Tuesday, May 27, 2003
In a plea for the life of "Reading Rainbow," host LeVar Burton returned to a familiar setting: the stage where he picked up the PBS show's seventh Emmy Award for best children's television series.
"If you are a wealthy philanthropist out there, I'm not that difficult to find," said Burton, the show's executive producer and host since it began in 1983.
He's still waiting. And "Reading Rainbow," which has counterintuitively used television to introduce children to a world of books, may only have a few months to live.
"Reading Rainbow" has several strikes against it in the battle for funding. For starters, it has no access to merchandise licensing deals, an increasingly important part of PBS' funding scheme for children's shows. There are no "Reading Rainbow" action figures to sell, no "Reading Rainbow" jammies to keep kids warm at night.
Over the past several years, Burton and his backers have been producing fewer "Reading Rainbow" episodes because money was short. This season, only four new shows were made.
The production company has a $2 million annual budget, and no money to go forward, he said.
"We have pieced it together by hook or by crook every year," said Burton, who helped start the series so children, during summer months away from school, could retain what they had learned.
PBS wants to keep the show alive, and will have the summer to hunt for more money before a decision must be made.