"There were conversations about his mustache."
May 23, 2017 7:35 AM   Subscribe

The holy trinity of my childhood PBS experience: Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, Reading Rainbow, & Sesame Street.
posted by Fizz at 7:47 AM on May 23, 2017 [14 favorites]

Likewise. I was also a Star Trek: The Next Generation fan as a kid, and it blew my mind the day Reading Rainbow did an episode that talked about how they did the transporter special effects in ST. Reading Rainbow was so, so good.
posted by olinerd at 7:51 AM on May 23, 2017 [14 favorites]

I was going to mention being blown away by the transporter effects he showed on the crossover episode. I guess I'm not the only one.

Reading Rainbow was a great show that I watched a good while after I had aged out of the target audience. LeVar Burton was so good at not talking down but still talking at the level of his audience, much like Fred Rogers. Some of the guests they had reading the books amazed me even when I was younger. I'd think "How'd they get Gilda Radner and Pete Seeger to do this?! Reading must be very important and maybe I'm important." I was glad to read that those people were doing it (for free even) because they thought it would be good for kids. That part is even more inspiring to me now than when I was watching.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 8:10 AM on May 23, 2017 [8 favorites]

I was too old to be caught by Reading Rainbow when it premiered, but it was an integral part of my nieces' and nephews' developments as readers. It's so sad that such a beloved show that did so much good (and also helped the business models of so many publishing companies) could be scrambling for funding every single season. It can't have been an expensive show to produce.
posted by xingcat at 8:19 AM on May 23, 2017

I also remember the Star Trek one (Michael Dorn, fully made up as Worf: "Stand aside! I take large steps!"), but the episode that seared into my memory was the one about the Parícutin volcano, because notably missing from that episode was a clear explanation from an expert that digging in the dirt does not actually cause volcanoes. Because tiny me was kind of uneasy about that for a long time.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:26 AM on May 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

Reading Rainbow is part of one of my fondest memories of childhood, going to the library with a list of books that I'd seen on the show. I'm a voracious reader, and sure, some of it is just my temperament, but I was absolutely inspired by Reading Rainbow as a kid. The note about it having been killed by NCLB, which favored mechanics over the more ephemeral love-of-reading, is really sad.

For whatever reason, the only episode that I can remember in any great detail is the one about Louis the Fish, which I recall as a bit of Kafka-esque surrealism read by a narrator with a very distinct voice.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:07 AM on May 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

Cecily was good about allowing people to speak their mind and doing the same. I’d have an idea and she’d say, “Lynne, that sucks canal water.”

I like Cecily already.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:11 AM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Don't know what his money situation is, but as far as prestige goes, Roots, Reading Rainbow, and Star Trek might just be all you really need.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:13 AM on May 23, 2017 [15 favorites]

Boy if you phrase it that way "No Child Left Behind will kill Reading Rainbow" I don't think that bill would have passed.
posted by graventy at 10:26 AM on May 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

"No Child Loves Books"
posted by uncleozzy at 10:28 AM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh, Reading Rainbow. A while back LeVar was a guest at Dragoncon (I think the year he did the Kickstarter?) and did a Reading Rainbow panel in addition to a bunch of Trek stuff. Even in the program it was like 'this is a panel that is ONLY about Reading Rainbow, there will be NO STAR TREK, we mean it' and I was a kid who loved books in the early 90s so of course I went. The line was around the building, they filled the giant ballroom to capacity and I think the audience was like 70% librarians by volume. It was GREAT.

(also I miiiiight have been an adult before I realized that the Reading Rainbow guy and Geordi LaForge were the same person. In my defense I'm a little faceblind and I missed that RR episode somehow?)
posted by nonasuch at 10:36 AM on May 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

LeVar Burton was my first major crush as a kid. My parents were a bit worried about their 5-year-old daughters obsession with a grown adult man on TV. Thank dog they were also keen on me being a big reader, so I was allowed to watch. Oh LeVar. Our forbidden love.

