More Stories at the End of the "Rainbow”?

LeVar Burton's tweet about a possible return of “Reading Rainbow” is good news for kids – and books

By Jere Hester
|  Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010  |  Updated 9:24 PM PDT
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LeVar Burton could be taking kids over the "Rainbow" again.

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It seems almost perverse, but news of the possible return of "Reading Rainbow" came in tweet.

“You heard it here first... Reading Rainbow 2.0 is in th(e) works! Stay tuned for more info. But, you don't have to...,” the show’s host, LeVar Burton, posted on Twitter Friday.

Even in 140 characters or less (114 to be exact), the possible revival of the program dedicated to getting kids to read books is welcome news.

The show, which was produced for PBS from 1983 to 2006, celebrated literature with readings by authors and celebrities, book reviews by children, and interviews conducted by the gentle and reassuring Burton.

Word of the possible return of "Rainbow" came as Pittsburgh bestowed its latest honor on a local hero, the late Fred Rogers, another gentle, reassuring children’s TV presence who is much missed. Rogers was immortalized in a wax statue unveiled Saturday on what would have been his 82nd birthday.

As The New York Times noted, repeats of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” are no longer shown daily on PBS, though episodes can be found online. Repeats of “Reading Rainbow” stopped airing last year.

It's not clear from Burton’s tweet, of course, exactly where a new "Rainbow" might emerge or what form it will take. But his "2.0" shorthand and his use of the Internet to deliver the news seem to indicate the show won't simply be a retread of the original.

The media world has traveled light years since the debut of “Rainbow” more than a quarter-century ago. Technology has placed new demands on children's time and attention. It's unclear how the April 3rd release of the iPad will impact the publishing industry, but there’s little doubt children born in the digital age are seeking a more interactive experience from literature.

Any "Rainbow" reboot, at a minimum, should have a strong online tie-in to complement the show. As "Harry Potter" proved, kids love reading a good story told well – and the Potter offshoots in multiple media show there are additional ways to keep youngsters engaged beyond the printed page.

Like Rogers before him, Burton is an ideal bridge between generations. The first crop of "Reading Rainbow" viewers are in their 30s, many of them, no doubt, with young children and fond memories of the Emmy-winning show.

The program's impact on the pop culture is clear, judging from enduring popularity of its theme song (“Take a look, it’s in a book – Reading Rainbow!”), and a recent series of parody videos of the book-reviews-by-children segment running on Funny-or-Die.com. Then there's Burton himself, who has been part of our TV lives since starring as Kunta Kinte starring in the landmark TV mini-series "Roots" in 1977, and later as Geordi La Forge on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in the late 1980s and early 1990.

But it's "Reading Rainbow" that placed Burton into young hearts and minds, and the show is where he's exerted his greatest influence. Let's hope his tweet is a new chapter in a never-ending story.
 

 

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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