What's up with Reading Rainbow?
April 30, 2005 7:58 PM   Subscribe

The TV Tome entry for Reading Rainbow is an extended attack on the show and those involved with it. What gives? I never realized the thing was a source of so much controversy.

And after reading the whole thing, I still don't understand the controversy.

* What is the "ITV industry"?

* How did the show's main focus become "increasingly more pessimistic starting on Tuesday, September 11, 1990"? Why did this result in the show being "increasingly identified with mood swings"?

* What "outdated material" did the show hold on to for "far too long"?

* How did Reading Rainbow manage to destory the "opportunity for other consistently-good children's television series to enjoy long lives on PBS"?

* What's the meaning of the quote in this paragraph: "And then there who those who blamed PBS affiliates for not picking up consistently-good series for the wrong reasons. Always their conversations would include words to the effect of, "It's a miracle anything gets on the air unmolested because of Reading Rainbow! And you're saying it's my fault?""

* Why is Reading Rainbow described as being a victim of "spectacular self-corruption"?

* What sins did "GPN" commit to deserve this: "Still, it is apparent that GPN, whether it will ever realize it or not (and chances are it won't) did everything in their power not to improve their show or PBS Kids."

* Anything else that helps explain the Reading Rainbow hate...
posted by punishinglemur to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know, but it seems pretty clear someone has an axe to grind. Scrolling down to the bottom, we see:

So we're leaving the decision up to you.

To keep Reading Rainbow, call 216-241-7387.

To dump Reading Rainbow, call 216-739-3848.

The second phone number is for someone who works at the PBS station in Cleveland. The first is for Alcoholics Anonymous in the same city.
posted by tss at 8:17 PM on April 30, 2005

This current.org article about kids programming gives a saner account and explains a few of the obscure references, but still no clue on the specific Reading Rainbow controversy. My curiosity is piqued; I'm googling, and hoping someone who knows more comes along. Interesting question.
posted by Alylex at 8:49 PM on April 30, 2005

ITV = Instructional television. It appears to be educational programming used by teachers in a class setting.
posted by O9scar at 9:18 PM on April 30, 2005

Nothing negative mentioned in Wikipedia's Reading Rainbow entry either. Granted:
The series has kept itself current. In recent years it has tackled emotional issues that other children's programs have historically avoided. Topics like 9-11, childbirth and prison have been presented from the child's point of view.
posted by NickDouglas at 9:40 PM on April 30, 2005

Best answer: Damnit, punishinglemur, now this will haunt me. I have a feeling this is one individual's bizarre axe to grind, but that's a hard premise to prove.

Possible hints: The author identifies this watershed episode, September 11 1990 - See an (unbiased) summary here


Jack, The Seal and the Sea
Levar Burton introduces this episode by discussing how essential it is to the environment. He joins the crew of marine biologists who examine the condition of marine life with water and sea bottom samples... Children describe ways to help protect the environment...

See the TV Tome author's review of the episode -


Note particularly this statement:

Water pollution takes hold in this first of many thoroughly sad episodes for the series.

There is also an enigmatic reference to Exxon in the review, perhaps an allusion to Exxon serving as a sponsor and the Valdex spill?

A slew of mild and descriptive reviews follows, then hmm, here's another... odd comment...


From the point of view of the born environmental extremist, this feature book is fundamentally stark view on preserving Nature.

Another weird one here


Over the previous five years, Reading Rainbow (a homeless series in its own right) had turned out shows that were totally sad, among them "Jack, the Seal and the Sea" on September 11, 1990. But none topped the release of "Fly Away Home" in April 1996... Some were correct to call it another nail in the coffin of American television.

The book is about a homeless father and son.

A thread in the forums raises some similar questions about TV Tome's treatment of this show, but no answers are forthcoming...


There are a number of snippets with little snarks directed against the show throughout, some other less classifiable bizarre comments...





Add to the bizarre, the "infamous" (in this one person's mind) September 11, 1990 episode gets a mention in the Sesame Street entry as well, sort of gratuitously tacked on in a reference to Sesame Street's handling of 9/11/01.


