The Electric Company is an educational American children's television series which was produced by the Children's Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop) for PBS in the United States. PBS broadcast 780 episodes over the course of its six seasons, from 1971 to 1977. After it ceased production that year, the program continued in reruns until 1985. CTW produced the show at Reeves Teletape Second Stage in Manhattan.
The Electric Company employed sketch comedy and other devices to provide an entertaining program to help children of elementary-school age develop their reading skills. It was intended for children who had graduated from CTW's flagship program, Sesame Street. Appropriately enough, the humor was also that much more mature than what was seen there.
The original cast included Morgan Freeman
, Rita Moreno
(it was Moreno who screamed "Hey, you guyyyyys!!
" to open the show in seasons two, five, and six and first screamed the phrase in episode 19), Bill Cosby
, Judy Graubart
, Lee Chamberlin
, and Skip Hinnant
. Most of the cast had done stage, repertory, and improv work, with Cosby and Moreno already well-known from film and television. Ken Roberts, who was best known as a soap-opera
announcer, was the narrator of some of the segments during the first season.
Jim Boyd, who was strictly an off-camera voice actor and puppeteer in the first season, began appearing on-camera in season two, mostly in the role of J. Arthur Crank. Luis Avalos also joined the cast at that time.
Bill Cosby was a regular in season one, and occasionally appeared in new segments during season two, but afterward left. Nevertheless, segments Cosby had taped in seasons one and two were repeatedly re-run in shows produced throughout the following four seasons, and Cosby was billed as a cast member throughout the show's entire run. Similarly, Lee Chamberlin also left after the second season, but many of her segments were also repeatedly reused. Consequently, Chamberlin was also billed as a cast member for the show’s entire run.
Added to the cast at the beginning of the third season was Hattie Winston, an actress and singer who later appeared on the show Becker. Beginning in the fourth season, Danny Seagren appeared in the role of Spider-Man.
Some of the regular sketches performed on The Electric Company
included the following:
- The Adventures of Letterman (John Hubley and Faith Hubley)—Segment that featured the work of animators John Hubley and Faith Hubley, wherein the title character, a young super hero who could fly and who wore a varsity sweater and a football helmet, foiled the mischief of the evil Spell Binder. Featured the vocal talents of Zero Mostel, Joan Rivers (who narrated the segments), and Gene Wilder (most of the time), the skit debuted during season two, and it was one of the most popular segments of the show. The Adventures of Letterman was parodied in season three as Lettuceman and again in season six as Litterman.
- Blond-Haired Cartoon Man (Mel Brooks)—He read words that appeared on the screen, but they often showed up in the wrong order, made no sense, or otherwise drove him to frustration. Example: "'[reading] I am cute.' Oh. That's nice. Someone thinks I'm cute. Uh ... how about 'very'? [The sentence changes to "I am cute very."] "'I am cute very.' Who's the dummy writing this show?"
- The Blue Beetle (Jim Boyd) —a bumbling super hero who would often make matters worse instead of better for people who he tried to help, unrelated to the DC Comics hero of the same name. He wore a mask, a hood with antennas, wings attached to his back, tennis shoes, boxer shorts, and a T-shirt with "Blue Beetle" written on it, all of which were all colored blue except for the letters U and E of the word “blue.” He was also often put up against Spider-Man, whom he was both jealous of and intimidated by. One of his favorite taglines was, "I would if I could, but I can't, so I won't."
- The Blue Beetle bore a striking resemblance to El Chapulín Colorado, a now-classic Mexican television program that aired from 1970 to 1978.
- Clayton—Introduced in season five but became a recurring character in season six, a Claymation character animated by Will Vinton who often commented on the previous skit or introduced a new concept.
- The Corsican Twins—Twin brothers (Skip Hinnant and Jim Boyd) who would hurt each other by punching, biting, and kicking themselves while they reinforced sounds.
- The Director—A hapless auteur named Otto (Rita Moreno), dressed as an old-style Hollywood film director, tried in vain to make her actors read the correct line as printed on an oversized cue card held by Marcello (Morgan Freeman), her terrified assistant. The director used her riding crop as a pointer to the cue card, but she usually ended up whacking the cue card in anger with the crop startling Marcello. Several flubbed takes were depicted before the director gave up in frustration. Common director lines included “Marcello!!!!!” “Aaaaanndd ROLL ’EM!!” and “Aaaaaction!” Moreno modeled the character after Otto Preminger.
