The Electric Company (1970s)

Common Sense Media says

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.).

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

Bill Cosby 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 this classic '70s educational show is 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.

Parents say

Kids say

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 Bill Cosby, 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?


The Electric Company has, for the most part, withstood -- or maybe just transcended -- the test of time. You'll like watching it 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 this show 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).

TV details

This review of The Electric Company (1970s) was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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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!
Kid, 8 years old October 24, 2010
Great for 3 year olds.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
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


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