, most notably the parody of the genre that had given him prominence, Love of Chair.

Jim Boyd, who was strictly an off-camera voice actor and puppeteer during the first season, began appearing on-camera in the second season, mostly in the role of J. Arthur Crank. Luis Ávalos also joined the cast at that time.

Cosby was a regular in season one, and occasionally appeared in new segments during season two, but left afterward. Nevertheless, segments that Cosby had taped during seasons one and two were repeatedly used for the rest of the run, and Cosby was billed as a cast member throughout. Similarly, Chamberlin was a regular for the first 2 years, but also left after the show’s second season. But many of her segments were also repeatedly reused; and consequently, she was also billed as a cast member throughout the show's run.

Added to the cast at the beginning of season three (1973–1974) was Hattie Winston, an actress and singer who later appeared on the show Becker. Beginning in season four (1974–1975), Danny Seagren, a puppeteer who had worked on Sesame Street and also as a professional dancer, appeared in the role of Spider-Man; Marvel Comics published Spidey Super Stories that tied into Seagren's appearances as Spider-Man in character, who never spoke aloud or unmasked himself.
Selected sketches

    "The Adventures of Letterman": Premiering during season two, "Letterman" featured the work of animators John and Faith Hubley, written by author Mike Thaler. The title character (a flying superhero in a varsity sweater and a football helmet) repeatedly foiled the Spell Binder, an evil magician who made mischief by changing words into new words. (In the "origin of Letterman" segment, "In The Beginning," the Spell Binder was given this motive: "He HATES words, and he hates people who USE them!") It featured the voices of Zero Mostel, Joan Rivers, who narrated the segments, and Gene Wilder. In his book The TV Arab, Jack Shaheen criticized the portrayal of the evil Spell Binder as a negative racial stereotype; he found this disappointing, as PBS shows such as Sesame Street gained a reputation for appropriate portrayals of ethnicities.[3]
    "Five Seconds": Halfway through the show, viewers were challenged to read a word within a five- or ten-second time limit. In seasons three and four (1973 to 1975), in a send-up of Mission: Impossible, the word would self-destruct in a Scanimate animation sequence after the time expired. In seasons five and six (1975 to 1977), the viewers had to read the word before a cast member (or a group of children) did.
    "Giggles, Goggles": Two friends (usually Rita Moreno and Judy Graubart) conversed while riding a tandem bicycle or performing some other activity together. One would humorously misuse a word and the other would correct her, with the process being repeated several times until they returned to the original word.
    "Here's Cooking at You": A send-up of Julia Child's cooking shows, with Judy Graubart playing Julia Grown-Up.
    "Jennifer of the Jungle": A Borscht Belt-style parody of George of the Jungle (which itself was a send-up of Tarzan), with Judy Graubart as Jennifer and Jim Boyd as Paul the Gorilla.
    "The Last Word": Shown at the end of season one (1971 to 1972), a dimly lit incandescent bulb with a pull-chain switch was shown hanging; the voice of Ken Roberts would gravely state, "And now, the last word." A single word would appear, usually one that had been featured earlier in the episode. An unseen cast member would read the word aloud, reach his/her arm into the shot, and turn the light off by tugging the pull chain.
    "Love of Chair": A send-up of Love of Life in which Ken Roberts, who was also the announcer for Life, would read a Dick and Jane–style story about a boy (Skip Hinnant) sitting on a chair and doing simple things, concluding by asking questions in a dramatic tone (the announcer's final, portentous question was always ”And...what about Naomi?“) followed by "For the answer to these and other questions, tune in tomorrow for...'Love Of Chair'." "Naomi" was an in-joke reference to Naomi Foner, a producer on the show during its first two seasons; Foner went on to become an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter (Running on Empty) and the mother of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jake Gyllenhaal.
