Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Electric Company

The Electric Company was developed by the Children's Television Workshop as a slightly-older-skewing partner to Sesame Street, focusing on reading skills. The show ran for six seasons (1971-77), racking up 780 episodes. The last two seasons were kept in rotation until the mid-80s. Like Sesame Street, skits were repeated across seasons, mixed into other episodes.

How's this for a children's show cast: Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno (one of only 12 people in history to have won a Tony, Emmy, Grammy & Oscar) and the voices of Joan Rivers, Gene Wilder, Zero Mostel and Mel Brooks

That's Freeman on the left as Easy Reader, The Electric Company's version of Sesame Street's The Count (if The Count had stumbled into a blaxploitation flick). His song tells you all you need to know. It's kind of difficult to imagine the Oscar winning actor as characters such as this. But we are talking 30 or more years ago. Other hard-to-associate with Freeman characters included a long-haired mad scientist, ultra-hip DJ Mel Mounds and Dracula.

Here is Easy Reader's Theme Music.

Other Characters

  • Fargo North, Decoder: A detective with various contraptions to find the missing words in sentences brought in by desperate clients.

  • J. Arthur Crank: Cross Oscar the Grouch with Spider-Man's J. Jonah Jameson and you've got Crank. Character who tells jokes with double entendres for adults and kids. Began as a voice on a phone (get it? Crank call.).

  • Paul the Gorilla: All-purpose mayhem-maker, meant to represent kids who refused to learn. Usually paired off with Jennifer of the Jungle.

  • Otto the Director: Ill-tempered, yelled the show's opening line (Hey you guys!!!)

  • Letterman: Not the late-night talk show host, but an animated mini-reunion of the leads of the original version of The Producers. Our hero (voice of Gene Wilder) battles the evil Spellbinder (Zero Mostel), who uses his magic wand to cause havoc by transforming objects when he switches a key letter ("car" into "jar"). Breathlessly narrated by Joan Rivers.

  • A new DVD came out about a year ago supposedly full of skits and cartoons from The Electric Company. I will have to get it one day soon, and take myself back to the 2nd and 3rd Grades. We used to watch it in place of spelling class at ol' Eckhart Elementary.
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