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Series / The Electric Company (1971)

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"We're gonna turn it on, we're gonna bring you the power!"note 


The Electric Company is an Edutainment Show that ran from October 25, 1971 until April 15, 1977 on PBS (the last two seasons reran until October 4, 1985) from Sesame Workshop.

Its main purpose was to teach the next phase of reading skills beyond the alphabet 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. A comic book series based on the Spider-Man segments, Spidey Super Stories, premiered in 1974.

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 many other characters (including Sherlock Holmes and Dracula) (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. Paul Dooley was the show's head writer in its first season.

A different series with the same title premiered in 2009; that version of the show has its own page.

"tr" "opes" "tropes":

  • Accidental Misnaming: When Big Bird shows up at Fargo North's office with a message for him to decode, in keeping with his tendency to get names wrong back home, he keeps addressing the decoder as "Furpo" rather than "Fargo", despite Fargo's attempts to correct him. For the inevitable payoff, he finally gets it right at the end of the sketch, and Fargo reflexively "corrects" him to "Furpo".
  • Acting Unnatural: In one of Tom Lehrer's compositions for the show, "L-Y", this trope comes into play in the second verse. Enhanced by the animation for the song, in which the "secret agent man" leans against the safe he is trying to open while playing with a yo-yo and smiling ear to ear.
    You're a secret agent man
    Who's after the secret plan
    How do you act so they don't know you're a spy?
    Ah-normally (Not-So-Innocent Whistle) Normally (whistles again)
    Normal... L-Y!
  • Affectionate Parody: Of the historical figures who appeared in sketches, such as Isaac Newton and Paul Revere.
  • Agony of the Feet: Several sounds can be made with this trope. Examples:
    • A drum major shouts "Gimme an 'O'!" His wished is obliged, with one on each foot, making him make the "oo" sound.
    • Crank gets help with the two vowel sounds of the "y" when a heavy box falls – twice – on a moving man's foot!
    • In a Cinderella sketch revolving around "ch" sounds, Cinderella exclaims, "Ouch!" before admitting that her glass slippers feel too tight.
  • Anachronism Stew: In any historical or Western skit, this is to be expected.
  • Anthropomorphic Typography: A song by Tom Lehrer called "Silent E" features the letter E, who is anthropomorphic, and has arms and legs.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The Teeth, according to the newspaper, has eaten "New York, New Jersey, and a dozen jelly doughnuts!"
  • Artistic License – Geography: Played With and subverted in an animated Western parody that takes place in Or, Utah
    "Or, was it Montana?"
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Do not bother this tiny person. Or he will send his big brother after you!
  • The Bad Guy Wins:
    • Surprisingly for a children's show, sometimes Spider-Man would fail to defeat the Villain Of The Day. For example, when fighting the Queen Bee, Spidey captured one of her minions, but she escaped while her other minions stung him badly (the final shot shows him swinging away completely covered with beestings).
    • Similarly, the Spellbinder eked out a few wins against Letterman, often when the latter didn't have the right letters to reverse the Spellbinder's mischief ("Sticky Finances"), when Letterman's powers worked wrong ("What A Dragon"), or when Letterman didn't appear at all ("A Friend In Need").
  • Bedsheet Ghost: Morgan Freeman and Hattie Winston play a couple trying to sleep. The husband is spooked by weird noises, while the wife is non-plussed. Ultimately, he is kicked, and becomes frightened by a very polite visitor who apologizes for it and even turns off the electric lamp with his breath. Morgan Freeman is on the verge of fainting as this happens!
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and Yeti: In the Spider-Man short, "Spidey Meets the Yeti" ones of these is causing chaos by sitting on people's food. It was in fact trying to cool itself down on ice-cream, a grape soda with lots of ice, and a cake with lots of frosting.
  • 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!)
  • Blow You Away: The super power of the super villain The Blowhard in a Spider-Man short. After reading the Three Little Pigs as a child, he chose to imitate the Big Bad Wolf.
  • Bowled Over: The conclusion of the animated song "The Skull is connected to the Skeleton," complete with the bones as bowling pins.
