Celebrity High-Five: LeVar Burton's 5 Favorite TV Shows

By Anngie Dehoyos

Aug 03, 2012

People tend to associate LeVar Burton with different things, depending on their age. Some know him as the high-tech, visor-wearing Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation (which ended in 1994). Other might recall first professional role, as Kunta Kinte in the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries Roots. And for those who grew up in the '80s and '90s, the veteran actor is most known as the ever-affable host of the PBS educational series Reading Rainbow. You know, that one children's show whose earworm of a theme song goes a little something like this:

Butterfly in the sky
I can go twice as high
Take a look, it's in a book
It's Reading Rainbow...

These days Burton is working full-time to bring Reading Rainbow to a new generation of tech-savvy kids, via a recently released Reading Rainbow iPhone app. That's in addition to playing a recurring role as a university dean on TNT's newest crime drama Perception, which stars Eric McCormack as a schizophrenic college professor who helps the FBI solve crimes. "It's been a while since I've been on television," says LeVar, who must not be counting his brief guest appearance as himself in Community's "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking." "I love the idea, I love the fact Ken Billard and Mike Sussman, Perception's executive producers, are looking through the lens of this character-driven procedural, looking at the issue of mental illness and hopefully be able to create a conversation as well as a discussion around it in America."

And now, here are Burton's five favorite television shows, in no particular order...

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In

"It was a weekly variety sketch comedy. Started the career of Goldie Hawn, and it was the first time a president ever appeared on a variety show. This was groundbreaking television."

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

"Also in the same vein as Laugh-In, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was another groundbreaking piece of television. If you don't know it, Google it—just Google it, baby."


"One of my favorite cop shows with Robert Blake. The character was cool, he was from the streets, working as a cop and he had a parrot for God's sake."

Roots: The Complete Miniseries

"Groundbreaking television. This nation's consciousness around slavery and its legacy around racism were completely transformed."

The Mod Squad

"They were cops masquerading as high-school students, but were super cool. Clarence Williams III had the biggest afro on television, and Piggy Lipton and Michael Cole, both were freakin' cool."

What do you think of Burton's picks? Did any of them surprise you?

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  • Navyvet5768 Aug 07, 2012

    Aside from Baretta and the Mod Squad, which I actively disliked, I'd definitely go for the others, As for the last two: how about Rockford Files and The Prisoner? Or Roots and Roots: the Next Generations? Or my own all-time favorites, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Max Headroom? I was always very picky and had too much to do, so I've watched very little TV, maybe 4 hours a week on average. Right now, I tune in only the International Mysteries (like France's Maigret and Sweden's Wallander) on MHz World. And I've come to detest ANY channels that carry commercials for products!

  • cook567 Aug 06, 2012

    Don't forget he was in Dummy a long time ago...


  • hazben Aug 05, 2012


    i think the reason for all the "backwards looking" is do to the fact that there are many of us who were around in the golden age of tv with the TRULY ground breaking shows and the fact that tv for the most part, at least in the major networks has become AWFUL. same jokes, same lame couples story lines. the endless river of "will steven finally kiss debbie this week" ilk and lets not leave out the vicious slut shows and mindless "friends" style drivel.

    like music, a lot of younger people are finding the "old" shows and bands and are realizing that we old farts are not just "stuck in the day", that our entertainment was era between 1958-1977 will NEVER be surpassed. and finding out how badly they have been duped [see jersey shore and hip-hop].

    oh yes! there is great tv today, but you better have DTV and look at the "alternative" networks and HBO, SHOWTIME AND CINEMAX. sons of anarchy, american horror story, damages, breaking bad. etc..... its there if you search it out and forget al together or care less if brian and christy "hook up". you wont miss much missing an episode of "snookie and jaywow".

  • misslee022884 Aug 11, 2012

    In fairness, you don't have to be an "old fart' to realize "Jersey Shore" is horrible. Other than that, it's all subjective.

  • JT_Kirk Aug 06, 2012

    Eh, I'm not buying that as a decent excuse. Yes there's more noise, but there's still signal too. I watched a ton of TV as a kid growing up in the '70s, both new and reruns, and while there's lots of great shows, there's mountains of garbage too. The idea that there's nothing on is lazy thinking, if you can't do cable you should still be able to get public television - how many people are raving about Downton Abbey these days? That's PBS over here, public broadcasting. Awake was pretty good, especially for NBC (yes, it's gone, but it was still good). Community is a great show, Modern Family is able to take old sitcom tropes and make them fresh. Complaining that we had it better back in our day is old codger talk. Entertainment should be a living, breathing thing; not some decaying old mummy we prop up in a museum and crow about how great it was and how our lives can never aspire to be as good. I'm not saying every show on Burton's list should be a new one, but in these articles there should also be some attention paid to what a talented TV person watches these days.

  • Prup-aka-JBentn Aug 07, 2012

    Now hold on a minute. I'm 66, have been watching tv long enough tpo remember seeing HOWDY DOODY and CAPTAIN VIDEO live, Gleason on the Dumont Network, and Wes Westrum hitting a home run five rows back into the right field stands at the Polo Grounds to beat the Dodgers -- and when I recently found episodes of OUR MISS BROOKS on YouTube, I found myself occasionally quoting lines.

