When Reading Rainbow went behind the scenes of Star Trek: The Next Generation

[NOTE: This article was updated on April 2, 2018 with new screencaps thanks to the season 2 Blu-ray of Star Trek: The Next Generation. See my additional notes below.]

As I was writing my recap of the official, totally in-canon crossover between Webster and Star Trek: The Next Generation, I was reminded of another TNG-related gem that I came across years ago during my endless search for obscure film and video of particular (and peculiar) interest to regular visitors of this site: Specifically, an episode of the PBS series Reading Rainbow from 1988, where host LeVar Burton takes his young viewers behind the scenes of Star Trek: The Next Generation during its first season.

Long-time readers of the site might recall I previously wrote about this episode many years ago, and given the popularity of the Webster article, it seems like a great time to take another crack at this one. (Especially since, like pretty much everything I’ve written for the site that’s more than 7 or 8 years old, my previous attempt was really quite embarrassing and horrible.)

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In the years since I first wrote about it, the full episode was uploaded to YouTube, and then removed from YouTube, and is now available as an extra on the season 2 Blu-ray of TNG. I have yet to snap up the TNG Blu-rays, for which I have no explanation, but once I do, I’ll update this article with better screenshots. In the meantime, I’ve gone back and dug up my original screen captures taken from when I taped this episode off the air (yes, kids, with a thing called a “VCR”) from my former local PBS station.

[2018 UPDATE: As mentioned above, I finally got around to taking screencaps from the Blu-ray, but I must admit they’re not that much better in quality than what I pulled off my old VHS tape way back when. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; it’s not like Reading Rainbow was originally captured on 35mm film or anything, and standard definition video can only look so good.]

Ordinarily, I’d give a lot of historical background before getting to a recap, but unlike Webster, Reading Rainbow is a show that needs no explanation. Hosted by actor, director, writer, and producer LeVar Burton, Reading Rainbow was a PBS show all about inspiring kids to read books. The series aired from 1983 until 2006, when PBS budget cuts forced its cancellation. The show was eventually resurrected as an app, which made headlines in 2014 when a Reading Rainbow Kickstarter campaign exceeded its goal of raising one million dollars in less than a day. It eventually racked up over $5 million in donations, which at the time happened to be a Kickstarter record.

Clearly, Reading Rainbow still occupies a special place in the hearts of many, and even if you’ve never seen the show, you know it by its undeniably cheesy theme song that speaks of butterflies in the sky and flying twice as high (which surprisingly aren’t subtle drug references). But the most important element of the show was host LeVar Burton himself. Most people today know him from Star Trek, but at the time Reading Rainbow began, he was already famous for his Emmy-nominated role as Kunta Kinte. In fact, way back when I first heard LeVar was cast on TNG, I was surprised they picked someone so well-known, particularly to play a supporting role.

Well, he’s taken that “supporting role” all the way to the bank, not only starring in seven seasons of TNG and four movies, but also by becoming one of Star Trek’s most prolific directors. All totaled, he’s directed 29 episodes of the various Trek shows, including some fondly remembered outings like “Second Chances”, “Things Past”, and “Timeless”, but also some really unfortunate ones like “Resurrection” and “The Emperor’s New Cloak”. But it seems that was par for the course for most Star Trek actors-turned-directors.

[2018 UPDATE: And the episode on Blu-ray also features a quick interview with LeVar where he talks about how this episode of Reading Rainbow was one of the most popular in the show’s history, and how he’s frequently heard from fans that this episode actually introduced them to Star Trek when they were kids. Which is nice enough, but then he starts going on a strange tangent about how the major milestones of his career—Roots, Reading Rainbow, and Star Trek—represent some sort of “through line” that “speaks to the American experience”. Certainly, I can see how Roots represents America’s history; that one’s obvious. And for all its inclusiveness and multiculturalism, it’s clear that Star Trek is basically “future USA, in space”. But tying Reading Rainbow into the American experience is a bit of a stretch. Hey, whatever; the interview lasts less than a minute, and on the plus side, it includes glimpses of the OG hand-drawn animated credits of Reading Rainbow instead of the newer computer-generated credits which were on my VHS tape.]

