Generations of young readers—and their parents—fondly recall Reading Rainbow, the LeVar Burton-hosted show developed as a response to the “summer [literacy] loss phenomenon.” From 1983 to 2006, when it initially ran on PBS, it racked up 26 Emmys, and now, as NPR reports, it’s getting a reboot. Reading Rainbow Live will stream live this Sunday on the platform Looped—but it’s missing something: its charismatic host.
Instead of Burton, Reading Rainbow Live will be hosted by a collective of twenty-somethings called The Rainbows, who will interact with young readers live—“sort of like a souped-up Zoom party,” creative director Amy Guglielmo told NPR. “We know it was a tough pandemic for parents, for caregivers, for teachers. We wanted to make sure that we have kids engaging with books and we’re going to use movement and music to engage kids in learning,” Guglielmo told CBS News when the news was first announced.
This Burton-less reboot comes after a settled lawsuit between WNED, the PBS station behind the original Reading Rainbow, and Burton. In 2011 after Reading Rainbow’s initial cancelation, WNED licensed the Reading Rainbow brand to Burton’s company RRKidz, allowing Burton to use the Reading Rainbow brand and WNED to get a revenue cut. Under this agreement, RRKidz launched the Reading Rainbow app. But WNED became unhappy when Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign called “Bring Reading Rainbow Back” in 2014, which ended up raising over $5 million dollars. WNED sued Burton for contract and trademark violations, alleging RRKidz was “illicitly and methodically” attempting to take over the Reading Rainbow brand via creating and posting new episodes with Reading Rainbow branding, negotiating with Netflix to produce and distribute new episodes, and raising money without WNED’s authorization. RRKidz disputed the claims, saying short videos on the site did not constitute “episodes” and negotiations with Netflix were for a different project, and countersued. WNED countersued again, and finally settled in court in 2016, terminating their agreement. RRKidz changed their name to LeVar Burton Kids.