LeVar Burton Is Being Sued by a Public Broadcasting Station Over Reading Rainbow

Pacific Press/Getty Images
Pacific Press/Getty Images

In today’s episode of Black People Can’t Have a Damn Thing, Not Even if We Played a Major Role in Building It From the Ground Up, actor LeVar Burton is being personally sued by a Buffalo, N.Y., public broadcasting station that wants to stop him from using a Reading Rainbow catchphrase on his new podcast.


According to the Hollywood Reporter, WNED filed a “wide-ranging” lawsuit Friday that includes the demands that Burton’s company, RRKidz, hand over access to various websites and social media accounts, and that Burton himself cease using the Reading Rainbow catchphrase “But you don’t have to take my word for it” on his podcast, LeVar Burton Reads.

Although Friday’s lawsuit is new, THR reports that Burton and WNED have been tied up in court for years over a 2011 licensing deal that granted Burton the use of intellectual property related to the beloved PBS show, which ran from 1983 to 2006 with Burton as host.

From THR:

WNED’s interpretation of the agreement is that the 2011 deal represented a “divide and conquer” approach to the renaissance of Reading Rainbow whereby RRKidz would be allowed to take over digital distribution of the series while the broadcaster would focus on making new episodes. Profits were to be split.

But then in 2014, Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the show’s revival and brought in $6.5 million. WNED was upset at the loss of control and further alleges that its own efforts to develop a new series were undermined when RRKidz along with The Jim Henson Co. began secretly negotiating with Netflix for a new Reading Rainbow series. In response to the allegation, RRKidz said the Netflix discussions pertained to an original concept and not Reading Rainbow.

In a nutshell, WNED appears to be upset that Burton has discussed a Reading Rainbow for adults and that the media latched on to that phrase as the slogan for Burton’s podcast.

Burton reportedly told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, “People are calling it Reading Rainbow for adults, and I can’t stop them from that.”


According to THR, WNED is suing Burton and RRKidz for copyright infringement, conversion, cybersquatting, violations of the Lanham Act, breach of contract and interference with customer relations. The station is asking not only for an injunction but also for profits from Burton’s podcast.

Sounds like a lot of hateration in the dancery. LeVar Burton IS Reading Rainbow. We associate him with the show automatically. WNED would not have a product or anything to sue for were it not for Burton. How are you going to sue him for using a catchphrase that he said on television for more than 20 years? Get a life.


But you know how it goes. If I can’t have none, you can’t, either.

News Editor for The Root. I said what I said. Period.


Melanin Monroe

It seems to me that WNED’s ass is chafed mostly over the supposed Netflix deal, since they were supposed to be the only ones able to make new episodes for television. So the real question is, is Netflix “digital” or is it TV? Despite its successful foray and subsequent domination of the television world in recent years, I’d say Netflix (like Hulu) is a digital platform. There is no “Netflix Channel” offered by cable companies, you can only access their products and content through their apps. And if Burton had a license to use Reading Rainbow IP for digital content, I think he’s technically in his right to bring a show to Netflix or any other digital platform. WNED is mad because they hadn’t considered a company evolving the way Netflix did when they gave him the license (House of Cards, their first original series debuted in 2013), thinking they could throw Levar Burton a bone by sticking him with the “digital only” part of the deal, while simultaneously trying to make new money off of decades of his hard work, and thinking that his gains would just stop at an iPhone app. He outsmarted you, “interpret” that.