Watching Reading Rainbow, it’s impossible to not be amused by LeVar’s whole persona on this show. Every episode features a rather wide-eyed LeVar acting way too enthralled about every simple thing he encounters. Obviously, he was doing this because Reading Rainbow was a show geared towards little kids, but it’s funny how at the same time he was delivering rapid-fire dialogue about plasma conduits and antimatter phase injectors, he was also filming this show and coming off like he just took a massive dose of… well, I don’t really want to say “stupid pills”. How about happy pills? Whatever they were, I want some.

This particular episode of Reading Rainbow is titled “The Bionic Bunny Show”, after the book that’s the primary focus of the episode. It originally aired August 15, 1988, and was filmed in February of that year, when TNG was wrapping up its first season and had already been renewed for a second. So it probably seemed like the ideal time for LeVar to take viewers of Reading Rainbow down to the set of his other notable TV show.

Alas, this look behind the scenes of TNG isn’t quite as compelling as one would hope. In fact, it seems like the Reading Rainbow crew threw a dart at a calendar, then went down to the set and filmed whatever happened to be going on that day. So, obviously, we’re not going to find out how they did the saucer separation trick, or how they made that guy’s head explode in “Conspiracy”, or anything else cool that happened in the first season of TNG.

But in some miniscule way, that makes this peek into the inner workings of the show more interesting. Since they were limited to showing the making of a very short (and very unremarkable) scene, most likely we’re seeing what life was like 95% of the time for the TNG cast and crew. While we all imagine working on Star Trek: The Next Generation to be an exciting, non-stop action extravaganza, as this episode shows, some days were probably more punch in/punch out than others.

The episode begins with a shot from a TNG episode of the Enterprise-D cruising through space, while we hear the opening fanfare of the theme song. Cut to the bridge of the Enterprise-D, shot on video, and in comes LeVar, wearing a stiff cotton work shirt and jeans. “Hiii-iii,” he says loudly, “Welllcome to the Starship Ent – Er – Prise!” See what I mean? Happy pills. He tells all the kids out in TV Land that they’ve probably seen him as Geordi LaForge, “the ship’s navigator!”

“Hiii-iii! Welcome to Casual Friday on the Starship Enterprise!”

“But now,” he slowly says, “Let me show you something I’ll bet you haven’t seen before!” Deanna Troi doing something of vital importance? Riker keeping his crotch out of Wesley’s face?

In an admittedly cool moment, he squeezes between the two navigation consoles, and the camera follows him to the front of the bridge, where there’s nothing but a nondescript brick studio wall, and lights and ladders and all the assorted equipment that ends up backstage on a TV show. “None of this,” he slowly declares, “ever appears in an episode of the show!” Come on, LeVar. I’m sure even the slow kids knew that much.

“That’s right, kids! I just destroyed all of your foolish youthful fantasies!”

He says, however, that all this equipment makes TNG possible, just like every other show you see on TV, and “What you see on screen just isn’t the whole story!”

This is LeVar’s transition to talking about the book featured on today’s episode, the aforementioned The Bionic Bunny Show. He holds it up, and the cover shows a cartoon rabbit on a cartoon TV screen, and LeVar explains the book is all about the work that goes into making “a TV show about an ordinary rabbit… who becomes a superhero!” Which takes us to the presentation of the book itself.

[2018 UPDATE: This is my last chime-in on this one, I promise. It turns out the episode on Blu-ray has been heavily edited to remove everything unrelated to Star Trek, meaning almost all references to The Bionic Bunny Show are gone, along with the segment later in the show where kids talk about similar books, which also means they sadly even cut out LeVar’s trademark line of “Don’t take my word for it!” So this is why you’re still seeing a few of my original VHS screencaps in this article.]

