At the Movies History: Siskel, Ebert, and the Rest
I’ve long been a fan of the old “Siskel & Ebert” movie review shows that I recall watching as far back as the late 70’s. Back then it was the only way to get reviews of that nature. However, as the years have gone by, there’s been a lot of politics, and changing of technical shows. Not to mention the death of Gene Siskel, and the departure of Roger Ebert too due to severe health problems.
I looked up the show’s lineage, and have pieced together bits of it. Apparently, I got it right, because after I posted the January 2011 incarnation of the article, Roger Ebert himself saw it, and said this about my article on Facebook.
This is the best history of the full 35-year sweep of the show.
I was blown away by that. That Roger himself thought I did a good job on this piece was one heck of an ego stroke. I mention this not for the ego of it, but to let you know this isn’t a casual article that only mentions small bits here and there. I spent a lot of time on this, and am proud of the fact that I “got it right”.
Anyway, to the article. The title graphics were nicked from Wikipedia, no way could I come up with those on my own. :)
IN THE EARLY DAYS…
Originally known as “Opening Soon.. ..at a Theatre Near You” (1975-1977), this original incarnation was produced locally (truly, it was local only) in Chicago. It was a monthly movie review show with Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert. After a couple of successful years in local programming, it was decided to take the show national. So, in 1977, it underwent something which is a recurring theme over the entire legacy of the show, a formal name change. The “Opening Soon” name was dropped, and it was renamed to “Sneak Previews”. It was first distributed through PBS in 1977, and ran for five years with Siskel & Ebert at the helm of the show.
They left in 1982 over what appears to be contract disputes (I have no memory of this, I was 17 at the time). The show continued on for quite awhile after Siskel & Ebert left. The final episode aired in 1996, 14 years later. Siskel & Ebert left the show in 1982. The show continued on with other hosts (Jeffrey Lyons, Neal Gabler, & Michael Medved) from that point. Gabler lasted from 1982-1985, being replaced by Medved, who ran through till the end. Jeffrey Lyons was the longest tenured person on the show, lasting 14 years.
I sort of remember this tenure. I was more interested at this point in Siskel & Ebert, so I followed them to the new show, and sort of not watched the other guys who were with the old show. I remember Medved fairly well, the other guys not so much – so I did watch it, but really, I was more interested in Siskel & Ebert.
AT THE MOVIES WITH SISKEL & EBERT
Siskel & Ebert founded this show after departing from the original incarnation. Technically (and legally) this was a separate show. The original was produced by WTTW in Chicago, and this show was produced by Tribune Entertainment, again out of Chicago.
While I don’t have any specific recollections about Show 2 over Show 1, I do have a vague recollection of thinking around that time that “Hey, this is really Sneak Previews, just called something else because some people got pissy over money”, so I was more intersted in this for the nebulous concept of “this is the same spiritual show, even if legally it is not”. Anyway, this show carried on until 1986, when again apparently Siskel & Ebert left over contractual reasons.
And again, it carried on without them, only not nearly as successfully as Sneak Previews. This version of the show only lasted four more years (until 1990), with hosts Rex Reed, Bill Harris, and later on, Dixie Whatley. What’s amusing about that is that both Harris & Whatley also had tenures on Entertainment Tonight, and from what I recall, the show under their direction was less about movie reviews in the way Siskel & Ebert had done it, but more of a general entertainment thing, still with a lean towards movies.
SISKEL & EBERT AT THE MOVIES
This gets somewhat confusing. Technically this show ran from 1986 until August 14, 2010. It originally in 1986 with Siskel & Ebert. The original title of the show bears this, going under the name “Siskel & Ebert and the Movies” from 1986 through 1999. The last episode with the two of them together was Jan 23, 1999. So it ran quite a long time with Siskel & Ebert as hosts. That is the bulk of the time. However, in 1999 it starts getting confusing.
