LeVar Burton has to take a moment. He pauses, dabs his eyes with a tissue, taking it all in: the washed-out white room, over-exposed by the sun, filled with journalists, industry reps and friends in rows of folding chairs, red, orange, yellow, green and blue. Large balloons hang from the corners of the room, dressed up like hot air balloons, carrying small, empty baskets. A guitar sits next to an amp off the corner of the stage while the Reading Rainbow logo beams on a flatscreen monitor, largely unchanged since its heyday a quarter-century ago. Burton, too, appears mostly unchanged since those days, aside from closer-cropped hair, more neatly manicured facial hair and a smart, mustard suit jacket.
There's plenty to be emotional about, of course, hitting the stage on the tail of an introduction by producer Mark Wolfe, who calls Burton, "my best friend." The return of Reading Rainbow - now in the form of an iPad app - has been a long time coming, the beloved children's series having been largely MIA since being pulled from the airwaves in 2009, after a 26-year run. "This is two years in the making," Burton begins in his familiarly gentle cadence as we sit down for an interview roughly an hour later, "and I'm really just overwhelmed with the response. It's like making a movie. You're just so close to it and you sometimes lose perspective, you can't see the forest for the trees, that sort of thing. There's so much that's gone into it, so much work, so much sweat, so much blood."
A lot, certainly, has gone into the launch, Burton singling out theme song composer Steve Horelick and singer Tina Fabrique in the audience. "It's my first time meeting her in-person," he explains, extending a hand to bring her up on stage. "Butterfly in the sky," she begins, as though not a single day had passed in the last two and a half decades that she didn't wake up singing that line. "I can go twice as high," Burton joins in. By "take a look, it's in a book," nearly everyone in attendance adds to the chorus. It's a surreal sight placed up against the standard fare of tech press conferences, where bloggers elbow one another to shoot tablets on stands behind bulletproof plexiglass, and before the crowd finishes singing "a Reading Rainbow," Burton's eyes aren't the only misty ones in the house.