    And I'll simply say that -- when it comes to drama series -- there has never been the level of quality that is currently on. (Okay, anyone my age regrets the loss of the anthology series -- but they are gone forever.)

    There are at least 3 1/2 series that are as good as any series I have watched in my lifetime, a couple of others pushing that circle, and about a dozen that would have been at least near the top any year -- and I don't have the premium channels, so that includes nothing on HBO or Showtime.

    THE GOOD WIFE is an obvious pick, for the characterization, the ensemble cast -- almost all of whom are standouts -- and for the willingness to show the many layers of moral ambiguities in real life. Other shows from THE DEFENDERS on tackled 'big issues' but this one puts away the white hats and black hats. No action, no scene is free from ambiguity, levels of meaning both personal and professional. But that's an easy one, lots of 'prestige' but not the best.

    The '1/2 show' is SUPERNATURAL. The first five years, the tight story arc, the creation of an entire theology and mythiology, and the interplay of silliness and seriousness, put it on the list -- but the last two years, while fun, threaten its place.

    ROYAL PAINS is the only cable show in this list, but it belongs because of the quality of acting, the unique, cinematorgraphic direction, the characterization (particularly the Paige-Evan connection, one of the miost believable portrayals of a loving relationship I can recall), and the overall quality of the writing. (Wish Hank had a better taste in women, though.)

    But the best show, the show that understands the art of television, and the potentials for it, understands the importance of the ensemble cast, the chance to tell short and long stories intermixed, but most of all because of its skill in actually having its characters react and be changed both by the events on the show and by their interrelation with each other, is NCIS. (And Michael Wetherly's Tony DiNozzo has, over time, become perhaps the most fully develped, complex, changing, and growing a character as I can recall on any series.)

    RIZZOLI AND ISLES is shiowing the potential to fit in this category as well. CASTLE maybe not quite, but it has a slim possibility. Then there are the next level of shows, like WHITE COLLAR, THE CLOSER, THE MENTALIST, and on.

    This, I'd argue, has become the true "Golden Age of YV.

  • hazben Aug 05, 2012

    AWSOME choices!! gives me a lot of insight into LB that i would have never guessed was there. MOD SQUAD was one of the best shows EVER and if you were around when it was actually on, the impact of the show was big!! we never missed it, huh sis?

    the other pics like laugh in and beretta were cool. tony beretta was the ULTIMATE new york detective/cop anf the subject matter was pre NYPD BLUE cool.

    ROOTS, i thought it did more to fan the flames than to educate. i was in a racialy charged school in las vegas, nevada and i can tell you with certainty, the black community at that time around its debute were anything but "peace and understanding" and tolerance. i felt [and history shows if you REALLY do the research] that there was a LOT of unwaranted and dangerous sensationalism in that series. meant that way? well, who knows except the author. all i can tell you is in my world, at that time, the after shock was not pleasant.

    but hats off to lavar for having such cool tatse in tv!!

  • Yaspaa Aug 05, 2012

    I don't care what he likes, it Geordi for God's sake. He's also guest starred in many TV shows, it doesn't mean he liked them. He's listed the top 5 shows that have impacted his life, at 55 I doubt any modern shows would do that.

  • JT_Kirk Aug 05, 2012

    Dude, awesome list! It's cheating that he listed his own mini-series though. ;-) It seems like a list I can see him watching, but it does also remind me that these lists are starting to get a tad backward-looking, and perhaps getting the subject to add 2 shows they enjoy now would make them more accessible.

  • j7k8 Aug 04, 2012

    No Community? He was a guest star on one of the more memorable episodes.

  • nexpose Aug 05, 2012

    As a hardcore Community fan, I think the ep. he was in for Community was one of the worst ones.

  • JonnyBlazed Aug 04, 2012

    While I can't say anything negative about his choices, I do prefer when the lists involve more current television series. Something this decade at the very least.

  • nexpose Aug 05, 2012

    Levar is 11 years older then me but I have vague memories on Laugh In and it's an incredible show. Both Laugh In and Smothers Brothers were at such a time where TV was evolving and those shows are historic and well worth catching. Some Laugh Ins are on DVD.

  • IndianaMom Aug 04, 2012

    I love LeVar's choices. Great TV. Baretta wasn't a favorite, but I watched it with my family. Laugh-In and The Smothers Brothers were Must See TV! The Mod Squad was super cool. To this day if I walk across a street with two other people I pretend I'm Peggy Lipton. I missed Roots the first time it aired because I was in college, "studying." I caught it later and totally agree that it was groundbreaking.

  • Writerpatrick Aug 04, 2012

    Baretta was good but it would be hard to watch it again now, knowing.

    I could never get into Mod Squad, although I might have been a bit too young for it at the time.

  • drlowdon Aug 04, 2012

    Don't worry I just looked it up.

  • drlowdon Aug 04, 2012

    Knowing what?

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