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The Electric Company

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Big Bird and Fargo North, Decoder

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 executive producer 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 performer Tyler Bunch provides voices for several of the cartoon segments, notably in the Jack Bowser series.

Appearances

Crankgrouch

J. Arthur Crank and Oscar

Electricgrover

Grover with Crank and Vi

Leegrover

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 (played by Caroll Spinney). 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 (Spinney again), 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 (Jim Boyd) is trading repartee with Vi (Lee Chamberlin) at Vi's Diner, when Grover (Frank Oz) 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."

Note: This skit originally aired during the second season, from 1972 to 1973.

  • In 1974, the Electric Company cast joined with the Sesame Street Muppets in the prime-time special Out to Lunch.

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 the Short Circus song, "Why?", one lyric asks "Why ain't it easy being green?"
  • In a cartoon where a reptile uses a machine to make the word "trip", he hums bits of the "Sesame Street Theme" as he pours the letters in.

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.

Trivia

  • 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."

Connections

Several cast and crew members also worked on Sesame Street or appeared in Muppet/Henson productions.

Sources

  1. "Davis, Michael. "PBS Revives a Show That Shines a Light on Reading." The New York Times, May 12, 2008.

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