  • 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: Many of Jim Boyd's characters were the objects of comic mischief, but none more so than J. Arthur Crank, whose grouchy manner made him a natural magnet for laughs at his expense. For example, in one sketch (a clip from which appeared in the opening titles of Seasons 5 and 6), he tells the viewers that they will see a lot of words beginning with "cr-", but struggles to think of examples even though his surname, "Crank", is flashing on the screen next to him. When he finally tells us to take his word for it, "Or my name ain't J. Arthur Crank!", bells and whistles sound and confetti drops as though he has said the secret word on You Bet Your Life, prompting a "Who's the dummy writing this show!?" rant from the bewildered Crank.
  • Calvinball: Jim Boyd's inventor/salesman introduces Luis Avalos' game company executive Mr. Overprice to the game called "Pay." It involves hitting a Koopa (an enormous baseball) with a cudgel and running around the bases (i.e., the office furniture). Afterwards:
    Mr. Overprice: I think you named it right in naming it "Pay," because you are about to pay for everything you've broken!
    (Mr. Overprice grabs the inventor in rage)
    Inventor: Ah, Mr. Overprice, you can't touch me while I'm standing on home base.
    Mr. Overprice: Ye! (Fainting into the resulting clutter)
    Inventor: (Beat) He didn't even say if he liked it! (understated, two-note sting)
  • Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality: J. Arthur Crank is convinced this trope is in play whenever someone tries to tell him that Spider-Man is part of the cast of The Electric Company, pointing out that Spidey is just a character in a comic book. Inevitably, he never notices the many times Spider-Man is standing right behind him, often engaged in a prank at his expense.
  • Catchphrase:
  • Celebrity Paradox: In a "Spidey Super Stories" segment, Spider-Man sits in front of a TV to watch his favorite show: The Electric Company. Meanwhile, in a different "Spidey Super Stories" segment (specifically, "Spidey Meets The Blowhard"), Spider-Man is going to Fargo North's birthday party, which is also attended by Jennifer of the Jungle, Paul the Gorilla, and Easy Reader. Still other skits have Spider-Man meeting the characters outside of the Super Story segments entirely (e.g., mischievously pranking J. Arthur Crank or competing with the Blue Beetle).
  • Chain of Corrections: A series of sketches featuring Judy Graubert and Rita Moreno. The "Giggles, Goggles" sketch is the most well-known (due to being the only one available on You Tube for a long time), but it's a recurring feature in the middle years of the series. One person — usually Rita's character — misuses a word, the other corrects her, and they do this several times until they come back to the original word.
  • 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.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: The Corsican Twins (Jim Boyd and Skip Hinnant), like the characters in the Alexandre Dumas novel The Corsican Brothers, each feel pain when the other is hurt. They use this as an excuse to hurt themselves and cause each other pain in their sketches. For example, in one sketch, they perform their own version of the talking silhouettes (complete with the music from those segments) to demonstrate words ending in "-ow".
    Ramon: N... (clonks self over head)
    Miguel: Ow! (rubs head)
    Both: Now.
    Ramon: H... (punches self in jaw)
    Miguel: Ow! (grabs jaw)
    Both: How.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Frequently used in the skits to teach words. The most popular were:
    • "Gordon, you drive me up the wall!" – Where a woman finally confronts her grunting, lazy husband, henpecking him all the time. Finally, he grabs her and sets her on his lap, presses a button (as though to start a motor inside his recliner) … and then literally drives her up the wall!
    • "We are out of sweet rolls!" – A customer does not get the hint (or stubbornly refuses to believe) a waitress when she explains there are no more sweet rolls in stock. She goes from nice to firm to irritated to shouting upset … and finally (when he suggests he wants just a sweet roll) losing her cool and running off in a blind rage to the kitchen. A Live-Action Adaptation was also done, with Hattie Winston and Jim Boyd playing the roles of the exasperated waitress and the galling customer, respectively.
  • 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.
  • Con Man: Washed up rock star Hum Dinger is ones of these, using his humming skills to make people think their TV or radio is broken, and then charging them for 'fixing' it.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Julia Grown-Up. How about some grilled dill pickles with chilled vanilla filling?
    • There's also the dishes offered at the diner in "The Menu Song," which include parakeet and dirty feet soup, telegram sandwiches, blue jean and gasoline salads, and scotch tape and grime ice cream sundaes.
  • Crossover:
    • Big Bird, Grover and Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street all paid visits in separate episodes.
    • The "Spidey Super Stories" comic. One of which had Spiderman fighting Dracula.