As on every episode of Reading Rainbow, we’re shown illustrations from the featured book, occasionally animated in a very rudimentary fashion, while somebody reads it in voiceover. Usually, the narrator would be a celebrity, like James Earl Jones, or Lorne Greene, or Gilda Radner, and LeVar was definitely not above calling in a favor from someone like Patrick Stewart to narrate an episode, either. For those curious, the celebrity guest narrator this time around is Gene Klavan, a New York radio personality who was famous back in the ‘50s and ‘60s for creating dozens of kooky characters and providing voices for all of them.

I won’t bore you with the details of The Bionic Bunny Show, but in the book, cartoon animals work on a TV series about a costumed rabbit crimefighter named the Bionic Bunny, who battles the forces of anthropomorphic evil. And I always find it funny how in cartoons and children’s books, all the animals of the forest happily work together; I mean, I’m pretty sure some members of this TV show’s crew are a lot higher up on the food chain than others.

The book spends a lot of time on the filming of the “show”, and afterwards, the rabbit “actor” takes off his Bionic Bunny costume and heads home, which is just way too meta for me. At home, the actor who spent all day playing a super-strong superhero has trouble opening a jar, but then his baby son is able to easily open it. The end. (Oops, should I have spoiler tagged that?)

One mildly interesting item of note: The Bionic Bunny Show was written by Marc Brown, who later went on to create the PBS cartoon Arthur. As a result, the Bionic Bunny got retconned into the Arthur universe, and became one of the TV shows watched by the Arthur characters. Again, this is all way too meta for a Reading Rainbow episode, so let’s just move on.

Back on the set of TNG, LeVar walks out of the turbolift onto the bridge. We hear the doors rolling on their tracks, which we never heard on the actual show, because it got overdubbed with the much cooler whisssk effect. LeVar slowly explains that for every person you see on your TV screen, there are several more working behind the scenes. “It’s the same here on Star Trek: The Next Generation,” he says, to clips of the show. “Every week, you see the Captain… Geordi… and the rest of the Enterprise crew!” Nice one, LeVar. “Hey kids! Every week you can catch me on Star Trek: The Blind Black Dude and Everyone Else!”

But it’s not quite that bad, because he does eventually introduce “the rest” by name, which are (in order): Worf, Troi, Data, and Riker. Yup, that sounds like the whole cast to me. “Together,” he says, “they keep the ship running at warp speed!”

LeVar then tells us in a ridiculously precious voice that “there’s another group of people… Behind the scenes! … That you neehhhhver get a chance to see. Until nnnnnnow.” The way he’s talking, I expect this group of people to live in a tree and be roughly four inches tall.

Instead, there are quick shots of the guys on the crew setting up lights, looking through camera eyepieces, and a burly guy picking up the helmsman’s chair and moving it to… who knows where. Maybe he’s tricking out his Caddy and needs new bucket seats. More looking through eyepieces, lights being set up, reflecting screens being hoisted, etc.

Random extras in Starfleet uniforms mill around the set, and it eventually occurs to me that these are stand-ins used to set up the lighting before the actual shoot. There’s a guy who’s the same height, build, and skin tone as Jonathan Frakes, a random black guy who’s clearly standing in for LeVar, a dark haired olive-skinned woman standing in for Marina Sirtis, etc.

The director, who research tells me is Win Phelps, makes big gestures to the crew to explain what he has in mind for the scene. Someone leafs through the script. Light meters and film canisters galore! Troi and Riker’s stand-ins commiserate. Hey, what if these two actually hooked up in real life? Wouldn’t that be adorable?

A sideways wipe takes us to where the real actors are while this is going on: in the makeup chairs. Patrick Stewart is getting his eyes touched up, while Marina Sirtis dabs on the lip gloss with a tiny brush. Brent Spiner is in the makeup chair, and it seems that when he’s out of character, that Data makeup is downright menacing.

There’s a shot of LeVar carefully combing his flattop, which includes a barely perceptible glimpse of (I think) Gates McFadden behind him in the mirror. LeVar’s voiceover describes how they all have to transform into their roles, and “some of us change more than others!” To illustrate, we see makeup artists glue the Klingon goatee to Michael Dorn’s face.

