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1. The Electric Company was an Edutainment Show that ran from 1971-77 on PBS (and the last two seasons reran until 1985) from Children's Television Workshop, the company that previously brought the world Sesame Street. Its main purpose was to teach reading to reluctant readers by using Sketch Comedy, but its clever writing, memorable characters (such as Easy Reader, Fargo North Decoder, J. Arthur Crank, Jennifer of the Jungle, Paul the Gorilla), appearances by Spider-Man, animated inserts with the superhero Letterman, and psychedelic Scanimation visuals made it a cult hit with all ages.
The cast was made up of a diverse group of performers such as Rita Moreno, who was already a well-known actress in her own right. Bill Cosby was a cast member in Season 1, and "The Adventures of Letterman" shorts featured the voices of Gene Wilder, Zero Mostel, and Joan Rivers. But most notable was a young and then-unknown Morgan Freeman, who played Easy Reader (and has been trying to live it down ever since). Other cast members included Skip Hinnant (best known as the voice of Fritz the Cat), Judy Graubart (a member of the improvisational comedy troupe The Second City), Luis Avalos, Jim Boyd, Hattie Winston, and Lee Chamberlin. In addition to the adult cast, there was a Fake Band called the Short Circus, which consisted of 11- to 17-year-olds; June Angela was the only member of the Short Circus to stay the whole series' run. Other notable members included Irene Cara, later to become a hit-making solo artist; Todd Graff, brother of Mr. Belvedere actress Ilene Graff, and Denise Nickerson, at the time known for playing Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Provided Examples Of:
- The Bad Guy Wins: Surprisingly for a children's show, sometimes Spider-Man would fail to defeat the Villain Of The Day.
- Bob and Ray: They provided the voices for a couple of animated shorts featured on the show.
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Here, it's an educational tool. Two silhouetted faces going "Ch." "Ew." "Chew." "Bl." "Ew." "Blew." And so on.
- Chain of Corrections
- Chuck Jones: He created special educational Road Runner & Coyote shorts for the show.
- Crossover: Big Bird, Grover and Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street all paid visits in separate episodes.
- The "Spidey Super Stories" comic.
- A primetime ABC special in 1974, Out to Lunch, featured the Electric Company cast and the Sesame Muppets.
- Cut a Slice, Take the Rest: A staple. When it was used in a live segment, the character doing so remarked that he'd "learned this from the Spellbinder [Letterman's animated foe]."
- Educational Song
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: Paul the Gorilla.
- Genius Ditz: Fargo North may qualify.
- Jungle Princess: Jennifer of the Jungle.
- Morgan Freeman: That's right, he was on this show. Don't be embarassed, Morgan!
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Fargo North appears to have been based on Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau, although the voice is more of a rip-off of Maxwell Smart. (Skip Hinnant admitted this was on purpose in the PBS pledge drive special The Electric Company's Greatest Hits and Bits.)
- The recurring character of Dr. Dolots was an amalgam of Groucho and Harpo Marx.
- Old Shame: For Morgan Freeman, who may still be best-remembered among the GenX set for this show, and who refuses to talk about it.
- Contrast Bill Cosby and Rita Moreno, both of whom remember the show fondly, though they both had more benevolent reasons for participating than "I Was Young and Needed the Money"; Cosby chose to use his time on the show as credit toward his doctorate in education, and Moreno had a young daughter who was part of the first generation of Sesame Street viewers, and was so impressed that she agreed to join The Electric Company.
- "On the Next...": Usually follows a format in which a clip from the next episode plays, and a cast member announces, "Tune in next time, when [character] says [a word or phrase appears onscreen, accompanied by one Sound Effect Bleep for each syllable]."
- Episodes from the last four seasons recycle these as opening teasers, with "Tune in next time" replaced with, "Today on The Electric Company..."
- Parental Bonus
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: HEY... YOU... GUUUUUUUUUUUUUYS!
- Punny Name: Fargo North, Decoder (Fargo, North Dakota); J. Arthur Crank (British film producer J. Arthur Rank); Dr. Dolots (Doctor Dolittle); Julia Grownup (Julia Child, "The French Chef"); Morgan Freeman's Easy Reader (Easy Rider)
- Shout-Out: Whenever Letterman would come in to save the day, Joan Rivers would make a speech reminiscent of one used for Superman.
Faster than a rolling O! Stronger than silent E! Able to leap Capital T in a single bound! It's a word, it's a plan, it's Letterman!
- Soap Opera: "Love of Chair," a Parody of the CBS soap opera Love of Life that even used the same continuity announcer (Ken Roberts).
- The Speechless: Spider-Man, in the "Spidey Super Stories" live-action skits, speaks only with word balloons.
- Tom Lehrer: He wrote a few songs for the show, all quite a change from his previous satirical work. Not surprising, however, as he was close friends with Joe Raposo, who served as the program's music director for the first three seasons.