    • 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!
  • The Dinnermobile: When Cinderella can't find a pumpkin, she asks if her fairy godmother could turn an artichoke into a coach instead, since both words contain "ch". The artichoke becomes a couch, but Cinderella still manages to ride it to the ball.
  • Disney Death: Inverted. Otto has had it with with a Damsel in Distress (Judy Graubart) drowning in the quicksand, going deeper as she cannot say her line. The mood changes immediately when she disappears in it, and Otto, cast, and crew are visibly distraught. Cut to Graubart alive and well (and dirty) and making work demands. Otto then inserts herself into the quicksand!
  • Dissonant Serenity: This is initially Fargo North's reaction to the telegram Alison has for him in the "Your desk is on fire" sketch. Having established that she should end her sentence with an exclamation point to convey appropriate urgency, he has the following conversation with her:
    Fargo North: (switching off the optospectrometer) By the way, who's the message for?
    Alison: It's for you.
    Fargo: (as his hand slips off from where he is resting on the machine) For me? Why?
    Alison: BECAUSE YOUR DESK IS ON FIRE! (in a wider shot, we see smoke billowing from Fargo's desk and hear the crackle of flames)
    Fargo: (brightly) Oh, so it is! Thank you for pointing that out to me, Alison! (pats her on the head) That's very nice of you!
    Alison: (overlapping) It's... quite all right.
    Fargo: (walking to the door with Alison) Oh, boy. You be a good girl now! (hops over his wastebasket)
    Alison: I will.
    Fargo: Eat your spinach, do your homework.
    Alison: Goodbye.
    Fargo: (opens the door for her) Bye-bye! Say "hi" to the folks!
    Alison: Okay!
    (Fargo closes the door and walks over to the phone, smiling and waving his hand at the thickening smoke billowing from his desk; he picks up the receiver and dials, singing the tones as he dials them)
    Fargo: Hello, fire department? This is Fargo North here! (laughs) Fine, yourself?... Wife, kids?... Good, glad to hear it. (the smoke gets ever thicker) Oh, yeah, I'm still in the old decoding game. Sure am. How 'bout you? Still fighting fires, eh? Terrific, because... MY DESK IS ON FIRE!! (slams down the phone, grabs a vase of flowers from on top of his file cabinet, and empties the water (and flowers) over the fire)note 
  • The Dog Bites Back: A Cinderella sketch has the Wicked Stepmother constantly interrupt Cinderella's sweeping, to demand items that begin with "br-". Finally, she commands, "Bring me my breakfast", and tells the "country clod" to put it on her lap. The overworked Cinderella proceeds to dump the breakfast on the Wicked Stepmother's lap, then call for a taxi.
  • Driven to Madness: The "sweet rolls" sketch and its Live Action Adaptations.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Sweeney (Luis Avalos) the taxi driver in the "Swerve, Sweeney!" sketch. Lee Chamberlin played the very frightened passenger.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: From the first season:
    • A puppet chicken named Lorelei (voiced by Jim Boyd, who was mostly off-screen that season) was a common character in the first season.
    • In the earliest episodes, uncredited children were in some skits, a la Sesame Street.
    • The earlier episodes gave each cast member a regular, recurring person not unlike the humans on Sesame Street (such as Winnie, played by Judy Graubart).
    • 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.
  • Easily Forgiven: In "Who Stole the Show?", a Spidey Super Stories segment, Winky Goodyshoes, the Former Child Star described below, tries to literally steal a Broadway production by robbing all of its props and costumes. When Spider-Man catches Winky, the cast and crew of the production (who'd be out of a job if she succeeded) immediately recognize Winky, reveal themselves as fans of hers, and offer her a starring role in the show—as the bad guy!
  • 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."
  • Episode Code Number:
    • Season 1: After the intro, we see "Show #x" on a piece of paper, in a dark place, illuminated by a lit match.
    • Season 2: After the intro, the logo fades out and this is where the show number would be displayed with a Scanimate animation.
    • Season 3-6: After the intro, a Precap of the episode will play, and afterwards will we see this. Seasons 5 and 6 have A and B suffixes for episodes respectively.
  • Fake Food: In the "Who Stole The Show" Spider-Man short, Spidey misses dinner again stopping the villain, and takes a bite of an apple only to find out it's a prop from the show.
  • Fly in the Soup: There is a variation of this in a three-part skit where each diner complains to the waiter that "there is a moth in my broth."