LeVar talks in VO about how it takes two hours every day to make “my friend Michael into…” and then he slips into to a mildly amusing Worf impression when he says, “Lt. Worf! Chief of Security on the Enterprise!” And… two hours? Compared to other actors on these shows, he got off easy. Somewhere, Armin Shimmerman and Ethan Philips are watching this and saying to themselves, Quit your bitching.

Dorn puts in his Klingon teeth and gives a growl into the mirror. I wonder if he’s hamming it up for the Reading Rainbow cameras, or if he really did growl every morning when putting on the teeth. A fully made-up Dorn steps out of his trailer. He looks around for a moment before declaring in his Worf voice, “Stand aside, I take large steps!” Come on, you’ve got to laugh. Especially since that’s about as funny as this episode gets.

“If craft service is out of gagh again, there will be trouble!”

Cut to—as LeVar describes—“going over the script with the director!” And hey, it looks just like what you would imagine, with people crowded around Win Phelps while he holds a binder and points to… well, script stuff. LeVar proudly declares, “Everybody contributes ideas to make the scene work!”

Take a look! It’s in the script! A script raaaainboooowww…

There’s a peek at rehearsal, where everybody’s holding a copy of the script, and Spiner has an ill-fitting jacket on over his Data uniform, and LeVar has his arms folded the whole time. LeVar VOs that this is where “the director blocks the action for the scene, and we practice it with the dialogue!”

“I’m not making anything so, you cracker-ass cracker!”

Phelps gives Frakes his cue, and Riker enters the bridge with Denise Crosby close behind. Based on the dialogue, it would appear they’re filming “Symbiosis”. Which means we’re watching Denise Crosby film her final episode as a TNG regular (Tasha Yar was killed off in “Skin of Evil”, but this episode was filmed after that). Of course, you’d never know that from watching this, because I’m guessing “disillusioned cast member’s last day” isn’t something the kids really needed to see.

They all say their lines, and somebody coughs loudly, and a crewman puts tape on the floor to mark the blocking. I think rehearsal is going well, because LeVar excitedly says, “Rehearsal is going well!” But really, what does he not excitedly say?

So now it’s time for the director to make “final preparations” to film the scene. Lighting is adjusted, and cameras are rolled in. LeVar talks about the “few vital finishing touches” for the actors, and he says this over footage of himself putting on his VISOR, and Marina snagging a tube of makeup from some guy with a fanny pack.

“I sense you have lip liner!”

Phelps calls “places”, and LeVar VOs that all the crew people have worked their elfin magic, and done a great job so far, and now “they look to us, the actors, to bring the scene to life!” After showing how “focus for the camera is measured” (hint: a big tape measure is involved), Phelps finally calls action. There’s some brief, shaky video footage of the scene being filmed.
They say a few lines and Phelps calls cut. LeVar slowly tells us, “The scene is shot from many angles!” Two stagehands carry Data’s navigation console away, in order to get a better camera angle on the actors in the next shot. Well, I’m assuming. LeVar doesn’t explain that.

Starfleet’s greatest threat: the repo man.

Phelps calls action, and wow, we even get a rare glimpse of a stagehand behind the set operating a pulley to open the turbolift doors.

Riker enters and, as usual, puts his crotch directly into Data’s face. Suddenly, we get clichéd “filmstrip” notches on both sides of the screen as LeVar walks us through the different shots that make up a scene. First up is the master shot (“that means… the major characters for the scene… are in the shot!”), and then the same dialogue with a close-up on Picard, then “Riker’s reaction shot” (where he doesn’t really react all that much, to be honest), and finally, Data’s close-up.

Well, maybe his crotch is reacting, and we just can’t see it.

The same lines of dialogue are spoken each time, so we are in fact seeing unused footage here, a rarity for TNG at the time. Too bad the footage they actually used was just as uninteresting. Now, seeing outtakes from Denise Crosby’s “drugs are bad” speech from this episode? That would have been entertaining, but we are not so fortunate.