SISKEL & EBERT AT THE MOVIES
Gene Siskel announced in February of 1999 that he was taking some time off to deal with a brain tumor, and less than three weeks later, he died of that. There was the tribue to Siskel by Ebert immediately after that, and then Siskel’s chair was filled with a series of co-hosts.
ROGER EBERT AND THE MOVIES
Ebert kept going with guest hosts – some were serious attempts at getting a new host (AO Scott, Michael Phillips), some were not (Harry Knowles, Martin Scorsese). The original title was kept until Sep 4, 1999, when it was renamed to “Roger Ebert and the Movies”.
EBERT & ROEPER AT THE MOVIES
The guest host thing continued until Ebert picked Richard Roeper as the permanent replacement for Gene Siskel, and the show was renamed again on Sep 10, 2000 to “Ebert & Roeper At the Movies”. I grew to really like Richard Roeper, some did not. Here’s what I have to say about that… With Gene Siskel gone, that is NOT coming back, so you have to move on. Roger Ebert was still there, and this was still the same program, so you have to accept change. You have to accept SOMEONE. Granted, Richard did a better job than just “being someone”, I’m speaking to those who say he will never be Gene Siskel. No he won’t. But that’s not the point. Ebert & Roeper were NOT going to be Siskel & Ebert. What made that show great from 1975 through 1999 died with Gene Siskel. Given that, I was really behind the selection of Richard Roeper. As you watched the guest stars, you got the feeling more and more they were leaning towards either Richard Roeper or AO Scott, guys who were guesting way more than anyone else at that point.
EBERT & ROEPER
The title was yet changed again in the name of length to “Ebert & Roeper” in September of 2001. The show stabilized under this format and lasted for about five years this way.
This went on until 2006, when Roger Ebert had his thyroid problems, and was knocked off air for those reasons. The 2006-2007 season was completed with guest hosts for Roger.
AT THE MOVIES WITH EBERT & ROEPER
For the return of the 2007-2008 season, the show’s formal name was changed again to “At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper”. On April 13, 2008 Michael Phillips was named the permanent on air replacement for Roger Ebert, although the name remained “ATM with Ebert & Roeper”.
It was short lived, though as Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert said on July 21, 2008 that they would both be leaving the show over contractual and format reasons. Roger Ebert took the “Thumbs Up” with him, as it was a copyright owned by Siskel’s widow and Roger themselves, that did not lie with the producers of the show. It probably had something to do with the fact that the thumbs up/down had disappeared from the show some time before they formally checked out. That’s probably part of what contributed to the “artistic direction” remarks we saw around the separation.
Although, in researching this article I ran across an article where Richard Roeper clearly calls out Ben Lyons as being “stupid” and being the reason he left the show. Wow.
And so it ends..
AT THE MOVIES (goes into the toilet)
On July 22nd, 2008 it was announced that the new hosts would be Ben Lyons & Ben Mankiewicz. This was widely disparaged by long time fans of the show (some going so far as to create a Stop Ben Lyons website), and it proved to be true, as their incarnation of the show was generally regarded as completely awful. The show’s format was changed, expanded, and bore little in common with the Siskel & Ebert lineage it held (legally). Mankiewicz wasn’t all that bad, really. However, Ben Lyons was SO awful, it just drug the whole thing down. Had Mankiewicz been paired with someone else, he might still be there.
One interesting note – Ben Lyons was the son of Jeffrey Lyons, who was one of the replacements for the original Siskel & Ebert show Sneak Previews. That doesn’t justify anything, Ben Lyons was still damn awful, despite that quirk to the show’s past.
I actually had recorded the final Two Bens episode the same weekend the new hosts came on (see next bit). The final Two Bens episode had gotten better then the absolute crap it was when they started, it had elevated itself to “pretty bad” from the spot it was in earlier in the season.