- Vegetarian Vampire: Morgan Freeman's Vincent the Vegetable Vampire, of course (though Word of God says that he was originally supposed to be Dracula).
- With Catlike Tread: In "O-U (The Hound Song)," a hound sings very loudly about how he dare not make a sound.
2. A 2009 Retool. Four teenagers use the power of the "Word Ball" to thwart the Pranksters, a group of small mayhem-loving teenagers. See the "Characters" link at the top of this page for tropes relating to each character.
And it's Better Than It Sounds.
Provides Examples Of:
- Aesop Amnesia: Expect the Pranksters to forget any lesson they learn by the start of the next episode. The Electric Company is guilty of this too - no matter how many times it's proved you can't trust a Prankster, one of them will get suckered in again.
- Aliens Speaking English: Skeleckians.
- Amusing Alien: The Skeleckians, with all their bizarre customs.
- The Artifact: The soft-shoe phonetics routine ("Wuh! All! WALL!"), used with much less frequency.
- HEY YOU GUYS!
- Call Back: Keith and Marcus have the same reaction to their first word balls.
- The Cameo: Many celebrities pop up for a segment including Jimmy Fallon and Whoopie Goldberg.
- Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Francine can throw wordballs as her power but they're PURPLE
- Comes Great Responsibility: The whole pilot, especially the pledge.
- Continuity Reboot: Almost everything associated with the 1970s version has been thrown out the window, including the cast.
- Design Student's Orgasm: Just look at the logo.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Danny Rebus. He takes offense at a lot of things and retaliates harshly.
- Evil Gloating: Lampshaded in "Prankster Holiday." Turns out blurting out the evil plan is a really bad habit amongst the Pranksters.
- Evil Is Petty: Very, very petty.
- Evil Is Hammy: The Pranksters. Special mention to Manny Spamboni.
- Grand Theft Me: Annie Scrambler stealing Lisa's body in "Scrambled Brains."
- Halloween Episode: "Unmuffins."
- I Can't Hear You: "Count Vacula's a little loud!" "What?! I can't hear you. Count Vacula's a little loud!"
- Bonus point because it had a mute button the whole time.
- Incredible Shrinking Man: The Electric Company, Francine and Lisa's friend Dax in the episode "Lost and Spaced."
- And again in the episode "The Flube Whisperer," this time with Keith and Manny.
- It Can't Get Any Worse: Used by Hector in "Trouble Afoot."
- It Got Worse: Used by Lisa in "Trouble Afoot."
- Jumped At the Call: Marcus can't wait to join the company.
- Last-Second Word Swap: Combined with Gosh Dang It to Heck in the season three premiere.
- Local Hangout: The Electric Diner is a rare example of one being used as home base.
- Mad Scientist: Manuel "Manny" Spamboni is a teenage version.
- Made of Explodium: "I'm special agent Jack Bowser. And this place is about to explode!"
- Master Apprentice Chain: Hector --> Keith --> Marcus
- Meaningful Name: Annie Scrambler, Danny Rebus and Gilda "Flip" who uses a flip phone.
- Mythology Gag: "The Slide And Drop" music sequence is done in seventies style costumes reminiscent of the original series.
- Nakama: The four main characters.
- Ninja: Silent "E" is called "the ninja of the alphabet."
- Pet the Dog: Annie and Danny have occasionally done some good deeds (and are literally both dog lovers.) Manny or Francine have only done it if personal gain is involved.
- Photographic Memory: Hector's superpower.
- Poke the Poodle: The Pranksters' deeds can only be considered evil in context. If PBS Kids took it any further than that, they'd be impressionable.
- Remake Cameo: June Angela had one, but did not say anything.
- Science Fair: The premise of the episode "Lost and Spaced."
- Sesame Workshop: Produced this show.
- Spiritual Successor: Given the show's time slot and premise, it can be hard not to think of Ghostwriter if you grew up in the 90's.
- Status Quo Is God: At the end of the Unmuffin story, Danny and Manny eat the unbuns to go back to being pranksters. Jessica says they don't have to, but Danny says they do (with no further explanation).
- Super Speed Reading: Viewers at home are told to take their time reading, because a word or sentence might end differently than they expect.
- The Teaser: Used to set up the conflict of the episode. One member of the company sees something going wrong and rallies the team with "HEY YOU GUYS!" This doubles as a Couch Gag.
- Time Skip: Between seasons 2 and 3.
- Tsundere: Annie on occasion; a villainous version.
- Viewers are Morons: Strangely averted, although some say this is a good thing. The 1970s version seemed to address short attention spans (no overarching stories; some segments lasted only three to five seconds), while this version uses a continuing story arc. If anything, attention spans decreased in the 32 years between that version's end and this version's beginni—hey, a butterfly!
- Villain Song: There are many, trust me.
- Will Not Tell a Lie: In the pilot, Hector explicitly states that the members of the Company do not lie.
- They tend to lie anyway sometimes.
- mother of [[Jake