“And so it goes,” LeVar explains, to a montage of the clapboard being clapped all over the set. Cut to LeVar back in his Casual Friday clothes, sitting in a canvas chair and holding a film strip up to the light. He says, “Close-ups… establishing shots… reaction shots… two-shots… zooms… pans… wide-angle shots…” He then sighs and says, “How do you make a show out of all of this?” He then pulls out more film, drapes it over his shoulders, and proceeds to stare at it like a Cro-Magnon discovering fire.

“At Crazy LeVar’s, all stock footage must go!

But the answer, which we learn in VO, is that “you take it… to an electronic editing house!” Cut to the same scene we just saw being filmed, now on a small monitor in an editing room. Zoom out as LeVar enters and tells us we’re at the Post Group in Hollywood.

A guy who’s also in a stiff cotton shirt and jeans turns around, and LeVar introduces him as Rob Legato, TNG’s “visual effects supervisor”. Rob, in the years following this, did pretty well for himself. He moved on to doing effects for Deep Space Nine, then after that, feature films like Apollo 13, Armageddon, Avatar, Titanic, and Hugo, with the latter two winning him Oscars.

Rob and LeVar shake hands and go sit near two hairy guys, one with a mullet. Mullet Guy is Fred Raimondi, who previously worked on Max Headroom and later did visual effects for True Lies and Stranger Things, and the other guy is Rich Thorne, who went on to do visual effects for X-Men and Fight Club and direct Dr. Doolittle 3, which went straight to video and doesn’t even star Eddie Murphy so you know that’s one hilarious movie.

LeVar yells out, “So this looks pretty complicated! What are all these buttons and knobs?” Oh boy. I think we’re going to be here for a while.

The guys patiently explain that it’s this thing called an editing console, and Fred likens this to a “remote control” connection to machines “downstairs in the basement”. Fred shows off his special editing keyboard, and says they’re working on scene 42, which Rob reminds LeVar is “the one with the solar flares”. Is that what they ended up calling the episode, Friends-style?

LeVar says in VO that “Editing film… or, video tape… is like putting together a puzzle!” We finally zoom in on the monitor to see the edited “Symbiosis” scene, though there’s obviously still some sound effects work to be done, because there’s no background “rumble” of the ship’s engines, and you can still hear the turbolift doors sliding on their tracks.

LeVar then says that “what makes Star Trek unique… happens next! Those ammmmazing special effects!” Amusingly, on this line, we see a clip from TNG that’s actually just a reused shot of the Earth Spacedock from The Search for Spock, with the Enterprise-D superimposed over the movie Enterprise.

It’s that ammmmmazing recycled footage!

There’s a clip of the Enterprise-D going into Ludicrous Speed, with nebulous energy masses zooming past, which I’m pretty sure is from the episode “Where No One Has Gone Before”. LeVar’s VO says Rob and his team create these effects “in some very surprising ways!” Still down in the editing room, Rob and LeVar are standing around a short black cylinder. It has a script on top, apparently to illustrate to the kids at home that the visual effects start with the script. LeVar picks up the script and pointlessly stares at it while Rob talks.

We see clips from an episode, which must be “When the Bough Breaks”, because I see Jerry Hardin in the clip, best known as Deep Throat from The X-Files, and that’s the only first season episode he was in (though he would later play Mark Twain on the show). Back in the editing room, Rob talks about how he envisioned a 100-foot tall octagonal tower for the scene, and picks up the actual model, which is just two feet tall. Rob explains it’s made up of pieces from different model kits, and then we get another shot of the same prop in the episode, and yep, it does indeed look 100 feet tall. Kudos, Rob.

“Whoa, you mean, I can fit all my CDs in there?”

