Article written by Mike Rauch.
How do you take a classic show that is close to people’s hearts and faithfully update it almost 30 years later? This past Tuesday, Karen Fowler, Executive Producer of the The Electric Company, and a panel of her production team gave a look into how they did it. For Fowler, the answer was to examine the original series and decipher it’s DNA— the key elements of the beloved 1970’s PBS show.
Fowler’s early inspirations for the revival of The Electric Company were seeing Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk and the HBO series Def Poetry Jam. With those productions as a modern day cultural compass, she set out to produce the first 26 episodes of The Electric Company in January, 2008.
For Fowler and her team, the cornerstones of the original series were a strong set of recurring characters, music from the best in the business, outstanding writers, great animators with innovative styles, and a healthy dose of pop culture. Of course, literacy remains as the core purpose of the show.
To make the show accessible and relevant to today’s children, a few changes were made. The funky soundtrack of the original is traded for a hip-hop vibe, the mostly adult cast is aged down to a group of teens, and sketch comedy is replaced by a story presented with act breaks. A nod to the way children interact with technology today can be seen in the most recent episodes, where two minute cliff-hangers close the show and point kids to the internet for the conclusion.
If numbers are anything to go by, the update has been successful. The show has 3 million viewers on TV, has recorded 30 million downloads since it’s 2009 premiere, and 1/3 of all online views are full episodes.
Thanks to ASIFA-East and Women in Animation for hosting this panel!