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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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