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'Reading Rainbow' brings in $5M, eclipses Kickstarter record for most backers

Actor LeVar Burton's campaign -- which attracted more than 105,000 backers -- will bring a Web-based version of the children's show to 7,500 schools.

The "Reading Rainbow" Kickstarter campaign attracted the most backers in the crowdfunding site's history. Screenshot by CNET

Riding a massive wave of nostalgia, actor LeVar Burton's Reading Rainbow campaign ended on Wednesday, with the distinction of being the most widely-backed campaign in the crowdfunding site Kickstarter's 5-year history.

The campaign attracted more than 105,000 backers. It is also Kickstarter's fifth most successful campaign ever, raising more than $5.4 million, five times the original goal of $1 million.

The project sought to bring "Reading Rainbow," a popular children's PBS series that championed reading and ran from 1983 to 2006, to the Web and into classrooms around the world. Burton, who hosted the show throughout its entire run, bought the name and rights to the series after it ended and, in 2012, launched a free interactive "Reading Rainbow" tablet app.

But tablets aren't accessible enough, Burton said. "To reach kids everywhere, we need to be everywhere," he wrote on the Kickstarter page.

In order to reach a wider audience of children, the campaign called for the app to be available on the Web. As the "Reading Rainbow" campaign raised money, it promised integrations on more screens: game consoles like Xbox and PlayStation, set-top boxes and streaming devices like Apple TV and Roku, and mobile devices running Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems. The "Reading Rainbow" program also will be available in some 7,500 classrooms for free.

RRKidz, Burton's media company, did not return a request for comment.

To spur last-minute pledges, Seth McFarlane, creator of the cartoon "Family Guy," last week said he would match up to $1 million in pledges over the $4 million mark.

Kickstarter is the platform responsible for funding tech startups like smartwatch maker Pebble and Oculus, the virtual reality headset maker now owned by Facebook. It also has become a destination for high-profile media projects, like funding for actor-director Zach Braff's flick "Wish I was Here," or the "Veronica Mars" movie. The latter held the previous record for most backers, with 91,585 people donating. Kickstarter was not available for comment.

The "Reading Rainbow" campaign went viral after getting media attention in May, and achieved its original goal in less than one day. Backers received special prizes based on how much they donated, including a private dinner with Burton, or a picture with Burton while the backer wears his iconic Geordi La Forge visor, a throwback to Burton's role on "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

"It's unbelievable," said a teary-eyed Burton, on the first day of the campaign, after donations crossed the $1 million threshold. Then he paused. "It's actually very believable."