- Dr. Doolots—Parody of Doctor Dolittle and Groucho Marx (with a Harpo Marx wig) in which the title character (Luis Avalos) used words to cure his patients.
- Easy Reader—"Easy Reader, that's my name, umm, umm-umm!"—Segments featured the title character, a smooth hipster (Morgan Freeman) who loved to read at every opportunity and every printed thing he saw, teaching words of the day. Often associated with Valerie the Librarian (Hattie Winston), and in earlier seasons with Vi (Lee Chamberlin) in her diner. His name was a pun on the title of the film Easy Rider.
- Fargo North, Decoder—An aloof Inspector Clouseau-type detective (Skip Hinnant) tried to decode scrambled word messages and phrases using his different machines (one made from an old fashioned washing machine). His name was a pun based on Fargo, North Dakota. Sesame Street 's Big Bird appears in one segment, asking him to help decode a message. It is also a reference to the decoding style of reading education.
- Five Seconds—Midway point of the show where viewers were challenged to read a word within a 5-second time limit. From 1973 to 1975, in a spoof of Mission: Impossible, the word would self-destruct in a Scanimate animation sequence after the time limit expired. ("The word you see here will self-destruct in five seconds. Can you read it before it does?") After 1975, the viewers had to read the word before a cast member (often a member of the Short Circus) or a group of regular children that were filmed on location did. Sometimes the cast members failed to get the word right for reasons ranging from making a mistake in the sentence or just plain stumped.
- Giggles, Goggles—Two friends riding a tandem bike (usually Rita Moreno and Judy Graubart) conversed when one of them misused a word (e.g., "flack" as in "flap," when the other was talking about something with the word "flap"). Several words that sounded the same except for one vowel or consonant were humorously misused until they get back to the original word. "That's what I was trying to tell you!" remarked one of the characters, after which the other fumed in frustration.
- Here's Cooking at You—Send-up of Julia Child, with Judy Graubart playing Julia Grown-Up.
- J. Arthur Crank—Jim Boyd's plaid-wearing character who often interrupted sketches to complain when spellings or pronunciations confused him. In early episodes, he was just a voice on the phone, much like an irate viewer on a radio call-in show. In one sketch he sang a song devoted to his spiritual cousin Oscar the Grouch. Crank is named after British film mogul J. Arthur Rank and refers to what would be later known as crank calling.
- Jennifer of the Jungle—George of the Jungle send-up with (Judy Graubart) and Paul the Gorilla (Jim Boyd). Usually opened with Jennifer swinging on Viney the vine, yelling "Oy-oy-oy-oy...!" a pun on the Yiddish-language expression.
- The Last Word—Always came at the end of the show; featured in season one instead of the next-show teasers from later seasons. The camera would show a barely lit incandescent bulb on a pull-chain switch hanging from a wire. The voice of Ken Roberts would state "And now, the last word" gravely. 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. Sometimes more creative exits were employed (i.e. the hand would snip the pull chain with a pair of scissors).
- Love of Chair—Spoof of the soap opera Love of Life about a boy (Skip Hinnant) sitting on a chair. Announcer Ken Roberts (who, appropriately enough, was also the announcer for Love of Life) read the day's story, told in the style of the old Dick and Jane primers, with questions asked at the end in a dramatic tone. The last question asked was always "And...what about Naomi?" This would be followed by "For the answer to these and other questions" at which point a cast member would be shown briefly on-screen uttering a completely unrelated non-sequitur such as "What time is it?" Seen primarily during the first season. A shot of the boy sitting on the chair was used for the Friday closing credits during the first season as well.
- Mad Scientist—Another monster-based parody, this time with an evil scientist (Morgan Freeman) and his assistant, Igor (Luis Avalos), who tried to read words that grew out of their experiments.
- Mel Mounds—A disc jockey (Morgan Freeman) who introduced songs, usually by the Short Circus. Known for the phrase "Sounds righteous, delightious, and out-of-sighteous! Heavy, heavy [*finger snap*], heavy! Ha-ah!"
- Millie the Helper—An eager but point-missing trainee played by Rita Moreno who worked in various professions. Millie's bellowed catchphrase "Hey, you guys!" soon became a part of the show's opening. Named for the character Millie Helper from The Dick Van Dyke Show.