When LeVar abruptly starts talking about the beam-up effect. Rob again says everything starts with the description in the script, and he eventually reveals he used “sparkles, like you buy at a… hobby shop”. And to create the effect, he decided to “suspend them with water”. To demonstrate, he dumps sparkles in a big beaker of water and stirs them, and then there’s a close-up on the sparkles spinning through the water. A typically astonished LeVar says in VO, “Look at that! You can actually see those sparkles in the beam-up effect!” I wouldn’t go that far, but I suppose it’s at least how they got the ball rolling.

“So this is the first step in making crystal meth?”

Rob stirs and stirs some more. LeVar says, “Rob, that’s amazing.” As far as sparkles deposited in water go, it is pretty incredible.

Then Rob pulls out a small shuttle model they used for a “matte painting shot”, and describes how they flew this past the Enterprise in Spacedock. He calls it a “scout ship”, and says they “didn’t have much money” (on the first season of TNG? No freaking way!), so they used a disposable razor for part of it. And indeed, you can actually make out the Gillette logo on the side of the model. He points out the LED lights in the front, which they “shot in smoke”, and then we see the final result, which is a rather well-done shot of the Enterprise with the little scout ship passing by in the background.

“Not only can it achieve Warp 6, but it also has an unprecedented fourth blade!”

LeVar happily asks, “You like what you do, don’t you?” Okay, so I guess this is the part of the show where we ask philosophical questions. And it’d be so awesome if Rob suddenly got a defeated look, hunched his shoulders, and confessed right here and now to hating his job and his life. Instead, he stays low key and calls it all “fun” and a “challenge”. LeVar turns to us and uses his crazy psychic abilities to read our thoughts and know that we’re “all wondering where the real Enterprise is!” He says that “earlier today” they went to Image G, the special effects house “where the Enterprise lives!”

To the opening strains of the theme song, we cut to the big Enterprise-D model in a darkened room. LeVar and Rob step behind the model, and Rob tells us it’s six feet long. It’s also upside down, which Rob explains by saying it’s easier to shoot across the top of an upside down model than to shoot across the bottom of it right side up, especially since they can easily flip the camera.

“Okay, Rob, explain to our audience how I get shrunken down to three inches to fit inside there!”

Cut to a camera on a robotic arm whizzing around the underside of the beached Enterprise. Helpful LeVar cries, “So the camera is actually… moving around!” Rob then provides genuine insight: They don’t move the ship, they move the camera, “so it’s all lit correctly”. Then there’s raw footage from the robotic camera, which is fun to see.

Back in the editing room now, LeVar is sitting beside the special effects guys and telling us how they’re ready to “put the Enterprise into space! This, I wanna see!” Because he has apparently never seen the show.

So Fred explains how they put the Enterprise in orbit above a planet, which involves first cutting out the ship’s silhouette. Whatever he’s talking about is not explained all that well, but he says they use a “cookie cutter of sorts” to “cut a hole in the background”. On a monitor, he shows us a big black Enterprise-shaped blob over a planet. LeVar, permanently impressed by life, goes, “Wow.”

Then somebody pushes a button, and the Enterprise appears, and LeVar asks if they can make it “move in this picture?” So some other random buttons are pushed, and then an energy discharge comes around the planet and hits the Enterprise, and sends it spinning away. “Whoooooa!!!” LeVar exclaims.

LeVar enthusiastically thanks the guys for everything he’s “learned” today, and heads out. After he leaves, there’s an awkward shot of the guys saying stuff like, “Let’s cut to the ship!” “Good, you got it.” I hope they didn’t really talk like this when there were no cameras around.

After a few random TNG clips, LeVar is wandering through the Enterprise corridors. He talks about the “miles of corridor”, and “how much power it takes to keep it running.” He steps onto the Engineering set, with the pulsating warp core in the background, and kind of implies the warp core prop is what’s actually powering the set, and even does a quick bicep flex when he says the word “power”.

He declares the warp core to be “pretty impressive”, and adds, “There’s something else that can help you explore the universe.” To the surprise of basically no one, that something is: “Books!” He says that if we liked The Bionic Bunny Show, there are more books that can “take you where you’ve never gone before!”

