The Electric Company was a live-action series produced by the Children's Television Workshop following the success of Sesame Street. Developed by Sesame alumni, including Dave Connell, the program ran on PBS from 1971 to 1977. The last two seasons remained in reruns until 1985. 130 episodes were produced per season, a total of 780 episodes.
While Sesame Street was targeted primarily at preschool children and covered a broad curricular base from letter and number recognition to shapes, relational concepts, and abstract ideas, The Electric Company was aimed at elementary school kids aged 6–9 and intended to teach and supplement reading skill instruction, with emphasis on phonics, rhymes, punctuation, and basics of sentence structure. Although the series used a variety of short segments and animated commercials much like Sesame Street, there was no one central set equivalent to Sesame Street as the primary starting point. Its slogan was "for the graduates of Sesame Street."
The show also utilized a repertory cast portraying a variety of recurring and one-shot characters, in contrast to the central human figures on Sesame, who generally had fixed names and identities. The company included such name players as Rita Moreno and Bill Cosby (for the first two seasons), as well as a then-unknown Morgan Freeman (as Easy Reader, Dracula, and others) and a motley group of stage veterans and improvisational comedians including Skip Hinnant, Jim Boyd, Luis Avalos, Hattie Winston, Judy Graubart, and Lee Chamberlin, among others.
Recurring characters included the surly old man J. Arthur Crank; detective Fargo North, Decoder; diner owner Vi; the bellowing Hollywood director Otto (played by Rita Moreno); and Spider-Man. Puppetry was minimal, limited to the aniform character Lorelei the Chicken and a handful of guest appearances by the Sesame Street Muppets.
In May 2008, Sesame Workshop began shooting for a new revival of the series that debuted January 19, 2009, and features few references to the original series. Muppet performer Tyler Bunch provides voices for several of the cartoon segments, notably in the Jack Bowser series.
- Episode 131, from October 23, 1972
- Fargo North, Decoder (played by Skip Hinnant), the detective who specializes in deciphering scrambled messages, receives a visit at his office from Big Bird. Big Bird repeatedly refers to Fargo as Mr. Furpo (in reference to the bird's mangling of Mr. Hooper's name). Big Bird recalls how he absentmindedly ripped up a message (and as he demonstrates, Fargo tears up a dollar bill). Fargo is eager to help, but keeps thinking he's seen the yellow fowl somewhere before. After running the words through a machine, Fargo helps Bird use capitalization and punctuation to reveal that the message was "Don't lose your way." Big Bird thanks Mr. Furpo, but having failed to read the message beforehand, he is now lost. The Muppet asks, "Could you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?" Fargo tells him to go to Vi's Diner and take the No. 4 bus (Big Bird knows the driver, who's a person in his neighborhood). Following his client's departure, Fargo finally guesses that his famous visitor was Mr. Rogers.
- Episode 453, from January 15, 1975
- J. Arthur Crank (Jim Boyd) shuts the door on a salesman (Luis Avalos), explaining that he has company. After the peddler asks Crank why he's so nasty anyway, Crank sings an extended musical tribute to his role model, Oscar the Grouch, with the ou vowel sound emphasized. The grouch himself pops up from under the table: "Crank, if you say anything nice, I'm going to get sick." He joins in for a duet, with such musical asides as "You know, you've got an aaaaawful voice." Oscar also teaches Crank the finer points of scowling.
- Episode 491, from March 10, 1975
- J. Arthur Crank is trading repartee with Vi (Lee Chamberlin) at Vi's Diner, when Grover enters. The lovable furry one greets Vi with "Hello there, pretty lady" and gives Crank a hearty slap on the chest. Grover tearfully explains that he is lost and unable to remember where he lives. Vi brings out a map to help Grover, featuring such locations as Skin Street, Skit Street, and Mask Avenue.
- Crank: (pointing) Listen, do you live up here?
- Grover: What, on that piece of cardboard?
- Grover becomes increasingly upset and fears he may have to live on Vi's floor. Vi asks the monster for details about his neighborhood, and he recalls his friends Ernie, Bert, and Gordon. Crank interjects, "All these friends you got, don't they got any last names?" Grover also remembers that his neighborhood has a big bird (Crank: "An eagle!") Vi puts two and two together and asks Grover if he lives on Sesame Street. Grover is ecstatic in his relief. When the "pretty and smart lady" diner owner asks if he'd "like to find out how to get to Sesame Street," Grover replies, "No. I'd like to see a menu."
