Three years after PBS pulled the plug on Reading Rainbow, actor LeVar Burton, the show's longtime host, is reviving the educational series with his new company, RRKidz. Burton says that when PBS ran out of funding for the show, he took it as a sign that it was up to the private sector to save education.
"Our coffers are empty," Burton says. "There's no more money to educate the nation's children in a way Americans have come to believe we need to educate them."
So, in 2010, Burton and film producer Mark Wolfe launched a for-profit technology company to develop educational tools for kids. After raising nearly $3 million from Raymond's Capital and the Kauffman Foundation, Burton and Wolfe licensed the rights to the Reading Rainbow brand and hired serial tech entrepreneur Asra Rasheed to be the new company's CEO.
RRKidz's first product, a Reading Rainbow iPad app that includes a trove of digital books and games, created plenty of buzz when it launched in June. And Burton says the app is just the beginning.
This fall, he and Wolfe plan to make all 152 episodes of Reading Rainbow available for online streaming.
Burton returned to television this summer in TNT's new crime drama Perception. But he says his role at RRKidz will continue to take priority.
"I believe we have the ability to revolutionize the way we educate children through tablet computers," he says. "That is where my focus is."