  • Former Child Star In the Spider-Man short "Who Stole The Show?", the Villain of the Week, Winky Goodyshoes, is one of these. As a kid, she always always "stole the show" with her adorable performances, but now's she become an "ordinary grown-up" and decides to get revenge by literally stealing the props and costumes for a Broadway production. After Spider-Man stops her, she finds out that she hasn't been forgotten by her fans after all and the crew gives her a open spot in the performance!
  • 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.
  • Freudian Excuse: Played for Laughs in the "Spidey Super Stories" sketches, which usually gave each Villain of the Week a ridiculous reason for turning to crime. Examples include the Thumper, who took to dressing up like Napoleon Bonaparte and punching people after she didn't get a yellow pony for her birthday as a child; the Mouse, who didn't get cheese on his Big Mac and so wears a mouse costume to swipe dairy products whenever he sees them; and the Funny Bunny, who had a bully sit on her Easter basket as a girl and now wears a rabbit costume to take other kids' Easter goodies.
  • 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. For example, in the "Dig deep by the dump before dark" sketch, he is writing a letter to his parents when there is a knock at the door, causing him to write "Knock, knock, knock!" - and then say he can't write that, as he already said that in his last letter. At the end of the sketch, he starts the letter anew, and this time writes "Honk!" when the horn sounds at the end of his Leitmotif.
  • Gentle Gorilla: Paul the Gorilla, Jennifer of the Jungle's simian friend who helped with reading lessons. True, he made some people pass out in fright but he really was harmless.
  • The Girl Who Fits This Slipper: The Cinderella scene gets spoofed to teach about suffixes.
  • Glory Days:
    • In "Spidey Fixes the Hum", the rock star Hum Dinger was a huge fad when he hummed his songs because he forgot the lyrics in the 1950s, but as soon as the fifties were over, so was his career. Now he makes humming noises to make people think their TV or radio is busted and charges people to 'fix' them. The girl of the family he cons ironically turns out to be a fan of his.
    • The tie-in comic version was a slightly darker story, with David "Hum" Dinger robbing banks and attacking security guards thanks to his humming disorienting people and messing up security systems and even Spidey's Spider-Sense, and he's arrested at the end rather than restarting his career.
    • "Who Stole The Show?" features Winky Goodyshoes, a former child star who was now just, in her own words, "an ordinary grown-up", and steals all the props from an about-to-open Broadway show. When Spidey catches her, the other performers and producer recognize her and immediately add her to the show's cast. She happily accepts.
  • God: Morgan Freeman and Jim Boyd sit on a bench when each sneezes and the other in turn replies "bless you." Then they both sneeze at once and guess who bellows "bless you."
  • Hanging Our Clothes to Dry: One verse from Tom Lehrer's "L-Y" song details this process- wait p-p-patient-L-Y!
  • Hero Ball: As close as The Blue Beetle ever was to anything that passes for heroic!
    • Spider-Man, as per usual, could never catch a break when it came to stopping villains. On several occasions, he'd be trying to enjoy a day off—or even just eat his dinner—when the latest crook would attack, forcing him to spring into action.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: The animated skit "Who is it?/It's the plumber, I've come to fix the sink," which the plumber suffers shortly after losing his cool when he unsuccessfully conveys to (unknown to him) a parrot, who could only squawk "Who is it?" with each knock on the door. After the fourth such exchange, the plumber grasps his neck, gasps for air and contorts severely before passing out.
  • Jumping Out of a Cake: In a "Spidey Super Stories" sketch the Birthday Bandit thinks Spider-Man is hiding in a kid's birthday cake. Subverted when the cake turns out to be the real deal, and Spidey uses the distraction to sneak up on the Bandit to subdue him.
  • Jungle Princess: Jennifer of the Jungle, though a somewhat ditzy take on the archetype. (Though the same could be said of most of Judy Graubart's characters)
  • Large Ham: Everyone had a turn at this, although Jim Boyd's characters were frequently the largest at being a Large Ham - "and cheese and tomato and bacon and ... ".
  • Large Ham Radio: Mel Mounds. "Sounds righteous, delight-eous and outta-sighteous!"
  • Last-Second Word Swap: In the "Menu song" sketch, a waitress (Rita Moreno) sings the various types of soup, sandwich, salad, and ice cream on the menu to a customer (Morgan Freeman). At the end of the list of ice creams, she lists sarsaparilla, manzanilla, caterpillar, and plain old-fashioned... gorilla. The customer, who was clearly expecting the last flavour to be vanilla, gives up and goes to the laundry across the road for a bowl of soap flakes.