    "Mad Scientist": Monster parody with an evil scientist (Morgan Freeman) and his Peter Lorre-esque assistant Igor (Luis Ávalos), who tried to read words associated with their experiments.
    "Monolith": Animated short, set in outer space and used to introduce segments involving a phonic. A large, rectangular pillar of rock (as seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but depicted white instead of the film's black depiction to avoid plagiarism concerns from MGM Studios, the rights holder at the time), was shown disturbed by aliens or astronauts, then shuddering and collapsing during a music bed of the entire opening fanfare of Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra. The letters of the phonic would appear from the clearing dust, and a bass voice would pronounce it. Similar segments for "Me" and "Amor" were featured on Sesame Street. The "Monolith" segments were almost entirely animated and directed by Fred Calvert and produced at Fred Calvert Productions.
    "Pedro's Plant Place": Featured Luis Ávalos as a garden-shop proprietor who incorporated words into his planting tips, accompanied by the plant-language-speaking guard plant Maurice (Jim Boyd).
    "Phyllis and the Pharaohs": A 1950s-style doo-wop group, with Rita Moreno singing lead and the male adult cast on backup.
    "Road Runner": New cartoons featuring the Looney Tunes character and his pursuer, Wile E. Coyote, produced and directed by Chuck Jones, which reinforced reading skills with words on signs encountered by the characters; used occasional sound and verbal effects.
    "Sign Sing-Along": Often the last sketch on a Friday, these films featured signs with words accompanied by a sing-along song. They were sung once through; viewers supplied the lyrics the second time, while a trumpet-and-bassoon duo played the melody.
    "The Six-Dollar and Thirty-Nine-Cent Man": A parody of The Six Million Dollar Man in seasons five and six, with Jim Boyd as Steve Awesome, Luis Ávalos as Awesome's boss Oscar and Hattie Winston as the General; the other adult cast members played villains.
    "Slow Reader": Animated or live-action shorts in which a slow reader was given a message to read by a delivery man. Each message had advice that he needed to follow, but because of his inability to sound out the words, he often wound up in trouble.
    "Soft-Shoe Silhouettes": Two people in silhouette, one making the initial sound of a word and the other the rest of the word; the two then said the word in unison. The soft-shoe music itself was composed by Joe Raposo, one of the Children's Television Workshop in-house composers at the time.
    "Spidey Super Stories": Short pieces debuting during season four and featuring Spider-Man (played by Danny Seagren from 1974 to 1977) foiling petty criminals. Spidey was never seen out of costume as his alter ego, Peter Parker, and he spoke in speech balloons for the audience to read. A spin-off comic book, Spidey Super-Stories, was produced by Marvel Comics from 1974 to 1981.
    "Vaudeville Revue": Skits and songs presented in variety-show style on stage, with music fanfare and canned applause; also called the Stage.
    "A Very Short Book": Sometimes the last sketch of the episode. A cast member read a nursery rhyme or story, turning the pages of a book that showed both the sentences and film footage of the action. The stories usually had a humorous ending that was different from the original.
    "Vi's Diner": Lee Chamberlin played the proprietor of a diner where customers read simple menus to place their orders.
    "Wild Guess": A game-show send-up (similar to You Bet Your Life) with announcer Ken Kane (Bill Cosby in season 1, Morgan Freeman in seasons 2-6) and host Bess West (Rita Moreno), in which the contestant would guess the day's secret word. When the word was not guessed, West would give three clues as to what the word was.