- Monolith—An animated short, set in outer space, used to introduce segments discussing a sound cluster. A huge perfectly rectangular white wall animated from the point of view of the camera looking up from its base, therefore appearing trapedzoidal, and not as often-thought a Washington Monument-type structure, would collapse to the strains of the Richard Strauss composition "Also sprach Zarathustra" (also the theme of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey), usually after being activated, alerted or meddled with by a living being such as an astronaut or extraterrestrial, and the appropriate sound cluster would appear from clearing smoke, no longer hidden behind where the wall stood (such as "oo," "ow," "all," "ee," "alk," "was"). A skit based on a scene from the film 2001 was usually built around this segment, while the characters always cowered in fear and awe as the music began. The monolith as white in these segments to avoid a copyright dispute with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the motion picture studio responsible for the 2001 film. Otherwise the cartoon was a clear semi-plagiaristic nod to the film.
- Pandora—Rita Moreno's bratty but lovable curly-headed blonde girl who tried to outwit the adults around her. The character's look and behavior was probably inspired by the Fanny Brice creation Baby Snooks.
- Pedro's Plant Place —Luis Avalos as a garden-shop proprietor who incorporated reading words into his planting tips, accompanied by the unpredictable plant-language-speaking plant Maurice (Jim Boyd).
- Phyllis and the Pharaohs—A 1950s doo-wop group with Rita Moreno on lead vocals. Their hits include "Phantom Of Love," "Grease," and "Is It Love?"
- Road Runner—New segments of the Looney Tunes character and his pursuer, Wile E. Coyote, produced and directed by Chuck Jones. These segments reinforced reading skills and, unlike the classic Warner Bros. shorts, were completely devoid of sound, save for vocal effects such as laughing and sound effects such as the switching of a traffic light or the bouncing on a trampoline.
- Sign Sing-Along—Sometimes the last sketch on a Friday episode, filmed segments were married to a sing-along type song (e.g., "I like fish food; you do, too/Don't look now, your hair is blue"), with filmed snippets of a sign with said words. Sung once through, after which the viewers were expected to supply the lyrics the second time around ("All right, now we'll be quiet, and you sing it!") while a wah-wah-muted trumpet and bassoon duo played the melody of the words. Alternate: vignettes depicting literal translations of road signs (for example, slow-motion action of children playing for a Slow Children sign).
- The Six-Dollar and Thirty-Nine-Cent Man—a spoof of The Six Million Dollar Man with Jim Boyd as Steve Awesome, who had far more bionic features than his more serious counterpart. Luis Avalos played Awesome's boss Oscar and Hattie Winston played The General. The other adult cast members played various villains. Introduced in season five and became a recurring sketch in season six.
- Slow Reader—Originally a set of animated shorts, but at least one live-action sketch was shot based on the same characters and theme. A bald-headed slow reader was given a message to read by a delivery man and had trouble sounding out the words. Each message was advice that he needed to follow (such as "Do not bother this giant person," "Go away," "Duck!" "Keep off the grass"), but wound up not understanding the words or the meaning until it was too late. In later years, however, a few of the original sketches were slightly rewritten and reanimated with a much smarter slow reader who did not fall victim to any impending dangers.
- Soft-Shoe Silhouettes—Two cast members appeared in silhouette, one uttering the initial sound of a word (e.g., "th"), and the other uttering the rest of the word (e.g., "ing"). The two then pronounced the whole word (e.g., "thing") in unison. Most notable for the soft-shoe-type music composed by veteran songwriter Joe Raposo, which played during the segment. Done twice through, sometimes with the viewer trying to read the word the second time through. The song usually ended with the two saying a soft "yeah!". In later years, the sketch was occasionally performed with the cast members in view without the silhouette effect.
- Spidey Super Stories—Short pieces that featured the Marvel Comics character Spider-Man (which was provided to CTW free of charge) and cast members from the show. Stories involved the web-masked super hero (Danny Seagren) foiling mischievous characters involved in petty criminal activities (such as burglary or assault). Interestingly, Spider-Man spoke only in cartoon word balloons appearing over his head, which were accompanied by electronic punctuation sounds for emphasis when they appeared on-screen. Also, unlike in the pages of Marvel Comics, he was never seen out of costume as his alter-ego, Peter Parker. Debuted during season four and was the basis for a spin-off comic book. The segment's theme song also claimed, “Spider-Man, where are you coming from? Spider-Man, nobody knows who you are.”
