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Big Bird and Fargo North, Decoder

Out to Lunch-08

Kermit reacts to the characters of The Electric Company during the opening number of Out to Lunch.

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,[1] and features few references to the original series. Muppet performers Tyler Bunch and Leslie Carrara-Rudolph provided voices for several of the cartoon segments, notably in the Jack Bowser and Haunted House series.



J. Arthur Crank and Oscar


Grover with Crank and Vi


Vi to Grover: "You're as sweet as they come, sugar."


  • 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."


Spidey hooper

Mr. Hooper gets an invitation to the Green Party at Pedro's Plant Place.


Big Bird and Easy Reader change channels.

  • The Electric Company Guide Activity Book 2 mentions Sesame Street and Muppets several times, and Bert and Cookie Monster make cameo appearances.


  • Sesame Street Episode 0637 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 "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 appeared in a spot for Nashville Public Television in late 1973, informing viewers that the station will be switching channel numbers with WSIX-TV, the local ABC affiliate. (video)



Julia Grownup mentioned in The Sesame Street Cookbook.

  • In a Wally and Ralph segment, the duo attempt to write something with a pencil and paper, but in a more complicated manner. The sentence they write is "The boy is sitting," in reference to the commonly-heard opening of many of the "Love of Chair" segments.
  • In Episode 0616, Oscar rallies everybody so he can take a picture by yelling out, "HEY, YOU GUYS!!!!" in the same manner as the show's signature phrase.
  • Big Bird calls out "HEY, YOU GUYS!!!" when trying to gather everybody during a treasure hunt in Episode 0622. He also does it in Episode 0673 to rally people to listen to his poem.
  • 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.

Muppet Mentions[]

  • 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 a recurring animated segment, a cartoon reptile hums bits of the "Sesame Street Theme" as he pours letters in a machine to form various words, including "taxi," "trip," and "fold."
  • In a "Spidey Super Stories" segment, "Spidey Jumps the Thumper," a man (Skip Hinnant) asks The Thumper (Hattie Winston) "Can you tell me the way to Sesame Street?" before getting bopped on the head. The story was adapted 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 a sketch appearing in Episode 289, Foghorn Boghorn (Skip Hinnant), who is a candidate for office (even though he doesn't know what office he's running for), is asked by a reporter (Rita Moreno) what his programs will be. His response: "Sesame Street and Monday Night Football!"

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") or a short word ("was"), read aloud by a powerful, ominous voice. Similar segments aired on Sesame Street for the word "me" and the Spanish word "amor."
  • 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."



Michael K. Frith illustrating the cast and theme song for The Electric Company album/book


Frith sending the cast off into the sunset.


Joe Namath, on the Sesame Street set, reads the word "pass" on his football in The Electric Company.

In addition to the regulars mentioned above, other Electric Company alumni worked on Sesame Street or Muppet/Henson projects

1971 series
2009 series


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