LeVar Burton has been employed as host of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, giving the competitors a star headliner who’s additionally a longtime literacy advocate as Scripps takes over manufacturing of the bee telecast.
Burton, who performed Geordi La Forge on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and was the longtime host of the kids’s instructional program “Reading Rainbow,” instructed The Associated Press forward of Thursday’s announcement by Scripps that he stated sure instantly when approached concerning the internet hosting position. Burton comes from a household of educators and stated the bee represents “the inspirational, aspirational ideal of education.”
“I want to normalize the pursuit of knowledge in this culture. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?” Burton stated. “Not just making stuff up and calling it a fact. Achievement through knowledge, scholarship, putting in the work to gain the reward.”
Burton described the chance as considered one of many who have come his approach since his unsuccessful public marketing campaign to turn out to be the everlasting host of “Jeopardy!” (He may even function grand marshal of the upcoming Rose Parade.) His bid to succeed the late Alex Trebek attracted loads of goodwill on-line whereas the present’s producers had been roundly criticized for his or her resolution to rent Mike Richards, who stepped down shortly thereafter when his previous insensitive feedback had been revealed.
The 64-year-old Burton described himself as an above-average however hardly distinguished speller who’s as impressed by the bee winners as another fan.
He cheered for this yr’s champion, Zaila Avant-garde — the first African American winner in the bee’s history — and stated the current dominance of South Asian spellers also needs to be celebrated. Until this yr, the bee had an Indian-American champion or co-champion yearly since 2008.
“Zaila was a surprise, and a bit of an anomaly,” Burton stated. “I’m big for rooting for the underdog. As an underdog myself, I really identify.”
Burton’s rent comes at a time of transition for the bee, which has undergone a number of main modifications since government director J. Michael Durnil took over early this yr. Scripps introduced this fall it has ended its 27-year partnership with ESPN, which introduced the bee to tens of millions of viewers and promoted it like a serious sporting occasion.
The bee will air subsequent yr on the Scripps-owned networks ION and Bounce and can stream on-line. According to Cincinnati-based Scripps, these networks are every obtainable in almost 120 million U.S. households.
Burton’s actual duties as host are to be decided. Various ESPN hosts served as lead announcer for the bee through the years however had been solely heard on the telecast and had no interplay with the spellers through the competitors. Watching the bee on TV is completely different by necessity from watching it in individual as a result of the TV hosts can share with the viewers the right spelling of a phrase earlier than it’s spelled onstage and analyze its difficult elements.
Burton stated he expects to function a bridge between the youngsters and the viewers and spotlight their accomplishments.
“Helping to tell the stories of these kids, that’s something that I know I can bring to the proceedings,” he stated.
Other acquainted faces from the bee will return of their typical roles: pronouncers Jacques Bailly and Brian Sietsema and head choose Mary Brooks. And the bee will return to its typical venue, a conference heart outdoors Washington, after the COVID-19 pandemic led to its cancellation final yr and a principally digital format this yr, with the in-person finals restricted to a dozen spellers at an ESPN campus in Florida.
Scripps plans for the bee to be contested fully in individual through the week after Memorial Day, with greater than 200 spellers taking part — “back as much to normal as possible,” Durnil stated.
“Reading Rainbow” went off the air in 2009, which suggests the present era of spellers — youngsters compete by means of the eighth grade — grew up with out Burton celebrating the written phrase on public tv. However, he has gained some youthful followers who’ve found his work on “Star Trek” by means of streaming.
Burton’s title recognition, although, isn’t common.
Told by the AP that Burton can be the host, Chaitra Thummala, the 2021 runner-up who hopes to compete once more subsequent yr, was hardly star-struck.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s good to have the bee have some publicity. I think it’ll be fun,” stated Chaitra, a seventh-grader from Frisco, Texas. “I don’t know him, I don’t know who he is at all, so I can’t say much on it.”
Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.