LeVar Burton played chief engineer Geordi LaForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) for all seven seasons of the show. He portrayed the character in 176 episodes of TNG, five movies, one short film and one episode of Star Trek: Voyager.
Burton was one of the few actors that had a major acting career before Star Trek. His breakthrough role was in the television mini-series adaptation of “Roots,” in which he played the main role of Kunta Kinte. He also had his own television series, Reading Rainbow, which had been on the air for four years before he joined the Star Trek universe.
Burton continued to act after his Star Trek career ended, but much of his attention turned to other projects. Here’s what he’s been up to since his Star Trek.
Directing Shows and Movies
Burton started his career as a director on the same show that made him an icon. He directed two episodes of TNG, then went on to direct several more episodes of Star Trek in subsequent series. He directed 10 episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9), nine episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise and eight episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.
Eventually, Burton branched out of the Star Trek universe. He directed episodes of several different TV series and some TV movies. He also directed two full-length films.
Recently, he’s been a recurring director for NCIS: New Orleans. So far, he’s directed 10 episodes of the show.
Rebooting ‘Reading Rainbow’
Burton’s passion for reading out loud, to both kids and adults, has never waned. So, when PBS’s Reading Rainbow ended in 2009, Burton found he couldn’t let go of the show. After doing a few one-off episodes, Burton had the idea to reboot the show in a way that would make it accessible to every kid in every household around the world.
In May of 2014, Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of turning Reading Rainbow into a multi-format learning experience accessible on multiple platforms. On the Kickstarter page, he outlined in detail what his production team wanted to accomplish with the project, which included getting Reading Rainbow content onto the web, into an app that was accessible on any phone or tablet, into a video game that could be played on the major gaming systems, and into classrooms via videos and teacher guides.
The Kickstarter campaign was a massive success. The team raised over $5.6 million. At the time, this was the most amount of money ever raised by a Kickstarter campaign.
A year later, the project launched Skybrary, a subscription service that gave people access to online videos of old episodes of Reading Rainbow as well as new mini-episodes developed by Burton.
However, the Reading Rainbow reboot as imagined by Burton ended in 2017, as Current reported. A year earlier, the station behind the original Reading Rainbow show claimed that they hadn’t given Burton the licensing rights required for his reboot project. They sued Burton and the lawsuits resolved in 2017 with Burton no longer able to use the Reading Rainbow name or associated intellectual properties.
Podcasting on ‘LeVar Burton Reads’
That same year, Burton decided to take his love of reading to a new type of media, podcasting. He launched the podcast LeVar Burton Reads in June of 2017. The show features Burton reading short science fiction stories that he handpicks.
Like Reading Rainbow, the podcast isn’t just Burton reading a book out loud. It’s an auditory experience. On Reading Rainbow, Burton took kids on what he called field trips. Instead of just reading the book, he’d act out the book as he read it, often with elaborate costumes and other actors helping out. On LeVar Burton Reads, he creates a similar “field trip” experience by adding sound effects and soundtracks to his readings.
The show has been going strong for almost four years, though it’s on break right now. The last episode was added on December 1, 2020.
Providing a Distraction During the Pandemic
When the world was on lockdown in the spring of 2020, Burton came to the rescue. He started reading books for kids of all ages, even adult-aged kids, live on Twitter. In April he was doing these online storytimes multiple times per week, each targeted at a different age group. There was a children’s storytime, a YA storytime, and an adult storytime each week.
Though he stopped doing them as regularly, Burton still occasionally pops on Twitter to do a live storytime.
Being an Activist for Black Lives
As a prominent Black actor, working in Hollywood for multiple decades, Burton has long used his platform to speak up about racism in the United States. When protests broke out all over the world against police brutality over the summer, Burton again stepped up and used his platform to speak out.
He has continued to share his own experiences with racism and frequently voices his support for those working on behalf of Black Lives Matter. He’s also been vocal about his opposition to police violence and the importance of educating people in anti-racist ideologies.
Working on ‘Picard’ Season 2?
Burton did not reprise LaForge in the first season of Picard. However, rumors are flying about a possible appearance in season two. During an interview with Entertainment Tonight in April, Burton said that he’s talked with the show’s production team about the possibility of coming back. He was vague about whether any agreements had been reached and did not confirm or deny his involvement.
Since then, the rumors have been plentiful, but the actual, confirmed details have been sparse.
Hopefully, more news about his potential part in Picard season two will drop soon. Until then, fans who are missing Burton can get their fix by catching up on his podcast or scrolling through his Twitter feed to find the readings he did earlier this year.