- Sweet Roll—A cartoon where a man ordered a cup of coffee and a sweet roll. The waitress told him, "We are out of sweet rolls," so the customer kept changing the order, but he only altered the drink. With the now-beet-red-faced waitress at her wits’ end, the customer decided that he'd have just have a sweet roll, to which the waitress finally lost it and stormed out, yelling, which left the sailor whiffing. This was also remade into a live-action sketch with Morgan Freeman and Hattie Winston, in which Morgan ordered ham and eggs, and Hattie told him they were out of eggs. When the waitress had enough and stormed out of the door in the background, the customer pondered ordering a sweet roll.
- Note: A variation of this sketch was featured on Sesame Street, where Cookie Monster entered a library and asked the librarian for various books; each request was always followed with “And a box of cookies.” The librarian kept telling him they don't have cookies, just books, so Cookie kept altering which book he wanted—until the librarian reached his wits’ end. Finally, he told the librarian to forget the books and just get him a box of cookies. After the librarian became angry, Cookie asked for a book about cookies...and a glass of milk. The librarian fainted—and then was asked for the book and a glass of juice.
- Vaudeville Revue (also called The Stage)—Skits and songs were 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 an episode in which a very short story was read by a member of the cast. Based on nursery rhymes or fairy tales and had a humorous ending. Always finished with the words "The End."
- Vi's Diner—Customers tried to read simple menus to place their order at proprietor Vi's (Lee Chamberlin) eatery. Grover from Sesame Street made a guest appearance in a season-two skit because he was lost and in tears, and he needed the help of Vi and J. Arthur Crank to get back home.
- Vincent the Vegetable Vampire—Send-up of the Bram Stoker literary character Dracula, played by Morgan Freeman. He was often seen with Frankenstein's monster (Skip Hinnant) and the Wolfman (Jim Boyd).
- Wild Guess--Game show with announcer Ken Kane (Bill Cosby) and host Bess West (Rita Moreno) in which the contestant would take a "wild guess" at what the day's secret word is. If he or she failed to get the word on the "wild guess" (which was always), West would give three clues as to what the word is. Occasionally, Ken Kane's brother Wayne Kane (Morgan Freeman) would fill in as sub announcer.
The adult cast was also featured in many sketches as themselves and not in any particular character. Their "adult character" names were: J.J. (Skip Hinnant), Carmela (Rita Moreno), Brenda (Lee Chamberlain), Mark (Morgan Freeman), Hank (Bill Cosby), Winnie (Judy Graubart), Andy (Jim Boyd), Roberto (Luis Avalos), and Sylvia (Hattie Winston)
The Short Circus
Another regular part of the show was the Short Circus (the name a pun on short circuit), a singing group of kids 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 (she was 11 when production began, and 17 during its final season); others lasted anywhere from one to four years. Irene Cara appeared only during the first season and would go on to become a pop music star (Fame, Flashdance). Cara was replaced by Denise Nickerson, best known for her appearance as Violet Beauregarde in the 1971 film Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory.
The other three original members of the Short Circus were Melanie Henderson (who, at 13, was the oldest of the original group), Stephen Gustafson, and Douglas Grant. For the show's third and fourth seasons, Grant and Nickerson were replaced by dancer Gregg Burge and Broadway actress Bayn Johnson.
Except for June Angela, an entirely new Short Circus was cast for the 1975–1977 seasons because previous members were getting too old. The new hires were Todd Graff (Ilene Graff's brother), Rodney Lewis, Réjane Magloire, and Janina Matthews.
In the first season, a number of unbilled children were also used on-camera with the show's cast, as on Sesame Street, but this concept was very 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.
- Joe Raposo, who was famous for his work on Sesame Street, was the music director of the series for seasons one through three and wrote songs for the show during its entire run.
- Gary William Friedman served as the music director of the series for season four, writing some 40 songs, including the popular Spider-Man theme song.
- Tom Lehrer wrote ten songs for the series. "L-Y" and "Silent E" are among the more memorable.
- Dave Conner was the music director of the last two seasons of the series.
- Clark Gesner wrote several songs for the series including most of the sign songs but never served as the show’s music director.
The original soundtrack album, released on Warner Bros. Records, won a Grammy Award for the show's cast.