  • 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 (for example, The Adventures of Letterman was spoofed with Jim Boyd as the Spoil Binder and Skip Hinnant as Litterman). 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.
  • Mundane Utility: Spider-Man politely fills in for a window cleaner (which his powers are naturally very useful for) in "Spidey Fixes the Hum", enabling him to spot the villain Hum Dinger in the middle of a con.
  • Never Say "Die": Surprisingly averted in the very first Spider-Man short where the villain The Spoiler outright says he hopes for the people of New York to cry out that Spider-Man is dead.
    • The Short Circus song “Poison”. “It’ll kill ya!”
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: In "Spidey Meets Eye Patch," the titular villain is a pirate with Hypnotic Gaze that compels anyone who stares at it to do the last thing they'd ever want to do. Eye Patch is able to stop even Spider-Man with it—but when he turns his power on a flower child, she immediately punches the pirate square in the eyeball, as the last thing she'd ever want to do is hurt someone. This ends up curing Eye Patch of his evil tendencies.
  • 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.
    • Jim Boyd played Krojak/Flapjak, depending on the skit, as a Parody of Kojak complete with lollipop!
    • Season 1 Easy Reader is basically Jimi Hendrix, and his name is a reference to Hendrix's song Ezy Ryder.
    • Rita Moreno's Prima Donna Director character was officially named Otto, in honor of the famously irascible Otto Preminger.
  • Nursery Rhyme:
  • Officer O'Hara: Combined with Police Are Useless characterizations in skits by Jim Boyd and Skip Hinnant.
  • 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: Lots, especially given the large number of adult actors.
  • Phlebotinum Pills: A huckster invents "ue" pills, so words will come out a person's mouth with the "ue" sound in them.
  • 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.
  • Popularity Cycle: Happens in two different Spider-Man shorts. The villains Winky Goodyshoes (a former child star resembling Shirley Temple) and Hum Dinger (a popular 1950s pop singer whose career tanked in 1960) were both popular in their day, but then lost their fame. At the end of the shorts, both discover they aren't as forgotten as they think they are; Winky even gets a chance to make a comeback on Broadway!
  • 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 even the simplest 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. Doolots (Doctor Dolittle); Julia Grownup (Julia Child, "The French Chef"); Morgan Freeman's Easy Reader (Easy Rider / Ezy Ryder); Short Circus (short circuit); Johnny Charge (Johnny Cash).
  • "Reading Is Cool" Aesop: The theme of the theme song and a Running Gag for Easy Reader.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: In a "Spidey Super Stories" sketch the Birthday Bandit speaks in rhyme.
    • There's also Mel Mounds, Morgan Freeman's radio DJ, who offers "pounds of sound" and often speaks in rhyme when introducing songs. This is Truth in Television to anyone who's ever listened to a 1970's radio host.
  • Riddle for the Ages: "What about Naomi?", a question asked at the end of every "Love of Chair" skit. It's actually a reference to Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal, one of the show's producers. There was even a whole song in one episode that pondered Naomi's existence.
  • The Sandman: In one sketch, a crossover appearance of Spider-Man where he fights Sandman, not the known enemy of his rogue gallery, but a one based on this version (seen in nightshirt and cap).
  • Scary Teeth: Played for Laughs as a couple experiences the terror of The Teeth. Subverted as said Teeth proclaims, "Look dad, no cavities!"
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Otto's frequent response when's she's had enough of an actor flubbing a line.
  • 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.
    • In a courtroom sketch, the participants rap a snippet of "Here Comes the Judge"
  • Soap In A Show: "Love of Chair," a parody of the CBS soap opera Love of Life that even used the same continuity announcer (Ken Roberts) and a Soap Opera Organ Score.
  • 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.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Skip Hinnant picked up a book in the library called Explosions. The inevitable happens. Afterwards, he looks at the screen:
  • The Taxi:
    • Two words: "Swerve, Sweeney!"
    • A scanimate sketch actually shows the back of a taxi ... going away.
      Skip Hinnant's voice: Taxi! Oh, taxi! (Beat) (sigh) They never stop when you want them!"
  • 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!"
    • One skit sees a character played by Jim Boyd sleeping in front of a TV broadcasting an ad with a pitchman voiced by Morgan Freeman. The pitchman declares, "Put some Ship Shape on your face after you shave, and you'll feel sharp all day!" Jim continues sleeping, and a slightly irritated Morgan clears his throat and repeats the pitch. When this still doesn't rouse Jim, a hand reaches out of the screen and slaps him across the face, a parody of the Mennen Skin Bracer after-shave lotion commercials of the early 1970s. Jim finally wakes up and sarcastically echoes the Skin Bracer commercials' tagline: "Thanks! I needed that!"
