LeVar Burton is known to many science fiction fans as blind engineer Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The series aired on from 1987 to 1994, reprising the role in four subsequent Star Trek movies. His first major role, playing the Kunta Kinte in the 1977 mini-series Roots, garnered Burton an Emmy nomination.
To many 20-somethings, LeVar Burton is most beloved as the host of PBS’ long-running children’s show, Reading Rainbow, for which he also served as executive producer. The award-winning, innovative half-hour series helped create a generation of lifetime readers long beginning long before Harry Potter happened on the scene. And then by showcasing good children books and exploring the themes of those books through a variety of methods, including video field trips.” Burton told me during a phone interview earlier this week, “we created a connection between literature and real-world experience.”
A staple of PBS’ wonderful stable of educational entertainment programming for children, the show was cancelled in 2006. But not for too long; the future of Reading Rainbow was far from cancellation.
Burton and his partners have now re-invented Reading Rainbow in a sort of 2.0 version, designed to meet 21st Century children where they are now—in the digital world of tablet devices. Introduced at this summer’s Apple’s WWDC, the Worldwide Developers’ Conference, the Reading Rainbow iPad app quickly became best seller, introducing the iconic edutainment concept to the children of the Reading Rainbow’s generation, now beginning to have children of their own. “For that generation who really watched the show and grew up with it, [Reading Rainbow is] like one of those sweet spots in your childhood,” Burton noted.
No coincidence, then, that Burton has now decided to take Reading Rainbow into the hottest medium of the decade at this moment in time. “When PBS pulled the-the show out of Ready to Learn lineup, which is basically the sort of a core curriculum block of programming for early childhood education on PBS, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.” That first generation of Reading Rainbow kids were upset because the show would not be there for their own kids. “There was sort of an outcry, outpouring of sentiment. There was the opportunity to reinvent the show for a new generation of kids whose parents did in fact have familiarity with the brand and what we accomplished in their lives.”