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Reading Rainbow is an American half-hour educational children's television series that aired on PBS Kids from June 6, 1983 to November 10, 2006, with a total of 155 half-hour episodes spanning over 21 seasons. The show encouraged children to read. In 2012, an iPad and Kindle Fire educational interactive book reading and video field trip application was launched bearing the name of the program.

Reading Rainbow
Reading rainbow2ndlogo.jpg
GenreEducational television
Created by
  • Cecily Truett Lancit
  • Larry Lancit
  • Twila Liggett
  • Lynne Ganek
  • Tony Buttino
Presented byLeVar Burton
Theme music composerSteve Horelick
Dennis Neil Kleinman
Janet Weir
Composer(s)Steve Horelick
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons21
No. of episodes155 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)David McCourt
Running time26 minutes
Production company(s)Lancit Media Productions
DistributorGreat Plains National Instructional Television Library
Original networkPBS (1983-1999)
PBS Kids (1999-2009)
Picture format480i (SDTV)
Audio formatMono (1983–87)
Stereo (1984–87; some episodes, all episodes 1988–2006)
Original releaseJune 6, 1983 (1983-06-06) –
November 10, 2006 (2006-11-10)[1][2]
External links
Reading Rainbow App
Original workEducational App

Reading Rainbow App for Kindle Fire on the Amazon Appstore

Reading Rainbow App for iPad on the Apple App Store

The public television series garnered over 200 broadcast awards, including a Peabody Award and 26 Emmy Awards, 11 of which were in the "Outstanding Children's Series" category.[3] The series was created under the leadership of Cecily Truett Lancit and Larry Lancit, at Lancit Media Productions in New York. The concept of a reading series for children originated with Twila Liggett, PhD, and Paul Schupbach (director), of the Great Plains National Instructional Television Library at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln; and Tony Buttino, of WNED-TV Buffalo, New York. The original team included Lynne Brenner Ganek, Ellen Schecter, and host LeVar Burton.

Each episode centered on a theme from a book, or other children's literature, which was explored through a number of segments or stories. The show also recommended books for kids to look for when they went to the library. It is the third-longest running children's series in PBS history, after Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. It was also one of the first PBS shows to be broadcast in stereo.

After the show's cancellation on November 10, 2006, reruns aired until August 28, 2009, when it was pulled from the schedule.[4] On June 20, 2012, the Reading Rainbow App was released for the iPad and, within 36 hours, became the #1 most-downloaded educational app in the iTunes App Store.[5] Built from the ground up by LeVar Burton and his company, RRKIDZ, the app allows children to read unlimited books, explore video field trips starring Burton, and earn rewards for reading. The week of June 11, 2013, Reading Rainbow celebrated its 30th anniversary.[6]

In May 2014, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to raise funds to make the app available online, Android, game consoles, smartphones, and other streaming devices along with creating a classroom version with the subscription fee waived for up to 13,000 disadvantaged classrooms. The effort met its initial fundraising goal of $1,000,000 in eleven hours.[7] The campaign met its second goal of $5 million in the last 24 hours, triggering a matching $1 million from Seth MacFarlane; the final amount raised on Kickstarter is $5,408,916 from 105,857 backers.[8]

Show detailsEdit

Reading Rainbow was hosted by actor and executive producer LeVar Burton, who is also known for his roles in Roots and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show was produced first by Lancit Media Entertainment from 1983 to 2001, and then, by On-Screen Entertainment from 2002 to 2006.

Every episode featured a different book, often narrated by a celebrity. Celebrity readers included Philip Bosco (Barbara Bash's Desert Giant: The World of the Saguaro Cactus), Michael Ansara (Paul Goble's The Gift of the Sacred Dog, Sheila MacGill Callahan's And Still the Turtle Watched), Josie de Guzman (Leyla Torres's Saturday Sancocho), Jason Robards (Francine Jacobs' Sam the Sea Cow), Bill Cosby (Marc Brown's Arthur's Eyes), Eartha Kitt (Megan McDonald's Is This a House for Hermit Crab?), and Charles Kimbrough (David Wiesner's June 29, 1999). The featured story would often have still shots of the book's illustrated pages shown in succession, although on certain occasions the shots would be animated. After the featured story, Burton visited settings related to the episode's theme, often featuring interviews with guests. One episode featured a behind-the-scenes look at Star Trek: The Next Generation. The final segment of each show, called Book Reviews, began with Burton's introductory catchphrase, "But you don't have to take my word for it," and featured children giving capsule reviews of books they liked. Burton ended most episodes with the phrase "I'll see you next time."