Selected recurring characters

    The Blond-Haired Cartoon Man (Mel Brooks): a character who would read words appearing on screen. However, they often showed up in the wrong order or made no sense. Thus, the character would resort to correcting the words.
    The Blue Beetle (Jim Boyd): a bungling superhero who often made matters worse instead of better when he tried to help; he often challenged Spider-Man.
    Clayton: a claymation character, animated by Will Vinton, who commented on the previous skit or introduced a new concept.
    The Corsican Twins (Skip Hinnant and Jim Boyd): twin swashbuckler brothers who taught phonics. Whenever either brother hurt himself, the other one felt the pain and reacted accordingly.
    Dr. Doolots (Luis Ávalos): a parody of Doctor Dolittle and Groucho Marx who used words to cure his patients.
    Easy Reader (Morgan Freeman): a smooth hipster who loved reading since season 1 (1971–1972); associated with Valerie the Librarian (Hattie Winston) and Vi (Lee Chamberlin) in her diner. The character's name was a pun on the movie Easy Rider.
    Fargo North, Decoder (Skip Hinnant): an Inspector Clouseau-type detective who decoded scrambled word messages and phrases for clients. His name was a pun based on Fargo, North Dakota.
    J. Arthur Crank (Jim Boyd): a plaid-wearing grouchy character, who interrupted sketches to complain when spellings or pronunciations confused him.
    Lorelei the Chicken (Jim Boyd): an animated chicken who appeared in live-action scenes. She was a caricature of actress Carol Channing.
    Mel Mounds (Morgan Freeman): a disc jockey who introduced songs, usually by the Short Circus.
    The Monsters: Werewolf (Jim Boyd), Frankenstein (Skip Hinnant), and Dracula (Morgan Freeman).
    Millie the Helper (Rita Moreno): an eager-beaver trainee working at various jobs. She was the first to shout, "Hey, you GUYS!"—a phrase that was eventually incorporated into the opening credits. The character's name is likely a reference to a character on The Dick van Dyke Show.
    Otto the Director (Rita Moreno): a short-tempered film director, a take off of Otto Preminger who tried in vain to get her actors to say their lines correctly, with the help of a cue card to highlight the word they kept missing.
    Pandora the Brat (Rita Moreno): Bratty-but-lovable blonde girl who tried to outwit the adults around her.
    Paul the Gorilla (Jim Boyd): the sidekick of Jennifer of the Jungle; named after head writer Paul Dooley.
    Vincent the Vegetable Vampire (Morgan Freeman): a send-up of Dracula who was obsessed with eating vegetables.

The adult cast also had recurring roles as Spider-Man (Danny Seagren) (seasons 4–6 (1974–1977)), J.J. (Skip Hinnant), Carmela (Rita Moreno), Brenda (Lee Chamberlin) (seasons 1–2 (1971–1973)), Mark (Morgan Freeman), Hank (Bill Cosby) (seasons 1–2 (1971–1973)), Roberto (Luis Ávalos) (seasons 2–6 (1972–1977)), Winnie (Judy Graubart), Andy (Jim Boyd), and Sylvia (Hattie Winston) (seasons 3–6 (1973–1977)).
Short Circus

Another regular part of the show was the Short Circus (a pun on short circuit), a five-member singing band whose songs also facilitated reading comprehension. June Angela was the only Short Circus member to remain with the show during its entire six-year run. Others lasted anywhere from one to four years. Irene Cara appeared during the first season (1971–1972) and would go on to become a pop-music star. Cara was replaced in the second season (1972–1973) by Denise Nickerson, who previously appeared on the ABC daytime series Dark Shadows and was best known for her appearance as Violet Beauregarde in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

The other three original members of the Short Circus were singer and guitarist Melanie Henderson; drummer and singer Stephen Gustafson; and singer, tambourinist, and guitarist Douglas Grant. For seasons three (1973–1974) and four (1974–1975), Grant and Nickerson were replaced by tap dancer Gregg Burge and Broadway actress Bayn Johnson.

Except for June Angela, an entirely new Short Circus was cast for seasons five (1975–1976) and six (1976–1977). The new hires were Todd Graff, singer Rodney Lewis, Réjane Magloire, and singer Janina Matthews.

In the first season (1971–1972), a number of unbilled children were also used on-camera with the show's cast, as on Sesame Street, but this concept was quickly dropped.

Because of the frequent reuse of segments, a practice derived from Sesame Street, actors continued to appear after their departures from the cast.

    June Angela as Julie (Tambourines)
    Irene Cara as Iris (Keyboards 1971–1972)
    Stephen Gustafson as Buddy (Drums 1971–1975)
    Melanie Henderson as Kathy (electric guitar 1971–1975)
    Douglas Grant as Zach (percussion 1971–1972; electric guitar 1972–1973)
    Denise Nickerson as Allison (1972–1973)
    Bayn Johnson as Kelly (electric guitar 1973–1975)
    Gregg Burge as Dwayne (bass guitar 1973–1975)
    Janina Mathews as Gail (1975–1977)
    Réjane Magloire as Samantha (1975–1977)
    Rodney Lewis as Charlie (1975–1977)
    Todd Graff as Jesse (1975–1977)

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