- Miss Piggy appeared on the cover of an issue of The Electric Company Magazine (perhaps contributing to the misnomer that she appeared on Sesame Street).
- Mr. Hooper appears in issue #9 of the show's spin-off comic book Spidey Super Stories, based on the recurring sketch of the same name (co-produced with Marvel Comics).
- Sam the Robot appears in Spidey Super Stories #31 (Star Jaws).
- Episode 0637 of Sesame Street features appearances by Rita Moreno as Millie, uttering her ear-piercing catchphrase from the show, and Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader. The latter appears reading newspapers referencing events from The Electric Company, including headlines regarding Paul the Gorilla, "Naomi" (the oft-alluded to character from the show's "Love of Chair" sketches), and Julia Grownup.
- In 1974, the Electric Company cast joined with the Sesame Street Muppets in the prime-time special Out to Lunch.
- Big Bird and Easy Reader (Morgan Freeman) appeared in a spot for Nashville Public Television in the mid 1970s, informing viewers that the station will be switching channel numbers with WSIX-TV, the local ABC affiliate. (video)
- In the script for Episode 0602 (but absent from the final cut), The Count declares that he can also read in addition to counting and states, "eat your heart out Easy Reader."
- In Episode 1320, Big Bird attempts to take a picture of Maria and her family in Puerto Rico. When he asks for the family members to move around for a better shot, one of the people he asks to move is named Naomi. He then casually remarks to the camera, "I've wondered whatever happened to Naomi," another reference to Naomi of the "Love of Chair" sketches.
- During Magic!!! Starring Blackstone, Statler and Waldorf trade various electricity/lightbulb jokes following a magic trick involving like bulbs. As they mention various PBS programs, Waldorf takes great joy in mentioning The Electric Company.
- An Electric Company book is seen on a table in Sesame Street Home Video Visits the Hospital.
- In Episode 2926 of Sesame Street, Gina shouts the show's signature phrase ("HEY, YOU GUYS!!!!") to create silence in Hooper's Store.
- In a sketch appearing in the final aired episode, the Mad Scientist (Morgan Freeman) calls his assistant Igor (Luis Avalos) a "misshapen little Muppet."
- In the Short Circus song "Why?", one lyric asks "Why ain't it easy being green?"
- A cartoon reptile hums bits of the "Sesame Street Theme" as he pours letters in to form the word "trip."
- In a "Spidey Super Stories" segment "Spidey Jumps the Thumper", a man (Skip Hinnant) asks The Thumper (Hattie Winston) "Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?" before getting bopped on the head. The story was aadapted in the comic book Spidey Super Stories, issue #7, with the man caricatured as Hinnant.
- Another Spidey segment, "Spidey Meets the Uninvited," has the villainous Uninvited interrupting J. Arthur Crank in the bathtub (singing "Rubber Duckie"). The fiend steals Crank's duckie (a gift from Ernie). The sketch was used in Spidey Super Stories #21.
- Several issues of the Spidey Super Stories comic book, based on The Electric Company segments, also included Sesame Street references.
- In the 2010 episode "Madame President," Lisa is seen reading The Monster at the End of This Book to a group of kids during a musical montage.
The Electric Company on DVD
Shout! Factory released 3 DVD sets of The Electric Company.
In February 2006, The Best of The Electric Company was released on DVD as a 4-disc boxed set. The visits from Big Bird, Oscar, and Grover were all included—Big Bird on Disc 2, Oscar on Disc 3, and Grover on Disc 4.
In November 2006, a second 4-disc volume, The Best of The Electric Company Vol. 2, was released, but unlike the previous volume, several episodes were altered from the original versions due to copyright issues.
In March 2007, a retrospective of the series, The Electric Company's Greatest Hits & Bits, was released. A clip from Grover's appearance was included. An additional 29 episodes were made available for purchase on iTunes the same year.
- Clark Gesner, author of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, wrote "The Sign Song" and several others for The Electric Company. Sung over film footage of New York City street signs, the popular lyrics of one of the songs ended with "Home Sweet Home." In 1977, the song appeared with slightly altered lyrics on the Sesame Street LP Signs!