The series' pilot, which aired as the show's eighth episode in 1983, featured the book Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and was narrated by Doug Parvin. It was created and produced in 1981. Burton hosted the program.

The daughters of producer Larry Lancit, Shaune and Caitlin Lancit, were often featured in the series, notably as the children thanking the sponsors at the beginning and end of the show.

Theme song and opening sequenceEdit

The show's theme song was written by Steve Horelick, Dennis Neil Kleinman, and Janet Weir; Horelick also served as the series' music director and composer and received an Emmy nomination in 2007 for his work on the series. Over the show's 23-year run, it went through three variations of the theme song.

The original theme was performed by Tina Fabrique and featured one of the first uses of the Buchla synthesizer in a TV theme song. The original opening sequence, which consisted of a cartoon butterfly transforming the surroundings of young children reading books into cartoon fantasy lands, was used until August 1999. The introductory animation was drawn at Oldfather Studios in Lawrence, Kansas on the University of Kansas campus.

In September 1999, episodes began using a new opening sequence which is live-action and features CGI in a space-themed world, with the same theme song performed first by Johnny Kemp.

A third intro was used starting in May 2000, performed by R&B artist Chaka Khan. The opening sequence is mostly the same as the second one, but this time featuring Burton in place of some of the animated elements.

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon parodied the theme song by presenting it as if it was written by The Doors, and featured Fallon doing an accurate impression of Jim Morrison.[9]

Last years as TV series (2005–06)Edit

The Reading Rainbow logo used between 1983 and 1999.

Original production was to have ended after April 4, 2005, with the show continuing to air in reruns, but host LeVar Burton said on February 7, 2006, that five new episodes of the show would be shot in 2006 despite the continuing financial troubles of PBS.[10] The show aired its last episode on November 10, 2006.

Relaunch as an appEdit

Announcement and early developments (2010–14)Edit

Former executive producer LeVar Burton announced on his Twitter feed on March 19, 2010, that "Reading Rainbow 2.0 is in the works."[11] On March 4, 2012, he announced that it was the "last day of shooting before launch!"[12]

On June 13, 2012, in a special presentation at Apple Inc's annual World Wide Developers Conference, Burton and his business partner, Mark Wolfe, introduced the new Reading Rainbow iPad App.[13] It became available in Apple's iTunes Store on June 20, 2012, and within 36 hours was the #1 educational app. In January 2014, the Reading Rainbow App surpassed 10M books read and video field trips watched by children in 18 months. [14]

Kickstarter revival campaign and aftermath (2014–17)Edit

On May 28, 2014, LeVar Burton started a Kickstarter fund to revive the show and materials. In under twelve hours the show had reached its $1 million goal. The new goal is to create an educational version for schools to use, free of cost to those schools in need, and help America get back to high literacy rates. They are also going to create a website for students to use to assist them with learning how to read. The following day, May 29, 2014, they reached two million dollars (double their goal) at 1:15 pm. PST.[15] The campaign raised $5,408,916 on Kickstarter with another one million from Seth MacFarlane, and $70,000 raised via direct contributions. The grand total was $6,478,916.