The series was notable for its extensive, innovative use of early computer-generated imagery
, especially Scanimation
, a then-state-of-the-art analog video-synthesizer system. They were often used for presenting words with particular sounds. Sometimes a cast member would be seen alongside or interacting in another way with a word animation.
The typeface used for most of the words displayed on-screen was Franklin Gothic. It was used for the entire series. During the first season, the typeface Clarendon was also used. Spider-Man’s speech balloons were often set in Dom Casual.
Each show ended with one of the cast members announcing, "The Electric Company
gets its power from the Children's Television Workshop
." After the copyright notice, the list of corporate sponsors would be flashed on the screen. An instrumental version of the show's theme (starting in 1973, and changed each season) played beneath the music; prior to this, a specific musical score played during the corporate credits.
The corporate sponsors—which included such entities as the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York—were flashed one or two at a time for the first five seasons and scrolled during the sixth season.
The actual corporate credits for all seasons:
- Production funding for The Electric Company is provided by the Bureau of Libraries and Educational Technology, the National Center for Educational Technology, the United States Office of Education, Mobil Oil Corporation, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, PBS-Affiliated Stations (or "Public Television Stations"), unrestricted general program grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Ford Foundation, and by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
The donors in the above list would vary by season (see below).
Friday closing credits
As with most PBS children's-related programming produced by CTW, the Friday episodes featured closing credits
along with a full-length version of the same music that played over the corporate credits list.
The video that played beneath the scrolling list of credits changed from season to season, and were as follows:
- Season 1—Skip Hinnant in his Love of Chair character, sitting completely still or doing some other action (such as sleeping). Midway through the season, the music changed from a full-length instrumental specific to the corporate credits to an upbeat, marching band-type instrumental version of the show's theme. The second theme ended with crashing sound effects, momentarily startling the boy from his sleep.
- Season 2—Cast members, entering the room one-by-one. The Short Circus—dressed in marching-band uniforms—entered the room first, followed by dual versions of the adults (each actor in dual roles), who entered as him/herself along with the character he/she is most noted for playing (e.g., Morgan Freeman entering both as himself and as Easy Reader). At the end of this sequence, the last one in the room would close the door, and the picture would break up in pieces and crash down. Other times, a hammer would appear in the bottom right of the screen and hit it, causing the same type of breakage. The same instrumental theme from the later season one episodes was used.
- Season 3—Begins with the Short Circus playing its musical instruments over a chroma key, then walking off as they dance to the beat of the music. About midway through came a montage of clips from various skits, capped with a clip of Paul the Gorilla dancing across the screen. The theme was rescored; it had more of a rock feel, thanks to a prominently heard electric guitar. The corporate credits theme was a hybrid of the Friday credits theme (the first part) and a slower-tempoed instrumental version of the opening theme (for the second half).
- Season 4—Not featured on any of the episodes that aired on Noggin or on either of the DVD sets but can be seen at the end of episode 475, which is available at the iTunes store. Spider-Man’s hand opens a special Spidey Super Stories comic book in which the show’s logo is seen on the first open page. The hand turns the page, which reveals four panes that contain montages of several clips from the show. In the upper right panel, animation from the song "Silent E" is interspersed with the message “Reading can be fun." The hand turns the page again, and a collage of the people involved in the production is revealed that looks like comic-book art. Four panels are seen, and the camera moves in a clockwise motion so that all of the frames can be seen in close-up. Finally, Spider-Man’s hand closes the comic book.
- Season 5—Filmed clips of the Short Circus along with focus-group clips from an elementary school and behind-the-scenes action from the Teletape production studio. Another rescore of the theme could be heard, with horns prominent this time to create a definite easy listening feel; it was played at a slower tempo for the corporate credits. This sequence was used as the opening of a 1975 documentary on the success of the series in schools that was included in The Best of The Electric Company Vol. 2 DVD boxed set; however the music from the show's opening was used.
- Season 6—Clips from classic skits, sometimes tied together (such as sneezing, people coping with high wind gusts, water, etc.). Once again, the theme was rescored, this time using a prominently heard Moog synthesizer leading the acoustic instruments.
A total of 780 episodes were produced in the show's six-season run, 130 per season. The first four seasons (1971–1975) were numbered 1–520. The season-five shows (1975–1976) were numbered 1A–130A, and the season-six shows (1976–1977) were numbered 1B–130B. This was done because these two seasons were designed as year-long curriculum for schools.
