The Electric Company (1970s) TV Poster Image

The Electric Company (1970s)

Sesame Street/Laugh-In hybrid taught Gen X to read.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The show focuses on teaching kids to read. The cast is quite diverse, and overall there's very little to worry about, though some of the behavior/standards are a bit dated (a cast member smokes a cigar, women tend toward the giggly, etc.).

Positive role models

Characters demonstrate curiosity and promote education.

Violence & scariness
Not applicable
Sexy stuff

Occasional borderline innuendo -- for example, Gloria the Glowworm finds Glen to "make her glow."

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A character smokes a cigar as part of a Groucho Marx reference (something that wouldn't really have been frowned upon in the early '70s).

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Electric Company is a classic '70s educational show that's still a lot of fun, if a bit dated. For instance, some of the words that kids are taught (like "reducing exercises") don't really translate today. And in our PC culture, the word "gag" -- while admittedly chock-full of "g" sounds, feels like an odd one to use (accompanied by a human demonstration no less) in this context. It's also worth noting that the show doesn't transfer very well, digitially, to today's HD TVs. Dramatic effects created by having actors work in front of a black screen become fuzzy and hard to watch, as do many of the show's signature "electric" word bursts. If you have an old TV hooked up to a DVD player, that's the way to go.

What's the story?

Available on DVD (and in occasional "best of" bursts on PBS), the original ELECTRIC COMPANY is the perfect TV night for a family with young kids. There's the nostalgia factor for parents (you'll marvel at how young Rita Moreno, and Morgan Freeman look), plus plenty of education and entertainment for kids. Each half-hour episode includes live-action skits alternating with animated word features, cartoon shorts, and occasional songs sung by a small squad of refreshingly non-glam preteens. It all has one goal: Teaching kids how to read. Not educating them about reading or expanding their vocabulary, but actually teaching reading.

Is it any good?


This show has, for the most part, withstood -- or maybe just transcended -- the test of time. You'll like watching The Electric Company again, and, even better, your kids will like it, too -- and suddenly you'll realize just how much actual learning got packed into each half hour. The "educational" part of this show isn't buried in plot or hidden in attempts to read a map or figure out clues: It's right out there in the open. The very dominance of the reading motif allows viewers to accept that and get lost in it, just as we can get lost in nearly any subject in front of a really good teacher.

The show's groovy rhythms, jive clothes, and '70s hairstyles carry an almost hip-hop vibe, and the multicultural cast just feels familiar. The backdrops and effects are pretty dated, and some of the props -- the typewriter, the cigar, the ice cream cart -- almost require explanation, but most of the show remains enjoyable even beyond the first hit of nostalgia. And watching your 4-year-old join in the soft-shoe patter of "C-AT, CAT"? Priceless.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how The Electric Company compares to today's educational shows. What's similar? What's different? Is this show still fun to watch even though it's decades old?

  • Parents, if this is one you watched in your own childhood, tell your kids what you remember most, and ask them what stood out to them. You can also ask older kids whether their teachers use any of the show's reading techniques at school -- and then ask them if they think that teacher might have watched the show as a kid (their mind may just boggle at the thought).

  • How does The Electric Company promote curiosity? Why is this an important character strength?

TV details

Premiere date:October 25, 1971
Cast:Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno
Topics:Friendship, Great boy role models, Great girl role models, Numbers and letters
Character strengths:Curiosity
TV rating:TV-Y
Available on:DVD, Streaming

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What parents and kids say

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Adult Written bykaraloyal February 20, 2010

Phonics and fun, along with some groovy graphics, make for a great show!

My mom sent this DVD set to my son. I am guessing it was not shown for years because the clothes and references are a bit dated. I love it for a few reasons. 1. The characters are fantastic and fun. 2. The songs are catchy and memorable. 3. I like the use of phonics. 4. The animated sequences (including primitive computer animation) is enjoyable and often beautifully rendered. 5. Great graphics! What seemed dated seems fresh again about a generation later. 6. Fun for adults, too, with references to classic film, television and literature. 7. The Silent E song - wonderful in and of itself.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Adult Written byLowe's man May 4, 2014

has just the right balance of education and entertainment

I actually had a hard time deciding where to put the green light- at age 5 or age 4. The educational content certainly will go over the heads of some 4 year-olds, but not ALL. I first discovered this show at around that age, and I learned to read right at that time from watching the show. I've read similar stories from others who started watching at age 4 as well. Even when we get older, we can occasionally all benefit from some of the show's lessons, like the ones on punctuation, as it's sometimes easy to forget when we should just use a period as opposed to an exclamation point. This show is entertaining as well. If you watch the show now as an adult, you'll get some of the references to movies, tv and literature that you missed when you were a kid. Spiderman was a popular part of the program. Because he doesn't have a mouth on THE ELECTRIC COMPANY, what he says is put on the screen in a balloon, forcing kids to read his mind. The stories are entertaining too, often with a moral. Letterman was also popular. It was always exciting to see the Spellbinder change a letter or letters in a word, and then wait for Letterman to arrive and triumph over the Spellbinder, the best part in those stories. It's a shame that the company that distributed the 2 DVDs has no interest in making more. So now Children's Television Workshop will just have to look hard for a new distributor. Still, the 2 DVD sets that are out right now are worth your money, as the show will bring back memories. If you have children or if you're a teacher, all the better, as the kids will learn something. And if this show was before your time, but you get introduced to it by someone who used to watch, you'll thank that person.
Kid, 11 years old November 1, 2011

Great for kids!

This is a great show for kids! My mom played it for me as a kid and now my best subject is English!