“Reading Rainbow,” the popular PBS book show for children, has been funded over the past 10 years by PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Science Foundation, the Kellogg Co. and for a while by the Carnegie Foundation and B. Dalton Booksellers.
Still, with 10 shows a year and a budget of $ 250,000 per show, a lot of money is required to keep the project going. Overall budget for the project, including its out-reach programs in classrooms and libraries, is considerably more, according to Liggett.
Twila Liggett, “Reading Rainbow” executive producer and project director, says, “This began on a shoestring and a prayer. We have increased our budget over the years, but I have to say that funding is still very, very difficult. Lately, I’ve been scratching my head and hoping we can figure out how to get one more grant to make the next budget fly.”
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has provided more than $ 7 million in direct funding to “Reading Rainbow” including funds for the original pilot program in July 1983.
“We’ve funded ‘Reading Rainbow,’ ” says CPB spokeswoman Melissa Duprat, “because from the very beginning it was clear that this was an excellent program that met its goal–to motivate children aged 5 to 8 to read books.”
The Washington-based National Science Foundation (NSF) has contributed more than $ 2 million to the project since 1985. Hyman Field, who heads a NSF section called Students, Parents and Public Education, says the foundation, which is funded through Congress and supports basic research and education in the sciences, got involved in order to reach the show’s audience with information about science.
“‘Reading Rainbow’ had been focussing more on adventure or humanities-related books,” Field says. “Our support was to encourage them to include books about science, and they have been doing that.”
Field says that third-party evaluation data prepared for the project indicates that children, who watch “Rainbow” shows covering science, do go to libraries afterwards to find the books covered. Librarians will often then lead the kids to other science books.
The NSF does not exercise any editorial control over the program but Field said that by dint of the mandate of their grant, “Rainbow” producers will suggest specific titles and seek a reaction. “Some of the science titles at one point all seemed to focus in one area of science,” Field says. “We suggested they find a broader range of books and they certainly responded to that.”
Kellogg Co., the Battle Creek, Michigan-based cereal manufacturer, has supported the show from the start, says Karen MacLeod, manager of communications , because the company has long been committed to child education, children’s programming and literacy.
“We’ve been proud to contribute to a program that has such an impact on reading and learning,” MacLeod says. “We believe that ‘Reading Rainbow’ is the type of educational program that really helps promote healthy minds and literacy among children.”
Kellogg’s funding has varied from year to year and MacLeod says the company doesn’t reveal dollar figures. In 1989, however, it was reported that the company had provided $ 1.5 million over three years to “Reading Rainbow.”
More than that, Kellogg put its cereal where its mouth is by carrying information from “Reading Rainbow” on the back of cereal boxes. “We developed back-of-the-box stories talking about reading to hopefully stimulate children to be interested in reading more about the topic,” MacLeod says. “We encouraged them to go to their library and to watch ‘Reading Rainbow.’ ”
Kellogg sponsors a series of public service announcements on television dealing with literacy and in January of this year the company donated 500,000 Dr. Seuss books to disadvantaged schools across the country.
“I think the key thing with ‘Reading Rainbow,’ ” MacLeod says, “is that they consistently produce high-quality, award-winning educational programming that motivates kids to read. That’s very important to us and it’s very important to us, as a company, to support that type of educational television.”
While not a parent herself, Mac-Leod is a big fan of the show. She sent copies of one episode, “Through Moon and Stars and Night Skies,” which dealt with adoption, to friends who had adopted children.
“I thought it was the most fantastic program,” MacLeod says. “My friends have expressed how it’s really helped them in talking to their own adopted children and helped the children feel comfortable with the fact that they’ve been adopted. That’s the kind of power that those programs have.”
As grateful as Twila Liggett is to the current sources of the project’s funding, she would like more. Some additional revenue is being generated through licensing. Albums with original music from the show are available and now 12 episodes of the TV show are available on videocassette, distributed by PBS Video/Pacific Arts.
“One of my dearest hopes is to see a homevideo packaged with a book,” says Liggett. “We also just concluded a licensing agreement with GameTek, who are hoping to develop a multimedia, computer software game of some sort. That’s still in the very early stages. It will be a little more educational in orientation than GameTek has had in the past.”
Liggett is always concerned about finding funding sources for new production without compromising the project’s integrity. “I think that’s important, particularly for PBS programming,” she says.
“I really think we have a high responsibility to license and otherwise expand our programs with integrity.”
Hoping very much that “Reading Rainbow” will be around for another 10 years, Liggett says, “I hope we would reach kids who really need this show. Not that we aren’t already; I think we are making some inroads. But there are children out there who aren’t read to, for a lot of different reasons.
“I think being read to and hearing really positive messages about who you can be are so important to kids. If we can reach those kids who need to hear that the most, I will be a happy person.”