15 years after PBS closed the book on Reading Rainbow, the beloved educational show is coming back as an interactive series, Reading Rainbow Live.
The program was the third-longest running children’s series in PBS history, using original songs and field trips to bring the book of the day to life. From 1983 to 2006 it garnered a Peabody Award and 26 Emmys, and it might still be going today, except that former President George W. Bush was so relentless in attempting to reduce or eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s funding, leading Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton to remark in 2006 that while the show would like to do more episodes, PBS was “really strapped for cash.”
Now it’s back, though without former host Burton, who has moved on to the more grown-up game show Trivial Pursuit. Instead, young viewers will be guided by The Rainbows, a diverse comedy troupe ranging from ages 18 to 28. While some of The Rainbows have been cast, producers are still searching for the final host, and those who could describe themselves as “singers, actors, dancers, with improv training,” can apply for the gig through the Playbill listing.
As for the interactive aspect of Reading Rainbow Live, that will be provided by the virtual platform Looped. It willl offer kids at home the chance to, as a press release puts it, “engage, play games, and even have an opportunity to be featured ‘on stage’ during each episode.” Episodes will be available for streaming after they air live, so children on any schedule will be able to experience the book of the day.
The interactive element will be especially attractive to parents struggling with working from home during the pandemic. And as Burton used to say every episode, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” According to executive producer Steven Beer, “The Covid quarantine presented challenges for parents with young children in particular. Without playgrounds, play groups or early childhood programs, many parents struggled to keep their kids engaged in learning activities. Reading Rainbow Live was developed as a ‘life-saver’ response to this challenge.”
The show is expected to debut in early 2022.