  • Theme Tune Extended: Friday shows featured the instrumental theme in full, along with a credits roll (in Franklin Gothic, of course). Viewers only heard part of the theme during the corporate sponsor announcements.
  • Too Dumb to Live: An animated segment and a live-action segment frequently appeared back-to-back, each featuring a man who should never be allowed to ride in small seafaring vessels.
    • In the animated segment, two men are on raft:
    First man: Hey, (removes the plug) what's this?
    Second man: That's a plug, stupid!
    • The live action segment is a Parody of "Rub-a-Dub-Dub." Read more about it in the Nursery Rhyme entry.
  • Translator Buddy: The New-Age Retro Hippie for Tex the sax player, with assist, of course, from words appearing on the screen!
  • The Unintelligible: Maurice, the guard plant in Pedro's Plant Place. Yet he could make sounds that allowed him to take part in a "Soft Shoe Silhouette" routine. Yet he actually spoke in his first ever appearance (it was the voice of Jim Boyd doing a Funny Foreigner bit) and never did so again (though Jim Boyd continued to make Maurice's sounds).
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: In "Spidey Jumps the Thumper," two occur back to back. First, a commuter (Luis Avalos) is excited to see that Napoleon Bonaparte (really the Thumper, who wears Bonaparte's clothing) takes the same bus that he does...apparently forgetting that Bonaparte has been dead for over a century. When the Thumper knocks Avalos out with her giant boxing glove, a passerby (Jim Boyd) comes up and, instead of calling the police, has this to say: "Oh, dear, it looks like there's been a robbery. Well, I don't want to get involved."
  • Vegetarian Vampire: Morgan Freeman's Vincent the Vegetable Vampire, of course (though Word of God says that he was originally supposed to be Dracula).
  • Volleying Insults: Two cowboys on a screen exchange words, and it is subverted at the end.
    Jim Boyd's cowboy: Rat!
    Luis Avalos's cowboy: Snake!
    JB cowboy: Worm!
    LA cowboy: Weasel!
    JB cowboy: Skunk!
    LA cowboy: Dirty dog!
    JB cowboy: Pussycat!
    JB cowboy: Pussycat?
  • Weird West: Exemplified by the "galloping saddle" and "My Name is Kathy" sketches.
  • Whip of Dominance: Otto the Director is a major Prima Donna Director that is obsessed with perfectionism, and she often had a riding crop with her to make her look even more like an over-the-top authoritarian.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Deconstructed in the animated Western Parody that takes place in Or, Utah ...
  • Who's Laughing Now?: One Spider-Man short gives us a lighthearted, fairly literal version in the Prankster, who plays practical jokes on all of the students at a local school. When Spidey goes to alert the principal, he discovers the prank material in his office and realizes that he is the Prankster! The principal confesses that he's been the subject of pranks every day for thirteen years and wanted to give his students a taste of their own medicine.
  • 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."
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: The Catchphrase "Who's the dummy writing this show?"
  • With Catlike Tread:
    • In "O-U (The Hound Song)", a hound sings very loudly about how he dare not make a sound.
    • In Tom Lehrer's "LY" Song. You're wearing your squeaky shoes / And right there taking a snooze / Is a tiger, so how do you walk on by? / Silently ... silently ... silent ... L-Y
  • 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 consonant blends, such as this birthday song parody:
    Happy birthday, Miss Jones, you sure got nice... bones...
  • Word Salad Philosophy: The show's approach to teaching reading.
  • Words Can Break My Bones: Literally.
    • A segment where one of the cast walks up to towering words, and reads them aloud: "Sticks and stones". As she recalls the rest of the famous phrase ("...can break my bones, but words can never hurt me."), the enormous letters collapse on her.
    • In an animated Chicken Little parody, the iconic phrase appears on the top of the screen and the wolf thinks he has dinner when the sentence falls on him, sending him to the ground.
    • 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 Creed named 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!"
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: After stopping Silly Willy, Spider-Man is offered a cake by a duchess as thanks... too bad Spider-Man happens to be on a diet.

"Who's the dummy writing this page?"


Video Example(s):


The Electric Company

A precap of the episode is shown after the intro

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / Precap

Media sources: