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