`Rainbow’ Fading? Last Hurrah for Live-Action Kiddie TV

May 26, 2003  •  Post A Comment

A week ago, Reading Rainbow won the Emmy as Best Children’s Series for the third year in a row, bringing its total number of Emmys to 18 in 19 seasons. PBS ranks it as the program most used as a teaching aide in American schools. After the death of Fred Rogers, it is about the last national show aimed at 5- to 8-year-olds hosted by a human being, Lavar Burton, doesn’t include any animation and isn’t a subliminal tool to sell licensed merchandise. Yet in the wake of government funding cuts and tough economic times, it’s very existence is threatened. The problem is, as always, money. “While it’s watching television, it’s also encouraging kids to read and explore the world of books. There’s nothing else like it out there today,” said Nicole Silver, co-president with Orly Wiseman of RCN Entertainment, producer of the series owned by two PBS affiliates WGPN-TV in Lincoln, Neb., and WNED-TV in Buffalo, N.Y. Mrs. Silver, who gave birth to her third child only two weeks ago, said as a working mother, it breaks her heart to see the show sliding away. “Orly and I want our children and their friends to be able to grow up on this show, as the last generation has,” she said. “There aren’t great choices out there for kids.” They do five or 10 episodes a season, at a cost of about $225,000 each. Most kid’s show, even Sesame Street or Barney, make money by licensing characters to sell children merchandise. Reading Rainbow doesn’t do that. It won’t even accept funding from book publishers, because that might be seen as influencing which books are featured on the show. Barnes & Noble sponsored the past two seasons, but has now dropped out. If about $2 million isn’t found, there will be an end to the rainbow, and there will be no pot of gold at the end for America’s children.