LeVar Burton has been employed as host of the Scripps Nationwide 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 Subsequent Technology” and was the longtime host of the kids’s instructional program “Studying Rainbow,” advised The Related Press forward of Thursday’s announcement by Scripps that he mentioned sure instantly when approached in regards to the internet hosting position. Burton comes from a household of educators and mentioned the bee represents “the inspirational, aspirational superb of schooling.”
“I wish to normalize the pursuit of information on this tradition. That wouldn’t be a nasty factor, wouldn’t it?” Burton mentioned. “Not simply making stuff up and calling it a truth. Achievement by means of information, scholarship, placing within the work to achieve 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 will 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 have been roundly criticized for his or her choice to rent Mike Richards, who stepped down shortly thereafter when his previous insensitive feedback have 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 some other fan.
He cheered for this yr’s champion, Zaila Avant-garde — the first African American winner in the bee’s history — and mentioned the current dominance of South Asian spellers also needs to be celebrated. Till this yr, the bee had an Indian-American champion or co-champion yearly since 2008.
“Zaila was a shock, and a little bit of an anomaly,” Burton mentioned. “I’m huge for rooting for the underdog. As an underdog myself, I actually determine.”
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 hundreds of thousands of viewers and promoted it like a significant sporting occasion.
The bee will air subsequent yr on the Scripps-owned networks ION and Bounce and can stream on-line. In accordance with Cincinnati-based Scripps, these networks are every accessible in practically 120 million U.S. households.
Burton’s actual duties as host are to be decided. Numerous ESPN hosts served as lead announcer for the bee through the years however have been solely heard on the telecast and had no interplay with the spellers through the competitors. Watching the bee on TV is totally different by necessity from watching it in particular person 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 tough parts.
Burton mentioned he expects to function a bridge between the children and the viewers and spotlight their accomplishments.
“Serving to to inform the tales of those youngsters, that’s one thing that I do know I can carry to the proceedings,” he mentioned.
Different acquainted faces from the bee will return of their regular roles: pronouncers Jacques Bailly and Brian Sietsema and head choose Mary Brooks. And the bee will return to its regular venue, a conference middle exterior 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 completely in particular person through the week after Memorial Day, with greater than 200 spellers collaborating — “again as a lot to regular as attainable,” Durnil mentioned.
“Studying Rainbow” went off the air in 2009, which implies the present technology of spellers — youngsters compete by means of the eighth grade — grew up with out Burton celebrating the written phrase on public tv. Nevertheless, 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.
Instructed 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 feel it’s nice. I feel it’s good to have the bee have some publicity. I feel it’ll be enjoyable,” mentioned Chaitra, a seventh-grader from Frisco, Texas. “I don’t know him, I don’t know who he’s in any respect, so I can’t say a lot on it.”
Comply with Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.