Retro Wednesday: The Electric Company

The Electric Company was an Emmy award-winning show that aired on PBS in the late 70s and early 80s.  Its goal was to teach kids the funk-damentals of reading while grooving with a fly, young Morgan Freeman as DJ Mel Mounds (“Outtasighteous!”). Other cast members include Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno, and a pre-Fame, Irene Carra, with voices by Joan Rivers and Mel Brooks. The show was educational, hilarious, and graphically mind-blowing.

The Electric Company featured a number of recurring skits.  One of the most popular was The Adventures of Letterman, which featured a young flying superhero in a varsity sweater and a football helmet who consistently foiled the Spell Binder, an evil magician who made mischief by changing words into new words.  Another favorite was The Mad Scientist, a skit that featured an evil scientist (Morgan Freeman) and his assistant Igor (Luis Avalos) who tried to read words associated with their experiments.  Slow Reader was a set of animated shorts in which a slow-reading man was given a written message with super important instructions he could never read fast enough – “do not bother this giant person,” “go away,” duck!”  Spidey Super Stories was another popular one.  These short animated skits, which starred the Marvel superhero himself, featured the costumed crusader saving the world (like always), but all the communication between the characters was displayed via speech balloons that the home audience had to read.

There were also numerous recurring characters on the Electric Company.  Mel Brooks played the Blond-Haired Cartoon Man who read words that appeared on the screen, but they often showed up in the wrong order, made no sense, or otherwise drove him to frustration (“Who’s the dummy writing this show?”).  Morgan Freeman played both the Smooth Reader, a smooth hipster who loved to read at every opportunity and every printed thing he saw, and Mel Mounds, a hip disc jockey who introduced songs, and was known for the phrase “Sounds righteous, delightious, and out-of-sighteous! Heavy, heavy!”  Jim Boyd played J. Arthur Crank, the original prank caller, who would often interrupt sketches to complain when spellings or pronunciations confused him.

So, long story short, the Electric Company was pretty incredible.  It was a smart children’s television show, with educational value, an incredible cast of characters, and pretty rad graphics.  PBS broadcast 780 episodes over the course of its six seasons from October 25, 1971 to April 15, 1977. After it ceased production that year, the program continued in reruns from 1977–1985.  While it is true that PBS did begin making a new 21st century Electric Company in 2009, in my opinion, it just doesn’t begin to compare with the original.


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