May 12, 2008

Hey You Guyyys!!! CTW Is Remaking, Probably Ruining, The Electric Company


Let's be realistic; with it's third-generation Laugh-In format, cheesy acting, and random-at-best pedagogy, the original Electric Company was not great television to begin with, and it definitely has not aged well. So any OG purist objections to the recent announcement that Children's Television Workshop is producing a new version of the reading basics show for a new generation of underprivileged inner city children are probably irrelevant and almost certainly miss the point of the show.

Which makes me even more worried that the new Electric Company will totally blow, because it sounds like the whole project is hopelessly soaked through with nostalgia:

“It’s the old one mixed with ‘High School Musical’ and a Dr Pepper commercial,” said Linda Simensky, senior director of programming for PBS Kids...


A cameo has been offered to Rita Moreno...


Ms. Simensky, 44, said the rebirth would be happy news for the Garanimals generation. “ ‘The Electric Company’ was my favorite show in third grade, along with Bugs Bunny,” she said.

In keeping with the original show’s ties to theater (many in the cast, like Morgan Freeman, had stage backgrounds), the new head writer is a Tony-Award-nominated playwright and lyricist, Willie Reale, with experience in children’s theater (“A Year With Frog and Toad”).

Add to that a hokey-sounding secret reading club and impolite non-villains thrown in for dramatic tension, and the only thing that sounds like it's carrying over is the "make a word from two sounds" segment. [The two groovy silhouettes, though, are replaced by a beatboxing MC who scratchesi out the sounds on his turntables.] In fact, except for the mission--reading readiness--and the target audience--inner-city kids ages 6-9, I can't see why CTW needs the Electric Company connection at all.

In yesterday's Times Book Review, Jenna and Laura Bush's "Reading Is SO Important!" storybook was deemed an earnest, boring failure. Hearing a public television marketer talking about reaching the show's audience "in their [sic] dollar stores" makes me wonder if the new Electric Company isn't similar, a well-intentioned effort that makes its creators feel good and look good, but that doesn't produce the announced results. I hope I'm wrong.

PBS Revives a Show That Shines a Light on Reading [nyt]

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