On the heels of its fabulously successful Sesame Street, the Children's Television Workshop (CTW) created The Electric Company. With its roots in Motown Sound, Broadway and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, The Electric Company drew attention for six years as the most popular instructional television show. It would win an Emmy for Outstanding Children's Series, and its soundtrack album earned a Grammy.
Targeting children ages 6 through 10, The Electric Company aimed to teach basic reading and grammar skills to the young viewers. The show's cast of skit players helped teach these concepts through the use of skits, songs, cartoon and blackout segments and regular features; all of them revolved around sound clusters (e.g., sh-, -ly, -oo-), contractions, punctuation marks, etc. The series provided material for elementary schools, as CTW published a biweekly TEC Teacher's Guide detailing program contents.
Quickly, the cast members began to establish themselves with various personas: • Skip Hinnant (who had played Schroeder in the off-Broadway production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) had one of the best known characters: Fargo North, Decoder. Early in the run, this Peter Sellers knock-off interpreted messages that people gave to him when they couldn't understand what had been written.
• The show also made Morgan Freeman. He created Easy Reader, the cool dude who loved reading anything he could get his hands on. Freeman also played radio disc jockey Mel Mounds, who usually introduced The Short Circus tunes (see below).
• Rita Moreno created her tagline, "Hey You Guys!", while playing Millie, the Milkman's helper. She put the same fire into playing Otto the Director, who fumed as her actors didn't read their lines properly.
• Judy Graubart, alumnus of The Second City in Chicago, became Jennifer of the Jungle, teaching bits of phonetics to her friend Paul the Gorilla.
• And who can forget J. Arthur Crank? Jimmy Boyd (B. 1939) created the character, strictly as a voice on a telephone during the first season. In all future years, Crank was seen as that bad-tempered loud dresser.
Complimenting the adults in the cast was The Short Circus, a group of five teenaged performers usually involved in songs or dances. Members of The Short Circus drew names from a hat to determine what would be their character name. While the Short Circus changed its talents from one season to the next, they did keep one member constant: June Angela.
The show also...