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Kristin Tutino
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Monday, January 19 at 4:30 p.m. The Electric Company

(Rochester, NY) Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, has ‘turned on the power’ to its classic children’s series, The Electric Company. Targeting kids ages six to nine, today’s The Electric Company carries the same goal of the original series, combating the literacy crisis facing America’s second graders, but is re-energized to recognize the media-driven generation of today. The Electric Company airs Mondays at 4:30 p.m., beginning January 19 on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11) and WXXI-HD (cable 1011 and DT 21.1).

Sure to spark a current of learning, the new version of The Electric Company is a multi-media literacy campaign charged with reducing the literacy gap between low and middle income families and advancing the idea that ‘reading is cool.’ Also, the show will be supplemented with a richly interactive online environment at pbskidsgo.org and community-based outreach activities in cities across the country.

Through their programming, Sesame Workshop has always been committed to putting young children on a positive trajectory for learning. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, literacy still remains a critical educational need. First graders who cannot read at grade level have only a 1 in 10 chance of becoming proficient readers.

“The literacy crisis today is as pervasive and alarming as it was in 1971 when we created the first version of The Electric Company,” stated Scott Cameron, Director of Education and Research for Sesame Workshop. “We know that if struggling readers don’t get the literacy help they need by the end of second grade, they are in danger of never catching up. Children in low-income families are particularly at risk, because they generally start school with a significantly lower vocabulary than those in middle or high income families. And without a strong vocabulary, it becomes increasingly harder to read school materials and succeed academically. So, our goal with The Electric Company is to reach the kids who are struggling, and who might think that reading isn’t cool or isn’t useful, and we hope to do that by creating compelling and high-quality television, web and outreach materials.”

Through the talented production, writing and musical staff, The Electric Company is brought to life with a narrative story-line, music videos, sketch comedy, animation and short films. In a process that started over two years ago, Executive Producer Karen Fowler, envisioned a multi-media and outreach project and has brought an abundance of talent to create an appealing fresh program.

“We wanted to create a 360 degree experience for second-graders that easily integrates into the world around them and accurately reflects their life,” said Fowler. “Children are most responsive when they see characters that they can relate to, in environments in which they naturally play in like TV, broadband and after-school programs. We worked hard to make sure that we had the right people to do the job, those who have their fingers on the pulse of what children need to succeed and what will attract them.”

Willie Reale, MacArthur Fellow and Tony and Academy Award nominee, (A Year With Frog and Toad, Dreamgirls) leads The Electric Company writing team and has brought in other outstanding writers including the Cox Brothers (Blades of Glory) and Jerome Hairston (Law & Order: Criminal Intent, am Sunday) to create 26 half-hour madcap comedy episodes.  To establish a musical team that will connect with the audience, Fowler tapped some of the creative force behind Broadway’s Tony Award winning hip-hop, dance musical, In The Heights. Chris Jackson (“Benny”), Thomas Kail (Director), and Bill Sherman (Arranger/Orchestrator) are The Electric Company’s musical directors and bring urban beats and rhythmic tunes to the literacy objectives of the program.

The cast of characters of The Electric Company is a group of do-gooders who keep the neighborhood safe with their literacy super-powers, and who solve problems often created by a group called “The Pranksters.” Stationed from their home-base, The Electric Diner, the team consists of four core cast members;
  • “Keith Watson,” played by Ricky Smith, is a thirteen-year-old boy with the power to turn words into graphics/animation
  • “Jessica Ruiz,” played by Priscilla Diaz, is a thirteen-year-old girl with total aural recall allowing her to replay and display speech as text
  • “Lisa Heffenbacher,” played by Jenni Barber, is a teenager with the power to solve any word problem at super human speed
  • “Hector Ruiz,” played by Josh Segarra, a 20-year-old college student (and older brother to Jessica) has the power to visually recall things he’s seen, even if only peripherally, and accurately note them with text.
Teaching letter sounds and words through a series of short films that occur within the episodes is Vocal Percussionist, Chris Sullivan, who plays “Norbert de Shock,” more commonly known as “Shock,” an Electric Company member who works in the diner and provides the beat as the Company carries out its missions.

For more information, visit http://pbskids.org/electriccompany.

Pictured: When Hector is challenged to a game of one-on-one basketball, Keith, Shock, Jessica, Lisa and the Gorilla all lend their support from the sidelines.
Photo Credit: 2008 Sesame Workshop

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WXXI is the essential, life-long educational media resource for the Greater Rochester area. WXXI puts the community first with programming that stimulates and expands thought, inspires the spirit, opens cultural horizons and promotes understanding of diverse community issues. Log on to wxxi.org for more information about our services and programs.