Reading Rainbow: Why Is the Cancelled Show Leaving the Airwaves after 26 Years?

Reading RainbowAt least for now, it looks like the story of PBS’ venerable Reading Rainbow has ended. For the first time in 26 years, young viewers won’t find the show on their television sets.

Hosted by LeVar Burton, Reading Rainbow first debuted in 1983 and was designed to inspire a love of books among young viewers. Each episode revolves around a single theme and children are exposed to books that they can read for more information. In later years, the program highlighted tough issues like poverty, prison, and the September 11 attacks.

A regular feature of the show is a celebrity reading a full story. Over Reading Rainbow’s 155 episode run, the diverse group of readers have included Julia Child, Bill Cosby, Buddy Ebsen, Peter Falk, Jim Henson (as Kermit the Frog), Jane Pauley, Lou Rawls, and Patrick Stewart.

Reading Rainbow has gone through some changes in ownership over the years. It was originally produced by Lancit Media Entertainment. The show was then sold to On-Screen Entertainment in 2000 and produced for WNED-TVand Great Plains National. In 2006, Educate Inc. replaced GPN. The new agreement between Educate and WNED supposedly meant new funding for the show.

Should Reading Rainbow be cancelled?

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In January of 2007, Burton said that he’d shot his last episode of the series. Though he didn’t go into specifics, the host indicated that he wasn’t pleased with the direction that the new producers were taking the program. Burton said, “Their vision was not in alignment with what I stand for.” He pledged to continue his involvement with other children’s literacy projects.

The program has been in reruns since the last original episode aired on November 10, 2006.

A staple of PBS for more than a quarter of a century, Reading Rainbow is the third-longest running children’s series on PBS — behind Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

It’s leaving the airwaves because no one will put up the several hundred thousand dollars to renew the show’s broadcast rights (which include licensing the books that are highlighted on the show). The lack of financial support comes in part as a result of a shift in focus of PBS and other funders. When the show began, the goal was to get kids to pick up a book. Now, the focus has shifted to teaching children how to read which isn’t what Reading Rainbow is about.

According to PBS, episodes can still be shown in school classrooms for awhile. WNED and PBS are also looking at creating a literacy website that will continue the show’s local story contests but take them to a national level. The Reading Rainbow portion of the PBS site however will be discontinued in December.

As for Burton, in February he Twittered, “Want y’all to know that I’m seriously moving forward with an idea for a new version of a Reading Rainbow like show. Webisodes for adults. ”

What do you think? Are you sad to see Reading Rainbow leave the air? Was it important to you growing up?

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12 Comments · Read them below or add one

  1. says

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  2. Betty says

    My son, now almost 32, watched; as did his oldest daughter (now 9), but his younger daughters will not be able to watch the best children’s shows, including Reading Rainbow. I do not understand why reruns can not be aired! I try to take my granddaughters to the library when they are with me, and we read together also; but I do not have them often enough. It was nice having re-inforcement from programs such as Reading Rainbow. PBS seems to be losing focus concerning children’s educational program. In my city, the all-day children’s digital channel is NOT available, so I can’t comment on it. However, the mixed channel has very few shows for children during the daytime hours. Do they think pre-schoolers no longer need children’s programming?!?

  3. Char says

    As an educator, I can’t emphasize enough what a wonderful show Reading Rainbow has been over the years! All of my many years of students thoroughly enjoyed and learned so much from the show. I always felt it helped them academically. Levar Burton did such a fine job as well. If anyone reading this has any clout in regards to convincing the network to please, please, please keep this show going in its original format and bringing back Levar Burton to do the job right, many other educators and I would be deeply appreciative. Please do this for the sake of the children.
    Thank you.

  4. Janessa says

    I was a little ahead of RR, but now I’m the mother of 4 kids and PBS has been messing with their heads since they were babies. They fall in love with a show like Mr. Rogers or RR or Between the Lions and suddenly it isn’t there anymore. When Ghostwriter went off the air my oldest son was very angry.

    Lately I’ve come to understand that networks are not about programming for their viewers. They are businesses with service to the almighty bottom line. Those of us who are the consumers of their product can take a flying leap. That is certainly how networks like NBC and PBS are treating us these days. There is absolutely NO loyalty.

  5. Christopher says

    I love this show and I grew up with this show and I hope my kids will see it to.I love the books that was feature on the show. I also love the positive role model of Lavar Burton.

  6. Misty says

    My kids notice any changes right away on their PBS station. I remember my oldest being upset when she tuned in to watch Mr Rogers Neighborhood and it was no longer on at that time, and the same thing with Between The Lions. Now I have 2 of them and this week has been weird cause everyday when Wordgirl comes on instead of Reading Rainbow they both go “hey!” because it’s gone. They don’t want to watch Wordgirl either.

  7. says

    I feel another problem PBS is having is they now have three channels to take care of after the digital switch. They now are multicasting and need triple the support for their three channels. This economy is no help either.

  8. Davin Peterson says

    This is not the first PBS show to be cancelled due to a lack of funding. In the 90’s they had a show called Ghostwriter which had high raitings, but cancelled after starting the third season due to lack of funding.

    The government needs to give PBS more money to continue these great shows that we grew up on

  9. Angel From Florida says

    I’m sorry to see it go ! It will be like a loved one missing. I watched it as a child and my child and I watched it together. What a loss this will be for the next generation of young readers.:(

  10. Leo says

    I used to love that show growing up. I hoped it would be around when I had kids, because I don’t want them to grow up watching crap like Yo Gabba Gabba

  11. CJ says

    PBS can go suck a random mammals *******. Death to Smoochy was right when it made fun of the fact its a big Corporate thing instead of genuine stuff for kids.

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