It all seems to add up to something but I'm damned if I can figure out exactly what. There seems to be a general trend against serious or topical shows in general: whether the environmental theme in the supposed watershed 9/11/90 episode is particularly relevant or just part of what the author finds objectional, I don't know.

Given many references to specific events, stations dropping the program on specific dates, etc. it seems like the author must have some sort of inside connection to the industry.

I fear this is Reading Rainbow viewed through a single individual's twisted lens, shaped by specific issues and events that we will probably never have a decent accounting of. I hit the issue from every angle I could on the internet at large and there is not a hint that the controversy exists anywhere other than the mind of whoever wrote these reviews (is there a way to show authorship of posts on TV Tome? I couldn't see one).

On the plus side, I just flushed 2 hours of my life down the toilet obsessing over (probably) some freak's private obsession over a perfectly innoccuous and often quite charming children's show that I used to quite enjoy. No, wait, that's just another negative.
posted by nanojath at 11:04 PM on April 30, 2005

Thanks nanojath for your research.
posted by Staggering Jack at 11:11 PM on April 30, 2005

Neat little game not discussed anywhere else: Go to the cast list and scroll down the long, long line of guest stars. Not all of them have narrated books for Reading Rainbow (they are identified as "Narrator" in the individual episode credits). But of the narrators listed, can you tell how many of them are dead? You'd be surprised at the percentage.
Coincidence? Or...CURSE?!?
posted by Guy Smiley at 11:12 PM on April 30, 2005

I've thought that Reading Rainbow has a socially liberal or social justice-oriented slant before, while watching the show as an adult. It's not something I ever noticed as a kid. Maybe that's the source of the tvtome writer's angst.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:35 PM on April 30, 2005

Not this matters much... but I used to have a band mate who'd play the theme constantly during rehearsal. It was really annoying.
posted by Livewire Confusion at 4:12 AM on May 1, 2005

I live in Cleveland, if you find out who the joker is, I'll go rearrange his or her... living room. I loved that show.
posted by sciurus at 6:30 AM on May 1, 2005

Reading Rainbow was my (and my gf's) favorite show growing up in the 80s...this seems like a crackpot with a particular axe to grind.

So homeless environmentalists are bad now?
*rushes off to inform friends*
posted by schyler523 at 10:46 AM on May 1, 2005

Reading Rainbow has a socially liberal or social justice-oriented slant before

No offense intended, but since when is environmentalism a liberal topic? Even in the "small-l" liberal-sense?

I always thought Reading Rainbow was one of the last classy productions on PBS. Nowadays it's all condescending cartoons with dim-witted, "you just don't get it, maaan" parents lauding precocious little brats.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:39 PM on May 1, 2005

I was an editor on TV Tome for some years. No, really. All you had to do to edit a particular, uh, tome, was sign up for the slot. I never did anything in this capacity; wasn't sure what the hell I was supposed to do. But every time I logged in, there my name was.

So, I'm guessing that this guy with this inarticulate axe to grind against poor hapless Levar Burton is just some schmuck who wandered in off the internet and doesn't reflect the opinions of TV Tome the organization - who could probably give a rat's ass about Levar Burton - in any way.
posted by Clay201 at 9:04 PM on May 1, 2005

*sigh* Why can't a kids' show just be a kids' show? Reminds me how I read recently that every guest star that's ever been on Sesame Street is a liberal or something. Who cares?
posted by IndigoRain at 9:48 PM on May 1, 2005

Reading Rainbow has a socially liberal or social justice-oriented slant before

No offense intended, but since when is environmentalism a liberal topic? Even in the "small-l" liberal-sense?

I've never seen any environmental Reading Rainbow episodes. But I have seen episodes about urban issues, poverty and race. Maybe I should have just said "social justice" and left out the word "liberal," but I associate those two concepts with one another. My point is, I believe that the show encourages its audience to feel empathy for others and concern about the state of the world. In today's hyper-polarized political climate, that might be perceived as liberal.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:21 PM on May 1, 2005

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