Starting with season three (episode 261), a show's number would be presented in the sketch-of-the-day teaser segment, a parody of soap-opera teasers, which would highlight a particular sketch that would be shown during that episode. The voice of a cast member would say a variant of, "Today on The Electric Company, the so-and-so says, '(censored),'" and the action would freeze as the graphic of the word of the day—or card with the word of the day printed on it—became visible to viewers. The censored words were replaced by a series of harsh electronic sounds (similar to a theremin being played out-of-tune) roughly mimicking the sound of the word in question. The still action would linger on the screen for several seconds, then fade to black, where the show number would become visible in a Scanimate animation. The music for this segment was a repetitive, funky instrumental groove featuring a call-and-response between horns and a scratchy wah-wah guitar. The next-show teaser, which was introduced in season two without music, worked in the same way, and usually used a different take of the music heard during the sketch-of-the-day teaser, except that the voice said "Tune in next time, when..." and there was no show number shown. In season six, the electronic sounds were made less harsh-sounding, and new background music featuring lots of horns and a synthesizer was used.
In season one, however, after the title sequence, the sound of a striking match would be heard, and a fade-up from black would reveal a hand holding a lit match and "show #x" handwritten on a piece of paper that was placed in such a way so that it could blend with the surrounding objects in-frame. Instead of the next-show teaser, Ken Roberts's voice could be heard, saying, “And now, the last word,” and the trademark light bulb would be shut off by a hand doing whatever the last word was. In season two, after the opening sequence, the words "The Electric Company" would disappear from the familiar logo, and the show number would appear in its place through the use of a Scanimate animation and an electronic whooshing sound.
It is interesting to note that some episodes in seasons three through five have serious technical errors with either their sketch-of-the-day teaser segments or their next-show teaser segments, which is probably because of the failure of the linear analog video-editing equipment. Episodes that have these errors in their sketch-of-the-day teasers include 297, 1A, 8A, 15A, and 60A. Sometimes the music starts too late, ends too early, or plays too long. Sometimes the video does not appear at all—only a show number appears and only part of the teaser music plays. Sometimes the errors are negligible, with the teaser music only playing a fraction of a second longer than usual. For season six, because the teaser music was changed to a shorter, self-contained composition, these errors do not occur.
Rebroadcast and rebirth
Following the last original episode on April 15
, the series continued on PBS in reruns until the fall of 1985, with the final two seasons (1A–130A and 1B–130B) shown in rotation. These are the episodes that are the most familiar to viewers.
The earlier 1971–1975 shows did not resurface until January 31, 1999, when the Noggin network, which was partly owned by Sesame Workshop at the time, rebroadcast the show as a result of its co-ownership of the network. A two-hour feature-length compilation special, which was aired on TV Land, re-introduced the series to a new generation whose parents grew up watching the show. Noggin ran 65 select episodes until 2003, when they were pulled from the program lineup because Sesame Workshop sold its half of the network to Viacom, which already owned the other half. The shows were cut subtly to fit Noggin's shorter running time and free up time for various interstitial segments produced for the network. These deletions included the episode numbers, the Scanimate word animations, the segments 15 seconds and shorter, and the teasers for the next episodes (in seasons two through six).
The series was not seen since it was pulled from Noggin’s schedule until Sesame Workshop, under license to Shout! Factory
and Sony BMG Music Entertainment
, released a DVD boxed set on February 7
, called The Best of the Electric Company
that included 20 uncut episodes from all six seasons, plus outtakes and introductions and commentary by Rita Moreno and June Angela.
