May 3, 2014 posted by

We’re Gonna Turn It On: Animation from “The Electric Company”


The Electric Company premiered in the fall of 1971 on PBS. It was supposed to be a companion show to Sesame Street, or rather a show that kids could “graduate” to as they got older. Produced by Children’s Television Workshop (now known as Sesame Workshop) the goal of The Electric Company was to help kids learn to read. The live action segments featured a “company” of stock players including Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno, and Morgan Freeman (Yes, that Morgan Freeman.) They did sketch comedy built around solving word problems. Like Sesame Street, there were also cartoons. Lots of cartoons. Let’s take a look at a few of them…

The Princess and the Frog

A number of gag cartoons were made for The Electric Company where the characters words appeared on screen, often for humorous effect. This one features animation by Johnny Gentilella.

As Is

From the Hubley studio. Dizzy Gillespie could have had a second career as a used car salesman.

Lazlo Donahue

Vocals by the incomparable team of Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding.

Glad Gladys

Directed by John Hubley and animated by Tissa David.


Starring Mel Brooks. Animation by Cliff Roberts.


How do you turn an adjective into an adverb? Watch this cartoon and you will be able to do it skillful-ly. This was one of several songs written and sung by Tom Leher for the show.

Letterman – Small Talk

The Hubley studio produced a lot of animation for The Electric Company including a large number of films featuring Letterman. Gene Wilder is Letterman, and Zero Mostel is his arch enemy the Spellbinder. Joan Rivers narrates.


  • I heard Chuck Jones also did some cartoons with the Road Runner and Coyote.

  • Chuck Jones did some animation for the electric company.

  • I’m a bit lost on the “Glad Gladys” short

    • I suppose it deals with the “gl” sound that both the word and name begin with (prefix). Again it’s been years since I saw stuff like this.

    • They are also making fun of expressions. She is showing “sad” (frowning) when she says she is “Glad”. Then when she looks “Glad” (smiling) when she says “Not Sad”. So they could also be teaching expressions in a humorous way.

  • These animations are brilliant. It’s a shame that sets of these original classic shows aren’t available on some video format, with a special feature allowing us to play all the animations apart from the shows. Back then, I would occasionally tune into these shows just to see some of the surreal cartoons *AND* live action segments that appeared, even if these did not feature celebrities. The draw to this and the early “SESAME STREET” were the strange little skits, sometimes with photo and video trickery to emphasize their point. I remember one (although I can’t remember what show on which it appeared) that taught basic counting, and all it featured was a woman on a unicycle, riding around and around in a circle. As the counting continued, she moved faster and faster–obviously using trick photography or video–until the lengthy counting task was over. This was not cartoon, but just as wild and “animated” as the animated segments. We need to see these again!

  • I’m surprised you didn’t include the parrot and the plumber cartoon, that’s a funny one. It shocked me as a kid, because the humor is a little dark. I also would like to know who did it.

  • Anyone ever see a character, a little beetle that talked like a gangster from the 30’s called bootsy the beetle on one of these cartoons?

  • I found one by Jimmy Picker called Clayton. He animated them and there were 20 of them.
    Here is an example.

  • What was the name of the character, or how can I look it up on YouTube, featuring the little guy who would try to sound out words on a sign only to have things happen to him as a result of the sign?

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