LeVar Burton, host of the popular children’s show Reading Rainbow, hopes to refresh the program for a new generation, and connected K–12 classrooms are to be its next audience.
For 26 years, Reading Rainbow taught children the joy of reading through a television show on the PBS network. Now, Burton hopes to change the program by expanding its reach with a web app and classroom offerings.
Burton and his Reading Rainbow associates launched a crowdfunding campaign Wednesday on Kickstarter to bring the popular reading program online. The content will include video field trips and a large library of interactive books, all for a monthly fee.
"Thirty minutes on TV was yesterday’s world,” Burton says in the campaign’s video. “Today’s kids want today’s technology.”
In less than 11 hours, legions of fans helped the $1 million campaign reach its goal, and with more than 30 days to go, it’s still raking in thousands of dollars. Donors can choose from a menu of reward packages for donations of $5 to $10,000, ranging from everyday items, such as coffee mugs and T-shirts, to exclusive prizes, such as dinner with Burton and a chance to don the visor worn by his Star Trek character, Geordi La Forge.
Such a show of support shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who grew up watching Burton on Reading Rainbow. His name, face and voice all resonate with nostalgia for millennials. The show's audience grew over nearly three decades, and it is remembered by many as one of the best educational television programs of its time.
Funds provided to the campaign will be used to create:
- A web-enabled Reading Rainbow program
- A classroom version with supplemental tools for teachers
- A free program for 1,500 disadvantaged schools
The campaign doesn’t mention bringing Reading Rainbow back to TV airwaves. It was taken off the air in 2009 after educational funding was diverted to programs that focused on phonics and reading fundamentals, concepts that were more basic than what Reading Rainbow offered, according to The Washington Post.
After Reading Rainbow’s cancelation, Burton and business partner Mark Wolfe bought the rights to the name and began soliciting investors to transform the series into a multimedia project, according to SFGate. The acquisition led to the 2012 release of a Reading Rainbow iPad app, which Burton and his team hope to expand through the new crowdfunded earnings.
“Just being on tablets simply won’t get the job done for way too many of our families,” says Burton in the campaign’s video. “This Kickstarter campaign is about reaching every web-connected child.”
Now that the campaign has proved successful, Burton and his team will work to bring new Reading Rainbow content to classrooms and desktops in December.