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Series: The Electric Company
"We're gonna turn it on, we're gonna bring you the power!"

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.

"tr" "opes" "tropes":

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    1971- 77 Version 
  • Affectionate Parody: Of the historical figures who appeared in sketches, such as Isaac Newton and Paul Revere. Inverted in the end of a sketch featuring Christopher Columbus (played by, hilariously enough, Morgan Freeman).
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Surprisingly for a children's show, sometimes Spider-Man would fail to defeat the Villain Of The Day.
  • 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.
  • Butt Monkey: J. Arthur Crank was usually this.
  • Catch Phrase:
  • Celebrity Paradox: In a "Spidey Super Stories" segment, Spider-Man sits in front of a TV to watch his favorite show: The Electric Company.
  • Chain of Corrections
  • 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.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Frequently used in the skits to teach words.
  • 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.
  • Corpsing: A rare example happening off-screen. In a ballet sequence to illustrate the word "sun," the three dancers are joined by Morgan Freeman (yes, in ballet costume too) with a letter "t," shoves himself in to create the word "stun." The musicians off-screen audibly join in his chuckling until Joe Raposo calls them to attention with his baton.
  • Cross Over: 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]."
  • 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!
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: From the first season:
    • 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.
  • Educational Song: Using Genre Roulette
  • 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."
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Paul the Gorilla.
  • Fonts: Franklin Gothic was its stock in trade, perfect for the psychedelic Scanimate sequences.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: Two kinds. There was the feature "A Very Short Book." There were also several skits that were based on, and often deconstructed Fairy Tales, including Snow White and Cinderella.
  • 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!"
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Check out Rita Moreno performing "Wild."
  • Jungle Princess: Jennifer of the Jungle.
  • Large Ham Radio: Mel Mounds. "Sounds righteous, delight-eous and outta-sighteous!"
  • Leitmotif: For the Fargo North, Decoder sketches.
  • Live-Action Adaptation: Probably the Ur Example for this trope relative to Western Animation, as it occasionally remade its own animated sequences into live-action skits, sometimes Lampshading and Parodying the original. Either way, Hilarity Ensues.
  • Malapropers: The Giggle Goggle girls.
  • 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.)
  • Nursery Rhyme: Deconstructed in "A Very Short Book" segments. In an animated segment, a Fats Domino Expy cat does a jazzy soul take on "Hey Diddle Diddle," with a cat playing the fiddle. And "Rub-a-Dub-Dub" was remade as:
    Three men in a sink
    The butcher, the baker, and Freddy the fink
    Fred gave a tug and pulled out the plug
    And I think that sink will soon sink
  • 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.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Such as in "Galloping Saddle" sketch, a Western pastiche.
  • Parental Bonus
  • 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.
  • Prima Donna Director: Otto, a real drama queen! Justified, apart from bullying the actors and terrorizing cue card holder Marcello (Morgan Freeman), as she is surrounded by actors who constantly flub their lines.
  • 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); Short Circus (short circuit)
  • Scary Teeth: Played for Laughs as a couple experiences the terror of The Teeth. Subverted as said Teeth proclaims, "Look dad, no cavities!"
  • 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.
  • Sting: The show had a cool collection of these to conclude skits. A few were specific to certain themes, such as Western (trumpet sounding like a horse whinny) or medieval parodies (Parody of Baroque Music, with concluding Rimshot-like bell). Even Fargo North Decoder had one that parodied the opening theme for the sketch.
  • The Television Talks Back: In a skit taking place in a TV shop, not only did the TV talk back, it turned itself on - "when it wasn't plugged in!"
  • Unintentional Period Piece: In illustrating the "fr" consonant blend, the word "Afro" was sometimes used.
  • Vegetarian Vampire: Morgan Freeman's Vincent the Vegetable Vampire, of course (though Word of God says that he was originally supposed to be Dracula).
  • Visual Puns: Made learning grammar fun!
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: The Catch Phrase "Who's the dummy writing this show?"
  • Who's on First?: Not with a person, but, true to the program, a word. Morgan Freeman and Lee Chamberlin start an escalating exchange when he is offering the word "what."
  • With Catlike Tread: In "O-U (The Hound Song)", a hound sings very loudly about how he dare not make a sound.
  • Word Salad Humor: As educational as it was silly!
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Often, the only thing the words had in common were similar sounds or consanant blends, such as this birthday song parody:
    Happy birthday, Miss Jones, you sure got nice bones!
  • Words Can Break My Bones: Literally.

    2009- Version 
  • 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.
  • Art Shift: The "Prankster Planet" segments feature animated versions of Jessica, Marcus, the Pranksters, and Paul the Gorilla.
  • The Artifact: The soft-shoe phonetics routine ("Wuh! All! WALL!"), used with much less frequency.
  • 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 Whoopi 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".
  • 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 1970s-style costumes reminiscent of the original series.
  • Ninja: Silent "E" is called "the ninja of the alphabet".
  • Once an Episode: There will be a song in the main storyline, or possibly a rap. Usually tied to the moral of the day.
  • Pet the Dog: Annie and Danny have occasionally done some good deeds (and are literally both dog lovers). Manny and Francine have done it only if personal gain is involved.
  • Photographic Memory: Hector's superpower, in a more literal sense. He can actually call up any image he remembers, then manipulate it.
  • 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 timeslot and premise, it can be hard not to think of Ghostwriter if you grew up in the 1990s.
  • 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.
  • Timeskip: Between seasons 2 and 3.
  • True Companions: The four main characters.
  • 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 us.
  • Will Not Tell a Lie: In the pilot, Hector explicitly states that the members of the Company do not lie. And yet, they tend to lie sometimes.

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alternative title(s): The Electric Company
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