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LeVar Burton Joins Celebrity Ranks on Kickstarter. But Is It A Worthy Cause?

Photo of Paula Bernstein By Paula Bernstein | Indiewire May 29, 2014 at 4:37PM

LeVar Burton tries to resurrect "Reading Rainbow," the old PBS children's show, as an app with an insanely popular Kickstarter ampaign.
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LeVar Burton
LeVar Burton on "Star Trek: The Next Generation"

Depending upon your age, you either know LeVar Burton best as Kunta Kinte from the legendary "Roots" miniseries, Geordi La Forge from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" or, if you grew up in the 80s or 90s, as the host and producer of "Reading Rainbow," the popular children's show that aired on PBS from 1983-2006 and encouraged kids to read.

"Roots"
"Roots"

Now you can add Burton to the list of celebrities who have had success raising money on Kickstarter. His campaign to ressurect "Reading Rainbow" for a new generation of kids -- in the classroom -- has way surpassed its original $1 million goal in less than 24 hours. The campaign is close to hitting the $2 million mark -- and it isn't set to end until Wednesday, June 2.

To give you an idea of just how successful the campaign is, nearly 45,000 people have backed it and it has raised more than Spike Lee's Kickstarter project.  It's now the 28th most funded project to-date (and moving up fast) and is just a few thousand dollars away from doubling its $1M goal.

The goal of the campaign is to bring Reading Rainbow's "unlimited library of interactive books and video field trips to kids everywhere & help classrooms most in need," according to the Kickstarter page.

Burton writes, "Over the past year, I have watched Kickstarter bring communities together to support artists and inventors. Again and again, I have been inspired by watching like-minded people team up to accomplish impossible dreams, and to change the world."

Given the good will that Reading Rainbow has engendered, it wouldn't be surprising if the campaign surpasses the Zach Braff campaign for "Wish I Was Here," which raised more than $3 million.

But while campaigns such as Braff's, Lee's and "Veronica Mars" succeeded financially, they also drew criticism about celebrities dominating a crowd funding platform that many felt should be populated by more worthy projects from folks who couldn't raise funds in other ways.

At SXSW, "House of Cards" producer Dana Brunetti railed against celebrity crowdfunders, saying they "overshadow and take away from the little guys who actually need the funding."

The difference here, of course, is that the campaign isn't for a vanity project or fan-fueled TV show, but for a good cause that will help kids -- how can you argue with that?

Apparently, you can argue with that -- as some journalists have already poked holes in the premise of the campaign. Over at The Washington Post, Caitlin Dewey points out that the original show was, in fact, cancelled because it wasn't actually very successful. On top of that, this isn't some charity. LeVar Burton's company will presumably make money off of the proposed app which will be available by subscription (as opposed to the public television show, which was free TV).

"If you’re donating to the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter out of nostalgia for a show you watched and loved, by all means, proceed," writes Dewey. "But if you’re donating to Reading Rainbow because of the grandiose charity rhetoric Burton’s employing on Kickstarter, you might want to look elsewhere…"

Check out the campaign video below:


This article is related to: Crowdfunding, Kickstarter , LeVar Burton, LeVar Burton, Spike Lee







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