You probably know LeVar Burton from one of three places. He is well-aware of this, as he has summed these up in his Twitter profile: Kunta, Geordi, Reading Rainbow Guy. Whether you first met him in his breakout role in the Roots miniseries as Kunta Kinte, on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Geordi La Forge, or Reading Rainbow as the guy who told you stories, he’s been around for a while. Even if you haven’t seen him acting recently, he’s still around and finding new projects to work on. His next big project might even end up being the host of Jeopardy.
It all started when fans passed around a petition calling for LeVar Burton to be the new host of Jeopardy. Burton was thankful and the push was so big that the people in charge of the show had to have heard the fan outcry. However, there have still been no official announcements about a long-term host for the show to replace Alex Trebek. For now, they are hiring guest hosts and putting off making a permanent decision.
Geordi LaForge Returns?
LeVar Burton remains busy with his podcast. He is also hoping to appear in at least one episode of season two of Picard. “I’ve suggested to the producers that we find Geordi in a position where he’s teaching, passing his knowledge on to other people,” said LeVar Burton. “We’ll see. [Alex Kurtzmann] and the folks in charge are doing an amazing job, when they call, whatever it is they want me to do, I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be spectacular.”
LeVar Burton has also signed on as a director for a documentary series called Two-Front War. This civil rights docuseries will be covering the stories of Black soldiers in the Vietnam War. About the project, he said, “I have looked long and hard to find a subject that inspires me to want to bring my voice to the field of documentary filmmaking. Both the Vietnam War and the movement for civil rights in America, are events that not only dominated my childhood and adolescence, they have gone a long way towards shaping the man and the storyteller I am today.”
LeVar Burton Stars in Roots
While Kunta Kinte wasn’t LeVar Burton’s first role, it was his breakthrough moment in the industry. Based on the novel by Alex Haley, Roots was a miniseries released by ABC in 1977. The story takes place over generations, but Kunta Kinte is the most memorable character from the classic.
While Roots may not be as well known today as it was in 1977, an overview of cinema starring Black characters would be incomplete without mentioning this series and Burton’s role.
The series was nominated for 37 Emmy Awards and won nine of them. LeVar Burton himself was nominated in the Emmy category, Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series.
After Roots, LeVar Burton took on several roles on television, but it wasn’t until 1983 that he picked up his next big job: the reading guy on Reading Rainbow for PBS. He would host the show, as well as become an executive producer, over the 23 seasons of the series.
Reading Rainbow was a PBS series that encouraged children to read. It did this through covering a topic from a children’s book and would often visit locations, giving kids more information about the stories. He would also recommend several books for children to look for at their local libraries.
LeVar Burton On Star Trek
While he continued working on Reading Rainbow, LeVar Burton was still picking up roles as an actor on television shows and movies. He seemed to take the approach that staying busy was best for his career, which is often the case.
In 1986, Gene Roddenberry approached LeVar Burton about joining the cast of his upcoming series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was specifically approached for the role of Geordi La Forge. At the time, LeVar Burton was a more well-known name than Patrick Stewart, the lead on the show, and there was a lot of speculation about his character.
As Star Trek fans will be glad to tell you, Geordi La Forge rises in the ranks throughout his time on board the USS Enterprise. He starts out as helmsman, becomes the chief engineer by season two, and eventually becomes Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge.
The television series aired from 1987 to 1994. Even after it was over, LeVar Burton took up the role of La Forge several times more in the movies Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Star Trek: Nemesis.
While working on Star Trek, LeVar Burton saw another opportunity for expanding his career and took up directing.
LeVar Burton: The Director
When LeVar Burton becomes involved in something, he sees opportunities for growth and business everywhere. He’s not only an actor. When he joined Reading Rainbow, he worked to become an executive producer. When he saw the opportunity to begin directing, he took it. And no matter how much steady success he had on long term roles on Reading Rainbow or Star Trek: The Next Generation, he continued picking up small acting parts in other television series. This diversity in his career kept him working.
He directed two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and picked up stray episodes on a variety of shows like Charmed and JAG. He also took on about ten episodes each for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise.
In 2003, he directed the movie Blizzard, which received an award at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival.
More recently, LeVar Burton’s work as a director has been on NCIS: New Orleans, though that ended when the 2020 lockdowns began.
2020 Lockdowns Shut Burton’s Work Down
Though LeVar Burton had continued to stay characteristically busy with directing and speaking engagements, these were canceled at the start of 2020 when lockdowns began. He told Variety, “Like everybody right now, I’m currently unemployed.” This didn’t sit well with him.
He still had some work he had been doing with Reading Rainbow. When Reading Rainbow ended in 2006, LeVar Burton and his business partner Mark Wolfe purchased the global rights to the brand. They then formed a media company for children called RRKIDZ.
In 2012, they used this company to release a Reading Rainbow app for the iPad that took off. Interest in the brand stayed well and alive.
Finding himself unemployed, LeVar Burton was spending more time online. He saw musicians doing live streams. Eventually, he brought up the idea of reading stories live on Twitter. Soon, Twitter got involved to make sure he was comfortable with the technology. Author Neil Gaiman gave Levar Burton permission to read any of his stories. From there, other authors also volunteered many of their works.
Soon, the LeVar Burton Podcast was born. There, Burton reads stories from well-known authors to the adults who grew up listening to him tell them stories.
About his decision, he told Variety, “It was recognizing the moment and stepping into it. I thought, ‘I could do that.’ This is something I love doing — reading aloud. That’s what I am, I’m a storyteller. I believe stories have the power to bring us together. Clearly there is a need.”