The other day I had a chance to catch up with television star, LeVar Burton! We covered some key topics like his views on children’s programming past and present and of course the Reading Rainbow App! We even talked about my kids, but I decided not to include that part.
When were you first approached about doing the Reading Rainbow App and what was your initial reaction?
Well, actually I wasn’t approached. This project came organically from me and my business partner. When Reading Rainbow was taken off the air, me and my business partner saw that there was still value to the brand and we started this project.
So, how involved were you in developing the App?
I was in everything from the colors of the islands to the shape of the saxophone, to Genius Academy, to the way that we handle storytelling.
Now that the App is on the market what are your thoughts?
Very proud. This is all I have been doing for the past two years.
Looking at the landscape of children’s programming today. What do you think about the quality?
I don’t think about it. I don’t have time to watch children’s television. I have my eye on transmedia. I am not watching the Olympics right now not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t have the time. I don’t have the time to watch TV or go to the movies.
Yesterday, I read an article in the NY Times about Doc McStuffins. It’s a cartoon about a little girl who pretends to be a doctor because her mother is a doctor. The little girl in the cartoon is African American and a lot of African American families are hailing it as a major step forward in diversifying children’s programming. Thinking back to when you were the host of Reading Rainbow as an African American male, how unprecedented was that?
I don’t think it was unprecedented at all. I came from a line of Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman and Lawrence Fishburne. It wasn’t unprecedented.
I guess I ask because growing up I don’t recall there being a lot of brown faces in children’s television shows. I remember watching Romper Room for example feeling really left out and thought you hosting Reading Rainbow was a really big deal?
Well I don’t mean to discount your experience, but Bill Cosby and Morgan Freeman did Electric Company and Fish did Pee wee’s Playhouse while I was doing Reading Rainbow. These black men I have mentioned have made a serious commitment to children’s programming.
Is there any talk about bringing Reading Rainbow back as a television show?
No, there isn’t. The mission then was to promote children’s literacy. Our mission is the same today except we are meeting kids where they are now.
I attended the launch party for the App and there was some talk about making the App more affordable for less affluent families. Is there any work being done on that?
Yes, we are working so that families can have more than one child register at a discount.
When can families expect this to happen?
In the next couple of weeks.
Are there any more changes or upgrades to the App that families can expect?
We are always working to improve the customer experience but people need to register with us and grow with us so they can know what we are working on.
Finally, what are some of your favorite children’s stories?
Enemy Pie and Amazing Grace. From the App, I love reading Henry and the Dragon and Fiona’s Luck.