With 105,857 backers, the campaign holds Kickstarter's record for most backers and is the 8th highest amount raised on Kickstarter (as of June 1, 2015).[16]

In March 2016, Burton launched a new online educational service called Reading Rainbow Skybrary for Schools that follows the same mission of the television series, while expanding to integrate into classroom curriculums.[17]

In August 2017, WNED filed a wide-ranging lawsuit against Burton and RRKidz that demands Burton's company hand over administrative access to various websites and social media accounts. The lawsuit also seeks to enjoin Burton from using the Reading Rainbow catchphrase, "But you don't have to take my word for it," on his podcast.[18] As of October 2017, visiting the official Reading Rainbow website provides a page which states that "Recent legal disputes between WNED and LeVar Burton/RRKIDZ have been resolved and RRKIDZ no longer licenses the Reading Rainbow brand from WNED. WNED is currently working on the next chapter of Reading Rainbow and will continue its mission of fostering education for a new generation."[19]


Television, film, and musicEdit

Reading Rainbow and LeVar Burton have appeared in many works of popular culture.

Animation producersEdit

Feature Book filmingEdit

The photographing of the Feature Book segments was by:

  • Centron Films (1983–87; renamed in 1986 to "Centron Productions Inc.")
  • Loren Dolezal (1988–98; renamed in 1995 to "Dolezal Animation"); Take Ten Animation teamed up with Dolezal from 1995–98.
  • On Screen Entertainment (2000–06)
  • Roger Holden, designer of the digital animation photography system used by Centron Films to film the Feature Book segments (1983–87)

Guest readers and contributorsEdit

Guest readers and contributors

Writing and illustrating contestEdit

In 1995, the creators launched the first contest called "Reading Rainbow Young Writers and Illustrators Contest". The annual writing and illustrating competition for children grades K through 3 continued until 2009 when it was relaunched as "PBS Kids Go! Writers Contest". Then in 2014, it was renamed to "PBS Kids Writers Contest", due to the revamped brand.


  1. ^ "'Reading Rainbow' Reaches Its Final Chapter". NPR. Retrieved January 21, 2018.
  2. ^ "LeVar Burton Is Sued in Reading Rainbow Copyright Dispute — But You Don't Have to Take Our Word for It". People. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  3. ^ "Reading Rainbow Awards". Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  4. ^ "Schedule Listings (Mountain) (Idaho Public Television)". Retrieved June 30, 2014.
  5. ^ Kozlowski, Michael. "Interview with Levar Burton on the Reading Rainbow iPad App". Good E-Reader. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  6. ^ "Celebrations!". Archived from the original on June 15, 2013. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  7. ^ "LeVar Burton on Reading Rainbow's Kickstarter and the Love of Reading". Forbes. Retrieved June 8, 2014.
  8. ^ Project Updates. Kickstarter. Retrieved July 2, 2014.
  9. ^ "The Doors Sing "Reading Rainbow" Theme (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon)" – via
  10. ^ "TrekToday - Burton Talks Drama, Diversity, Respect & 'Reading Rainbow'".
  11. ^ Burton, LeVar (March 19, 2010). "You heard it here first... Reading Rainbow 2.0 is in th works! Stay tuned for more info. But, you don't have to..."
  12. ^ Burton, LeVar (March 4, 2012). "Last day of shooting before launch! #readingrainbow #relaunch #excitedashell".
  13. ^ Rastogi, Anurag. "Lunch with LeVar Burton".
  14. ^ "Just Childrens Books: Reading Rainbow Relaunched as an App".
  15. ^ "Bring Reading Rainbow Back for Every Child, Everywhere!". Kickstarter.
  16. ^ Discover Projects >> Most Funded – Kickstarter. Retrieved June 10, 2015
  17. ^ "Reading Rainbow Launches Digital Library for Elementary Schools -". THE Journal.
  18. ^ "'Reading Rainbow' Owner Accuses LeVar Burton of "Theft and Extortion" in Lawsuit". The Hollywood Reporter.
  19. ^ "Reading Rainbow". WNED. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  20. ^ "The Doors Sing "Reading Rainbow" Theme (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon)". YouTube. July 26, 2012. Retrieved June 30, 2014.
  21. ^ "Reading Rainbow Remixed | In Your Imagination | PBS Digital Studios". YouTube. December 3, 2012. Retrieved June 30, 2014.
  22. ^ Orlov, P. (January 5, 2012). "The Orb Look Back on 20 years of 'Little Fluffy Clouds'". Spin. Retrieved July 22, 2014.
  23. ^ See Little Fluffy Clouds#Samples

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External linksEdit