Edutainment Show that ran from 1971-77 on PBS (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.In the 2009 Re Tool, 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.
Bilingual Bonus: Frequently occurred among characters played by native hispanoparlantes Luis Avalos and Rita Moreno. A good example were the "Pedro's Plant Place" sketches. (Another bonus: in that, Maurice the guard plant spoke a language of his own!)
Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Here, it's an educational tool. Two silhouetted faces going "Ch." "Ew." "Chew." "Bl." "Ew." "Blew." And so on.
Cheesy Moon: There is a sketch where Fargo North is an astronaut in space who receives orders to proceed to the moon. He protests that is impossible since the Moon is made of green cheese and his exasperated partner reminds him that he was told otherwise in training.
Computer Generated Images: Scanimate, then a cutting-edge analog video synthesizer, was a constant treat. It allowed humans to interact with words doing all sorts of things for, with, and against, the characters.
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]."
Dagwood Sandwich: Deconstructed in that the ingredients are actually given for "our delicious and sandwich": "ham and cheese and tomato and bacon and lettuce and baloney and cream cheese and celery and chopped meat and soy sauce and coleslaw and meat loaf and pot roast and olives and tuna fish and turkey and shrimp and corned beef and peanut butter and liverwurst!" This is subverted when the customer, when told there is no salami, no longer wants it!
A puppet chicken named Lorelai (voiced by Jim Boyd, who was mostly off-screen that season)
In the earliest episodes, uncredited children were in some skits, a la Sesame Street.
During Friday episodes – where the extended closing credits were played – aired during the first two months of the show's life, an extended version of the corporate credits theme (played every day) was used. The Dec. 31, 1971 show was the first to use a bright marching tune unique to the closing credits, and that theme would be used through the end of the 1972-1973 season.
The episode number was written on a piece of paper, illuminated by a lit match.
Bill Cosby as a full-fledged cast member. Some of his material would be re-used in later seasons, making him seem more like a recurring Special Guest. It's odd to see him in those first season ensemble pieces.
End of Series Awareness: The last episode aired, #130B, ends with the entire cast (except Rita Moreno, who had left the show by that point), singing a song that ends, "The show is done. We hate to run. We're sorry, but that's all."
Funny Foreigner: With his Anthony Quinn-like ability to do a plethora of accents, Luis Avalos frequently played this. Also, Skip Hinnant sometimes did mangled British accents.
Genius Ditz: Fargo North is a skilled decoder (though it sometimes takes him a few wrong guesses to arrive at the correct answer), but is otherwise a complete space cadet. After helping Alison (Denise Nickerson) establish that the message "Your desk is on fire" should end with an exclamation point, his reaction to the news that the message is for him is to chuckle as he bids her farewell, then phone the fire department and engage in small talk for a while before finally divulging the reason he has called: "MY DESK IS ON FIRE!"
Medium Awareness: One sketch starred both Dr. Doolots and Fargo North, Decoder, with the latter visiting the former to find the missing word ("is") in his "The doctor ___ in" sign. When the missing word is discovered (having been eaten by Paul the Gorilla), the closing theme from the Fargo North sketches plays, leading Dr. Doolots to ask what Fargo's theme music is doing in his office.
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.)
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 Precaps, with "Tune in next time" replaced with, "Today on The Electric Company..."
The first season didn't use these; instead, the final scene would be "And now, the last word", and would show a word next to a bare light bulb, which would then be turned off by a hand pulling its pull-chain. Usually, the word would be repeated out loud in the dark.
Police Are Useless: The show took this trope as far as was possible for a children's show. Police were portrayed many times as either incompetent, outsmarted by the criminals, or even crime victims themselves. When they actually apprehended anybody, the criminals were then the less competent ones.
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); Short Circus (short circuit)
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!
Every "Love of Chair" sketch would end with the narrator and a cast member asking random questions, the second-to-last of which was always, "What about Naomi?" referring to producer Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal, mother of Jake and Maggie.
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.
In a Western skit, a cowboy (Jim Boyd) was constantly annoyed by a sentence in the air, to the point of pushing him as it made slide whistle sounds. "My Name is Kathy" - a subverted Badass Creednamed after a Short Circus song - taunted the cowboy into a fight. The sentence won as the cowboy merely vanished. After one last whoop from the victorious sentence came the cowboy's voice: "Weeelll, you can't win'em all!"
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.
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).
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!