Pop Culture

Even LeVar Burton can’t get the ‘Reading Rainbow’ song out of his head


Last week, LeVar Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign to revive his former children's TV show “Reading Rainbow” for the Web. 

He had a month to raise $1 million. He did it in 11 hours. Now, with the total at more than $3.39 million and growing, Burton has his eyes set on a new goal: $5 million.

We talked to the former "Star Trek: The Next Generation" star about Kickstarter, his connection to millennials and, of course, that song you can't get out of your head. 

What was it like to reach your goal in 11 hours? 

The $1 million mark was a shock. It was so unexpected. I was actually working on the set of “Perception.” A couple members of the team, they came up to me on the set when we rolled past $1 million and we captured the moment. It was very emotional for me because we are coming up on the 31st anniversary of "Reading Rainbow." It was June 6, 1983, when the first episode premiered on PBS. Children’s literacy has been a lifelong cause for me. 

Why do you think there was such a strong reaction to the Kickstarter campaign? 

I don’t know, slow news day? [Laughs] It has something to do with the first generation of "Reading Rainbow" watchers, the '80s and '90s babies. They think of this as an opportunity to give back. I run into them everyday on the street. 

I shouldn't be surprised [at their reaction], I suppose, because they are remarkable people. It’s emotional for a lot of reasons. I feel like I helped raise this generation. I take special pride in who they are. They all love literacy, they all love books, the written word is important to them, and I know we had a hand in that. To see see them turn around and want to ensure that future generations will also have the same kind of passion for literature and the written word, that’s huge. 

The "Reading Rainbow" theme song has been stuck in my head all week. Does that ever happen to you?

It always is. It’s in my head now! It has been stuck in my head for the past five days. 

Do you ever hear complaints from people about that song getting stuck in their head? 

Yesss ... I do. And it’s OK, it’s all good. Eventually, it will go away. I’m OK with the “Reading Rainbow” theme being my soundtrack in my own head for the foreseeable future, that would be absolutely fine with me.  

Has anyone pledged the $10,000 for that "Star Trek" package (including dinner with Burton in Los Angeles and a chance to wear his visor from "Star Trek: The Next Generation") yet?

There have been no takers yet. Here is the extraordinary thing: There are several other $10,000 packages that have to do with sponsoring schools, and they are all gone. I love that!

So where are the "Star Trek" fans?

They are out there. We might announce some surprises later this week that will sweeten the pot a bit. I’m thrilled that, for the most part, it has been $5, $10 and $20 contributions that have gotten us to where we are. We will hit 75,000 backers in an hour or so. The highest I think was 90,000 for the "Veronica Mars" project, and I think we are going to blow past that.

Do you keep the visor you wore as Geordi La Forge in your house? 

I do! It was the one thing that I really, really wanted as a souvenir from "Star Trek the Next Generation." I have a couple of other props, but none mean as much to me as the visor. Come on! I wore that every day for seven years. 

I don’t pull it out that often and I rarely put it on anybody else’s face. I think it’s a nice reward for the right person, and I know that the right person is out there. 

Why was it important for you to get to $1 million?

Right now, we are only on the iPad and the Kindle Fire. The online version gives us an opportunity to reach more people. Around 30 percent of people have access to an iPad and roughly 97 percent of people have access to the Web. So if you’re talking about universal access, you have to be on the Web, and the first $1 million helped us do that.

With $5 million, it gets us on mobile, set-top boxes, video game consoles and in more classrooms. We want to put a tool in teachers' hands so that they can use the "Reading Rainbow" books and the video field trips —which are a critical part of what we do, because they tie the real world to the books that kids read.

I’m overjoyed. We’re just getting started here. Now I want to see where this can go, and I want to see how much we can get done. I feel like we have a whole generation of millennials who want to see us succeed. 

Keith Wagstaff writes about technology for NBC News. He previously covered technology for TIME's Techland and wrote about politics as a staff writer at TheWeek.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @kwagstaff and reach him by email at: Keith.Wagstaff@nbcuni.com