PBS Remixes 'Reading Rainbow,' Delights Map And Book Nerds Everywhere

Dec 3, 2012
Originally published on December 4, 2012 2:48 pm

PBS Digital Studios started its "Icons Remixed" series with a charming Fred Rogers video that was hugely successful this summer, and followed it with "Happy Little Clouds" from Bob Ross and "Keep On Cooking" with Julia Child.

Now, they're back with "In Your Imagination," a remixed Reading Rainbow video that not only highlights great little phrases that are both funny and profound (I will never get tired of Levar Burton saying "I love maps," I don't think) but also reminds you just how long Burton has been working on this project — which went off the air in 2009 after 23 years and 155 episodes, but which has been relaunched, thus far as an app, by Burton himself.

I'm not sure I love it more than the Mr. Rogers video, but it's lovely. You can listen to Mandalit del Barco's story from Tuesday's Morning Edition at the link above.

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Let's hear now how an old beloved cultural touchstone in this country is being reworked for a contemporary audience. It's a long-running public TV show for kids. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: PBS cancelled "Reading Rainbow" in 2006 after 23 years of teaching children about the joys of literature. But it lives again on YouTube with its host LeVar Burton in Auto-Tune.


LEVAR BURTON: (Singing) There are stories everywhere you look, if you're looking the right way. New castles were built, mysteries to be solved, the answer (unintelligible)...


The remix is a mash-up of clips with Burton encouraging young viewers to read. This year, Burton also launched an app that repurposes content from the original TV show. He told the website Tech Crunch that fans are also reworking the theme song.


BURTON: (Singing) Reading rainbow, reading rainbow, reading rainbow...

There's an ownership. People feel like "Reading Rainbow" is theirs. And so you get the sublime and sometimes the ridiculous.

BARCO: The "Reading Rainbow" Auto-Tune version is just the latest in PBS's new Icons Remixed series. It started last summer with the classic Mr. Rogers lacing up his sneakers and singing to kids.


FRED ROGERS: (Singing) It's good to be curious, about many things. You can think about things and make believe...

BARCO: And Bob Ross talking about painting landscapes.


BOB ROSS: (Singing) And build a happy little cloud, and build your happy little trees...

BARCO: And Julia Child reveling in the joy of cooking.


JULIA CHILD: (Singing) Cooking, cooking, she loves cooking. This is the way (unintelligible). Bon appetit.

JASON SEIKEN: Right, this crazy Auto-Tune thing.

BARCO: Jason Seiken is vice president of PBS Interactive.

SEIKEN: We decided that we really needed to take a different approach and get much more in tune with the gestalt of the Web, retaining the PBS quality but put a YouTube sensibility around it.

BARCO: Seiken says the first three videos had more than 13 million views and thousands of comments from people nostalgic for their old PBS favorites.

SEIKEN: The comments kind of mostly fall into a couple of categories: I can't believe I'm crying man-tears over this, and I can't believe this is an official PBS production.

BARCO: Now PBS is asking its digital audience to decide who to auto-tune next. How about Bob Villa fixing up an old house, or Alistair Cooke from "Masterpiece Theater"? Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high. Take a look, it's in a book, a reading rainbow. I can go anywhere, friends...

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.