TV Milestone: Reading Rainbow Comes To End

jhhjhjhjhjhjhjhjhjhjhj.gifA TV milestone:

PBS’s Reading Rainbow is coming to an end due to not just funding but a change in philosophy:

Reading Rainbow comes to the end of its 26-year run on Friday; it has won more than two-dozen Emmys, and is the third longest-running children’s show in PBS history — outlasted only by Sesame Street and Mister Rogers.

The show, which started in 1983, was hosted by actor LeVar Burton. (If you don’t know Burton from Reading Rainbow, he’s also famous for his role as Kunta Kinte in Roots, or as the chrome-visored Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

So why is the end of the rainbow now in sight?

“The series resonates with so many people,” says John Grant, who is in charge of content at WNED Buffalo, Reading Rainbow’s home station.

The show’s run is ending, Grant explains, because no one — not the station, not PBS, not the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — will put up the several hundred thousand dollars needed to renew the show’s broadcast rights.

Grant says the funding crunch is partially to blame, but the decision to end Reading Rainbow can also be traced to a shift in the philosophy of educational television programming. The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration, he explains, which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling.

Grant says that PBS, CPB and the Department of Education put significant funding toward programming that would teach kids how to read — but that’s not what Reading Rainbow was trying to do.

“Reading Rainbow taught kids why to read,” Grant says. “You know, the love of reading — [the show] encouraged kids to pick up a book and to read.”

Linda Simensky, vice president for children’s programming at PBS, says that when Reading Rainbow was developed in the early 1980s, it was an era when the question was: “How do we get kids to read books?”

But now research shows that teaching reading mechanics should be the priority — so off the show goes…

UPDATE

Here is the original Reading Rainbow theme that has become almost legendary:

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  • Rambie

    Why not adjust the format over a year or so into one teaching reading mechanics as well as the joy of reading?

  • http://themoderatevoice.com T_Steel

    Wow. I'm 35 years old and I watched Reading Rainbow as a boy along with all three of children. This show made reading interesting. I couldn't wait for Reading Rainbow (the theme song was the best). My children loved the show as much as I. LeVar Burton was top notch as the host. World class.

    Sad day for children's programming. My 6 year old does watch Noggin religiously and they concentrate alot on phonics and reading. But the why is immensely important as well. :-(

  • Frith_Ra

    It was a good run. I hope someday people don't look up & say “Johnny can read, be he doesn't. Why not?”

  • http://themoderatevoice.com T_Steel

    Because that would take away from much of the show's educational power. Teaching phonics and reading is intensive. Reading Rainbow was all about the WHY. My 11-year old daughter read “Heat” by sports writer Mike Lupica because of Reading Rainbow. LeVar Burton emphasized the story, the content, the love. And he emphasized variety in reading.

  • shannonlee

    I may be over the top here…but is it possible that there will be major social repercussions from this cancelation?

    Think about some of the major problems we have today with our political discourse…the number of ignorant Americans that simply don't read enough to have the knowledge to enter responsibly into a political debate. Our general lack of knowledge is why catch phrases, 30 second blurbs, and 5 paragraph internet articles drive people to insanity…”I'll bite your pinky off”.

    Could it be that reading books is an essential part of any successful democracy? If we stop teaching our kids “why” to read…will they not read? Will future generations of Americans be even less informed?

  • DLS

    “Could it be that reading books is an essential part of any successful democracy? “

    I would say it certainly improves things, and is essential beyond having a successful democracy.

    I read (good, old-fashioned) books all the time. (That's why I have owned trucks — to acquire and to move more of them, easily.) I read on-line as well, but on my travels were I've seen others, mainly the younger people, they're listening to music or watching videos for entertainment, not for reading and learning.

    Side note:

    “the funding crunch”

    If we're really in bad economic times, aren't much of PBS and NPR luxuries that should be stopped?

  • archangel

    “possible that there will be major social repercussions from this cancelation?”

    dear shannonlee: my two cents? I dont think that's over the top. You may have seen some of my columns here at TMV on the death of storytelling in media, the slaughter of storytellers as the first wave of conquest, etc. The difference between teaching reading content and reading process, is two different things. There ought to be programs on PBS for both.

    I'm with Tyrone, LOVE of reading stories, LEARNING from stories, how to go in life, how perhaps NOT to go in life… this is essential to any group of people who want their young to be able to think broadly and deeply … and to remain inspired instead of hanging around like dead fish going, I dunno, I dunno.

    To put it another way, I see phonics and spelling and diagramming sentences and all, as critical to the mind. I see storytelling as critical to the soul… so so many of us, so many, were guided not by human beings directly, but as inspired by the heroics in books.

    I hope Reading Rainbow can be returned in full brightness. And another show on phonics be bright too.

    I remember when Geo Bush put some of his guys in high position of NEA and also on the board of I think PBS… they wanted to tilt the boat to their thinking til the boat capsized. Personally, I like the linear — and — the bounty of imagination, both. Just my two cents worth, I see them as complementary, not as enemies as some from both ends seem to want to use to create endless oppositions and arguing and stomping down… meanwhile, the children are growing up without benefit of both… in a world that increasingly REQUIRES both.

  • roro80

    Butterfly in the skyyyyyyyy, I can see twice as hiiiiiiiiiiiigh….

  • DLS

    “they wanted to tilt the boat to their thinking til the boat capsized”

    It included what you might call “Patriot Act” treatment of personnel as well as show content.

    https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?s

  • http://themoderatevoice.com T_Steel

    I love that theme, roro80. Makes me think of my kiddie days. LOL!

  • Gegenschattenbild

    Maintaining a well-educated and well-informed populace is hardly a luxury. We cannot rely on the market-driven news media to do this, because of their need to sell the news, and indirectly, to sell products.

  • DLS

    “Maintaining a well-educated and well-informed populace is hardly a luxury.”

    1. Much of what NPR and PBS does detracts from good education and information.

    2. “Shakespeare for the masses,” accompanying the introduction of television to the public, was naive.

    3. It's questionable and a concern if the federal government should have any kind of educational role.

    4. The paramount mission for “public media” should be almost identical to that of C-SPAN, namely, the broadcasting of federal government proceedings, hopefully with less exploitation in the form of managed press conferences, with an auxiliary function (of public media) as functioning as disaster, etc., channels.

  • DLS

    “I hope someday people don't look up & say 'Johnny can read, be he doesn't. Why not?'”

    I waited before stating it in case others would have said it, but hasn't Johnny been neglecting not only books and newspapers but the “old media,” of which PBS is a part, even though it's government-run?

    Johnny's on the Web, watching videos on YouTube, or doing other things rather than learning, that is.

  • Gegenschattenbild

    People are certainly welcome to their opinions, but not to facts.

    1. Show us the data proving this.

    2. Show us the data proving this.

    3. It may be questionable whether the federal gov't should have a role in education, but the fact is, they do at this time, and have for quite a while.

    4. “The paramount mission….should” — is an opinion statement. Show the data proving that public media should have this role. Just the facts, please.