And years later when I saw my first Ken Burns documentary and everyone was raving about the "Ken Burns Technique" of panning the camera over a picture? I was all "hell no, LeVar was doing that on Reading Rainbow in the early 80s'. But you don't have to take my word for it. Go watch."
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:49 AM on May 23, 2017 [17 favorites]

Don't know what his money situation is, but as far as prestige goes, Roots, Reading Rainbow, and Star Trek might just be all you really need.

Humble brag level: LeVar Burton casually polishing 11 Emmy Awards (tweet plus photo of same)
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:54 AM on May 23, 2017 [13 favorites]

I missed Reading Rainbow. I guess my kids were just a little too old.
I never heard about it until Jimmy Fallon's interpretation.
posted by MtDewd at 11:23 AM on May 23, 2017

LeVar Burton was one of my first crushes, too, in that very childlike way (Harold Ramis as Egon was another. I was an odd child who I guess liked smart men) and only became more so of one when Next Generation started.

As much of a reader as I was, the books on Reading Rainbow never excited me that much (although I think there were a few I did really like). I did love how the books tied into real-world things, though, and how game and interested Burton was in everything that was going on around him. It always seemed like he was having fun.

I think that's why a lot of kids responded to Reading Rainbow -- you could read a book about something and then go find out more -- from other books, from the world around you. It felt like it opened up so many doors.
posted by darksong at 12:13 PM on May 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

I used to watch this show while waiting for the bus to take me to day camp, which I loathed to the point of tears. Sometimes Reading Rainbow was the best thing to happen to me all day.

Schecter: I’d go over scripts with [Burton] and ask how he felt. He really brought a lot of himself into the show, stuff that would relate to him—like how he learned to ride a bike and how scary it was until he realized his father wasn’t holding on to him anymore. That’s a perfect story for kids to hear, and it came off as very genuine because it was.

I remember this bit! I was like 10, but I was really moved by this anecdote. Like, an adult ... admitting they were ever scared? Blew my tiny mind. And I thought wow, maybe it's natural to be scared sometimes.

I know that sounds trivial but this mini-epiphany from Burton really made a difference. He is bar none the best children's programming host I've ever seen.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:03 PM on May 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

I was never into Reading Rainbow (too old by the time it came around, and don't have any kids), but when Levar Burton did the Kickstarter, I put in like $25 or $30, because anything that gets kids reading is a net good.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:05 PM on May 23, 2017

(Michael Dorn, fully made up as Worf: "Stand aside! I take large steps!")

I haven't thought about this in YEARS but as soon as I read it I could hear him clear as a bell in my head.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:13 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is this the place to confess that for YEARS I assumed Reading Rainbow was a delightful holodeck program done by Geordie and aired separately so kids didn't have to stay up as late?
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 3:51 PM on May 23, 2017 [8 favorites]

And that's just the sort of thing Geordi would do, too!

(To score points with the ship's pretty primary school teacher, probably.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:34 PM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I never watched as much of Reading Rainbow as I should have. I hope Twitch does it next, after the Mr. Rogers marathon.
posted by dialMforMara at 7:47 PM on May 23, 2017

Will read ANY AND ALL Oral Histories of things from this era.

Someone should write a thinkpiece about the differences between PBS Kids of a certain age their age-cohorts that didn't learn those lessons.

I happily use the Reading Rainbow bookmarks I got from their kickstarter a couple years back. More kickstarters should thrown in bookmarks.
posted by DigDoug at 6:38 AM on May 24, 2017

Books are for children
posted by blakewest at 10:24 AM on May 24, 2017

My favourite episode was the one shot in the bowling alley. I'd grown up with Reading Rainbow and by the time I was a teenager was already a fan of TNG. Roots had another showing on our local PBS affiliate, and I just had mad respect for Burton.

And then he showed us all that he was a pro-level bowler, to boot.

At the time my then-girlfriend posted to a BBS we both used: "LeVar Burton is bowling on my TV! I am so happy."
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:53 AM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

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