Due to the overwhelming (and somewhat unexpected) popularity of the initial DVD release, a second boxed set was released on November 14, 2006 (The Best of the Electric Company Volume 2). This second volume contained 20 episodes from seasons one through five and a 30-minute documentary on the effects of in-school viewings of The Electric Company from 1975. Cast members Luis Avalos, Jim Boyd, Judy Graubart, Skip Hinnant, and Hattie Winston provided commentary and reflected on their years on the show. However, the original content of nine of the episodes presented in the second DVD set was altered. In some cases, material that was originally broadcast in a particular episode was removed completely while material from other episodes was included. For example, episode 60A, which is included in the second boxed set, originally contained the Spider-Man episode "Spidey Meets the Prankster" and used a scene from that sketch as the opening teaser. The teaser was removed completely after the opening credits, leaving only the episode number, and at the start is an episode of "The Six-Dollar and Thirty-Nine Cent Man," which supposedly aired only during season six. Also removed following the Letterman sketch in this episode was the clip of the Short Circus singing "Stop!" and a Road Runner-Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Clayton appeared in this episode as well, even though he supposedly only appeared in season six. These altered episodes also contain special effects used to segue from one sketch to another that were not used in the show's original run. The other altered episodes are 197, 227, 322, 375, 35A, 57A, 77A, and 105A. The material seen in these altered episodes was not what was originally shown when the episodes were first broadcast.
It is believed that these changes were probably made to avoid repeats of segments that were on the first DVD set, but it is more likely that it is an issue over ownership rights: the segments that were used to cover up the material that Sesame Workshop does not own, which include Spider-Man, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and more, were longer than the excised segments, and the episodes were cut further to get them down to their required 28-minute length.
An hour-long television show called The Electric Company's Greatest Hits & Bits was broadcast on many PBS stations in late 2006. It included interviews with cast members and voice talent, and creator-producer Joan Ganz Cooney. The special was produced by Authorized Pictures and distributed by American Public Television, and was designed to be seen during pledge drives. A DVD of this show was released March 6, 2007.
It is rumored that additional DVDs may be released in the future.
In early 2007, Apple Inc.
, through its iTunes
service, started selling 15 previously unavailable episodes of The Electric Company
. The Electric Company Volume 1
contains episodes 5, 13, 23, 128, 179, 249, 261, 289, 297, 374, 416, 475, 91A, 8B, and 32B. It is unclear if these episodes have been altered from the versions originally shown on television.
In late 2007, another collection of 15 episodes dubbed Volume 2 became available from iTunes, which were 2, 36, 40, 75, 142, 154, 165, 172, 189, 218, 245, 290, 337, 350, and—repeated from Volume 1—8B, labeled erroneously as 658. As with the first volume, it is unclear if these episodes were altered from the versions originally shown on television. Shout! Factory representatives indicated that it had no plans for another DVD set, implying that episodes distributed via iTunes will not be available in another format.
According to reports,
Sesame Workshop is preparing a new version of The Electric Company
that will air on PBS KIDS GO! starting in January 2009. The revival will include interactive Web elements and community outreach projects. Karen Fowler will serve as executive producer. Production began May 2008, and it will have a different format from the original, involving a natural-foods diner, ecology, super heroes and villains, and a beat-boxing
short-order cook. The first season will consist of 26 episodes.
Similarities to Between the Lions
Since both are PBS educational programs aimed at teaching children to read, the parallels between the two are countless, and Between the Lions
is an obvious homage
to both Sesame Street
and The Electric Company
. The use of puppet characters in an environment that remains the same from episode to episode is taken from Sesame Street
, but almost every other element is borrowed directly from The Electric Company
to the point that the more recent show is nearly a remake of the original. Many of the newer show's animated or short live-action segments are clearly updated versions of those from the older show. The concept of the long word freak-out, featuring Dr. Ruth Westheimer
, is almost identical to that of Fargo North, Decoder. Dr. Nitwhite's lab is virtually the same as the old Mad Scientist skit, with several obvious elements of the Fargo North skit, such as the machine. The various singers (puppet and human) of Between the Lions
appear to be based on The Short Circus
and Phyllis and the Pharaohs, and are even introduced in a similar manner. It should be noted, however, that many refugees from Sesame Street’s
writing staff, including former head writer Norman Stiles
, worked on Lions
In popular culture
The series has been referenced in other television series. In the episode of Family Guy
titled "Hell Comes to Quahog
," Diane Simmons reads an on-air message from the Quahog electric company, then screams "Hey, you guyyyyys!!" à la Rita Moreno
, which is then followed by an animated version of the opening sequence from the show's first season. The soft-shoe silhouette sketch has been parodied on Saturday Night Live
(in "Dieter's Dream" starring Mike Myers
), and in 2008 on Comedy Central
to promote the new season of South Park
. It was also featured on Family Guy in the episode "Mr. Saturday Knight," in which Peter reflects on his job at the electric company.
The show is one of the subjects of the VH1 series I Love The '70s in the episode looking back at 1971.