And now comes the fabled “book report” segment of Reading Rainbow, where they round up various kids, shove them in front of the camera, and make them act excited about books. And of course, LeVar introduces it with the same catchphrase he uses to kick off this segment on every episode of Reading Rainbow: “But you don’t have to take my word for it!”

And I won’t bore you with the details of the book reports we get, but basically, three kids extol the virtues of books that are all about the behind the scenes stuff that happens on movie sets. Well, one of the books is actually about a philharmonic getting ready for a performance, but whatever. Close enough.

Afterwards, we go back to LeVar voicing over TNG footage. “You know, things on the set don’t always go… well… perfectly!” And this leads directly into the first (and for many years, only) authorized broadcast of bloopers from TNG. I wish I could say these were memorable, but again, since all the footage comes from this one day of shooting, they obviously didn’t have a lot to choose from. It lasts less than a minute, and Patrick Stewart has some amusing flubs, and talks about engaging the “tract-tor beams!”, and at one point gets a priceless pained looked on his face.

Frankly, the high point is when a clapboard malfunctions and a piece of it falls directly into LeVar’s lap.

I bet he wishes he had worn the VISOR on his balls.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out these bloopers for yourself below. I previously uploaded this clip to Yahoo Video back in the day (remember Yahoo Video? Yeah, silly question; nobody remembers Yahoo Video), but that’s obviously long gone, so here’s the same clip, fully restored for your enjoyment.

After that very brief blooper segment, LeVar has a big fake chuckle in voiceover, then wraps it all up by saying that even though they have a lot of “fun” on the set, they end up making a show that everybody’s “really proud of”.

Finally, we return to the TNG set, where LeVar once again encourages us to read. “When you read a good book, you’re the producer, the director, the actor, even… the special effects magician!” Which does sort of raise the question of why we just spent the last half-hour learning about how special effects are made, when what we come up with in our own minds is allegedly just as good.

LeVar says farewell from the bridge set, and of course, he beams out. In keeping with the goofball version of himself he plays on this show, he makes all kinds of nervous and scared faces right before it happens. How great would it have been if Geordi made these same faces on TNG while beaming out?

As the closing credits roll, we hear the Reading Rainbow theme on a regal-sounding synthesizer, trying to make it sound like the TNG theme. Though I have to say it sounds more like the end credits theme from MST3k.

Reading Rainbow will not be seen next week, due to the host being disassembled on a molecular level.

And that about does it. Like I said, it’s pretty far from being the most insightful or interesting look behind the scenes at Star Trek: The Next Generation, especially compared to the copious extras included with the TNG DVDs and Blu-rays. But it’s fun for what it is, and certainly worth what I paid for it. Which was nothing. (Ah, crap. Does this mean I’m obligated to donate the next time my local PBS station has a membership drive?)

One final note: A couple of years after I originally recapped this episode, I got an email from Fred Raimondi, the special effects artist I referred to above as “Mullet Guy”. I think he was mostly reacting to the frankly obnoxious tone of the original version of this article, where I unfortunately used the word “retarded” about twenty times to describe the episode. After defending his mullet (which was “pretty cool in 1987”), here’s what he had to say:

Fred Raimondi: …I can’t tell you how many young people I meet at Digital Domain (the studio that I helped to found and just left to pursue a career as a director) that tell me they were inspired by that very episode of Reading Rainbow. So much so, they made their career choice to work in the film/visual effects industry.

Like I said, I know that episode seems retarded to you, but it means a lot to me. Especially that I was able to influence a ‘next generation’ of visual effects artists.

What can I say? I guess in 2006, it never occurred to me that the stupid shit I was posting on the internet was actually being read by other people, least of all the people involved in the making of whatever I was writing about. But he does make a good point; to an adult in 2018, this stuff may pale in comparison to the wealth of DVD/Blu-ray extras and special features we have now, but I’m sure to kids 25 years ago, this look behind the scenes of The Next Generation was a rare treat indeed.

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