- The recurring monolith cartoons were among the most popular routines of the show. To the music of Thus Spake Zarathrustra by Richard Strauss (the theme for 2001: A Space Odyssey), a giant marble slate would shake, crumble and form a letter combination (ex: "oo," "ea," "alk"), read aloud by a powerful, ominous voice. Similar segments aired on Sesame Street.
- In 1972, Warner Bros. Records, which had just released The Official Sesame Street 2 Book-and-Record Album, released a similar album of Electric Company skits and songs with a catalog number of BS 2636. It won a Grammy Award for Best Album for Children. This album has become a highly prized collectible because its later reissue on Sesame Street Records CTW 22052 was missing some tracks from the original. Warner Bros. Records also released a single of the Electric Company theme song backed with "Sing."
Several cast and crew members also worked on Sesame Street or appeared in Muppet/Henson productions.
- Utkarsh Ambudkar wrote and performed songs for the 2009 revival
- Marilyn Agrelo directed three episodes of the 2009 revival
- June Angela played Julie of the Short Circus
- Luis Avalos played Dr. Doolots, Pedro, and others
- Bob and Ray provided voiceovers to animated segments.
- Victor Borge appeared in a filmed segment, performing his famous Phonetic Punctuation routine.
- Jim Boyd played J. Arthur Crank, Paul the Gorilla, and others
- Mel Brooks played the voice of a recurring blond-haired cartoon man
- Tyler Bunch provides voice-over work for the 2009 revival.
- Leslie Carrara-Rudolph performs voices in the 2009 revival.
- Bruce Cayard produced many animated segments
- Lee Chamberlin played Vi and others in the first two seasons.
- Randy Cohen played in the band for the 2009 revival
- Sara Compton wrote for the series.
- David Connell was executive producer in season 1.
- Bill Cosby played the ice cream man, the milkman, and others in the first two seasons
- Alan Cumming guest starred in the 2009 revival
- Paul Dooley served as head writer for the first season and did many voice-overs during the show’s run
- Danny Epstein was the music coordinator and the drummer in the house band
- Giancarlo Esposito sang in the theme song.
- Jimmy Fallon guest starred in the 2009 revival
- Paul Fierlinger produced animated segments for the show
- Naomi Foner was associate producer in season 1, and referenced dramatically in "Love of Chair" with the question, "And what about Naomi?"
- Morgan Freeman played Easy Reader and others
- Samuel Y. Gibbon, Jr. was producer in season 1, and later took over as executive producer.
- Judy Graubart played Jennifer of the Jungle, Julia Grownup, and others
- Skip Hinnant played Fargo North, Decoder, plus J.J., Frankenstein's Monster, the boy in "Love of Chair," and others
- John and Faith Hubley produced many animated shorts for the show, most notably the "Letterman" segments.
- John Korty produced many animated shorts.
- Mark Linn-Baker played Uncle Sigmund Scrambler in the 2009 revival.
- James Monroe Iglehart performed "Silent E" in the 2009 revival.
- Chris Jackson composed music for the 2009 revival.
- Gerald S. Lesser was Chairman of the Board of Advisors
- Joe Mathieu illustrated the 1973 book "The Silent E's from Outer Space"
- Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and appeared in songs for the 2009 revival.
- Nat Mongioi was the show's set decorator
- Rita Moreno played Otto the director, Millie the helper, and others
- Zero Mostel provided the voice of Spell Binder in the Letterman sketches
- Thad Mumford wrote for the series
- Joe Namath appeared in a brief segment, shot on the Sesame Street set, demonstrating the word "pass"
- Joan Rivers played the Letterman narrator
- Joe Raposo composed music for the series and was its music director for the first three seasons
- Cliff Roberts produced many animated inserts, including those voiced by Mel Brooks.
- Danny Seagren played Spider-Man from the fourth season onward
- Bill Sherman served as music director and composer for the 2009 revival.
- Jenny Slate guest starred in the 2009 revival
- Marilyn Sokol provided the voice for Myrna in a Bruce Cayard animation teaching "apostrophe S."
- Jim Thurman wrote and provided cartoon voices
- Hugh Webster appeared as a vaudevillian in an insert
- Tom Whedon was head writer from the second season onward
- Gene Wilder was the voice of Letterman in most segments
- Hattie Winston played Valerie the librarian and others
- "Davis, Michael. "PBS Revives a Show That Shines a Light on Reading." The New York Times, May 12, 2008.
- AV Club interview with Giancarlo Esposito