Top Ten Television Moments of My Life
by LeVar Burton on July 8, 2013
It’s a year since the Reading Rainbow app went live and a month since we’ve been on Kindle Fire. I had no idea when the show began in 1983 that it would stick around for this long. You only get to 30 years one step at a time, and the first step on our mission was to use the radical medium of television to promote literature to kids, no more or no less nefarious an idea than that, and it worked. For me, the next step is to apply that same idea to the new medium of tablet computers because, if you want to reach kids today, that’s where you have to be, on a mobile device. The message is the same, just the medium is different.
PBS was one of those institutions back in the day that you could put your kids in front of it and it wouldn’t matter. You didn’t have to know what the program was, you just knew it was going to be good for your kid, and your kid was going to enjoy it. I think there’s a real need for a PBS-like curator in this new world of digitized content, and I’m going to take a shot at that space with our kids and the Reading Rainbow app and brand and the goods and services we’re developing. It’s our first step to becoming that PBS-like curator for children and their families. And you still absolutely don’t have to take my word for it. In fact, I’d rather you didn’t.
Now, the Top Ten Television Moments of my life. This will be fun!
NUMBER 1 – I’m of an age when the moon landing gave us “One giant leap for mankind.” That’s pretty big. And for the record, I do not believe it was photographed in Stanley Kubrick’s studio. I think they were actually there, I think they had cameras with them, I think they actually documented a real moment on the moon.
NUMBER 2 – The John F. Kennedy assassination and the funeral procession. That was pretty powerful.
NUMBER 3 – The assassination of Martin Luther King and the TV coverage and, I’m sorry, but NUMBER 4 is the assassination of Robert Kennedy.
Like funerals, tragedies bring us together. That was part of the experience of the early days of broadcast television. It was a village experience. With the limited offerings, we were all experiencing these moments simultaneously.
So, NUMBER 5 for me is the entire civil rights struggle, all sort of stitched together into a collage. Images of different events: marches, dogs in Selma, AL, kids being escorted into school in the south; all kinds of television images of the civil rights struggle, and its strength, its beauty, and the horror of that struggle in terms of the violence that was inflicted upon people that only wanted to be free.
NUMBER 6 – I’m going right to Roots. At that point in my life, television took on a whole new meaning, and the power of the medium was really revealed to me in eight consecutive nights of TV.
NUMBER 7 – This represents all of those great moments that I have experienced through sport, but it was the Kirk Gibson walk-off home run (in the 1988 World Series) when he played for the Dodgers. This is after he played for the Tigers; he played for the Dodgers. It was a phenomenal walk-off home run. It helped the Dodgers win the Series. This represents all of the San Francisco Giants games I listened to on the radio, all the Oakland A’s games that I watched on TV, all the Super Bowls, all of those great Wide World of Sports moments, all of the sports I watched; it’s sort of all wrapped up in that Kirk Gibson two-run home run.
NUMBER 8 – I’m going with one of those big, globally televised concert events: Live Aid! Around the world! Let’s use the medium for something really radical, right? Let’s feed people. Let’s cure hunger. There’s an idea! That was cool. Live Aid and Farm Aid and all those other concerts that used the medium as a way to galvanize people into social action. That’s a really powerful use.
In later years it’s really hard to get dialed in to a singular event on television. However, I will say that, for me, NUMBER 9 is the coverage of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. I remember that entire weekend. I was in a television studio editing a pilot for a talk show that I shot at Paramount. I was on a small lot here in Los Angeles and I was surrounded by the coverage; I was inundated with the coverage. So impactful that this bright light was gone and the world responded in a unanimous outpouring of grief. And that was powerful. I felt that we were all connected through our experience of that event. Of her death, and of course the funeral and all the press coverage and even that the press was a part of that story. Did they actually do something to cause that car to crash? It was all just a big sort of media juggernaut. It was huge.
NUMBER 10? I’m gonna leave that open. I’m leaving room for something that has the kind of power and impact that the previous nine events have individually and collectively had on my life. I’m holding out hope for one more major thing. And I’m not necessarily hoping for a tragedy, I just want to leave room for the possibility that something else amazing could happen. Say, if aliens were to land and we were to get that on TV. That’d be pretty spectacular, right? Or if all of a sudden Israel and Palestine said, “You know what? Let’s have a beer!” And we got THAT on TV? That would qualify as number ten. It makes you wonder – what could qualify as the Number Ten moment? It would have to be that significant for me. It would have to be big and it would have to be pro-humanity. I think that, at their core, all of these events have an essence of humanity about them. The medium itself is most effective when it’s communicating a human story.
I think we are existing in what will come to be known as a golden age of television. The storytelling that’s going on now in terms of cable (The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Copper, The Walking Dead), we’re going to look back and think, “Wow!,” because there are so many great series with great writing and tremendously talented actors. I just don’t have time to watch all the good TV that’s out there! I haven’t seen a single episode of Homeland. It’s one of Brent Spiner’s favorite shows; Brent Spiner has one of the most discerning television palates of anyone I know. I think in years to come, we will look back on this time in television as a little bubble of storytelling magic.