AT THE MOVIES (gets some cred back)
The two Bens experiment was fortunately realized as bad by the producers, and on Aug 5, 2009 it was announced that the two Bens would not be returning for the 2009/2010 season, which started on Sep 5, 2009. They were replaced by A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips. Both were guest hosts for Roger Ebert during his health problem period; Phillips being named the brief permanent replacement for Ebert in 2008. Much was made in the press for the change in hosts about going back to “serious reviews”, and “serious writers”. If that was the case, then why did they just not bring back Richard Roeper with Phillips, and restore it to the way it was before the Two Bens came onboard? Probably too many bridges burnt there. Anyway, Scott/Phillips are a welcome return to form, will definitely be watchable. Some of the post Ebert changes remain, but it’s mostly back to the way it was (if not with the same hosts).
As I write this, the first two episodes have aired with Scott/Phillips. It’s definitely good again. Given they legally can’t use thumbs up/down, the “See it, Skip it, Rent it” sort of works. I’ve seen some backlash against that, but I find my wife and I saying a lot that we will wait for a DVD release to watch a movie, won’t spend the boatload it now costs to see a movie in the theatres. They have kept the “chair” motif from the two Bens era of the show, the old movie theatre / balcony idea is gone. Shame, as I always felt that added to the aura of the show.
I used to have a video here of Scott & Phillips talking about themselves before their year of the show aired. However, when the show went off the air, the archive of old videos was taken offline. This included. If I ever find it elsewhere, I’ll put it back. :(
Another thing I found out in researching this article is that the official site for the “At the Movies” show has a huge archive of video reviews of movies they’ve reviewed over the years. I’m unclear if it’s every single movie they’ve reviewed, but wow. That’s a massive past video archive, and it’s a blast to run through and look at movies I liked in the past to see what they said. It’s also a good tool to find out how different the various eras of the show were. Check out the review of Dragnet from 1987 with Siskel & Ebert, Batman Begins in 2005 with Ebert & Roeper, Casino Royale in 2006 with Roeper & AO Scott, Ratatouille in 2007 with Roeper & Katherine Tulich, Indy IV in 2008 with Roeper & Phillips, Twilight in 2008 with the two Bens, and finally Scott & Phillips’ entire show from the weekend before I wrote this story (The Informant, The Other Man, September Issue, Whiteout).
UPDATE: Scratch that. Turns out when the show went off the air, Disney removed the glorious archive of old videos. Damn shame. I really wish they could have kept that. Was a wonderful archive of old work.
So the original show started by Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert in 1986 is still going now under the name “At the Movies” with rather respectable hosts going forward. This bodes well for the (legal) legacy of the program. However…
AT THE MOVIES (gets canceled)
When I wrote the last section of this document, the new incarnation of the old show had just started with Phillips & Scott. I watched several, the quality was quite good. While it wasn’t Siskel & Ebert, it was the legal show they started, and I felt good about the future with these guys.
So it came as quite a shock on the morning of Mar 25, 2010 when I learned that this will be the final season for “At the Movies”. It started many a year ago, and the article i read today said that this season (the 24th year) will be the last. That’s pretty sad, and a lot is being written today about how much the legacy was good, and it was. I’ve had a season pass for the show on my TiVo for a few years now. Going back into the old show, through the two Bens (although I almost never watched it), and this now final season. The reasons given for the show being canceled are probably valid, as they’re business reasons. Not the hosts, and not the idea. There’s virtually no syndicated shows like this left that aren’t infomercials. That’s part of the problem, I think. Here in Dallas, the show is on at like 1AM on Monday morning (Sun night), and leads off a block of overnight infomercials. The show was never treated well (and this was even before the two Bens year) in syndication. If it was on at a “real” time, I bet you the show would still be around.
My brother and I used to watch it back in the 70’s, so it’s pretty sad that it’s finally finishing. I’ll definitely miss the show, but as one of the articles I read today said.. At least having AO Scott & Michael Phillips there at the end means the show can die with some dignity. Had it been the two Bens at the end, it would have a different feel.
The show ended in August of 2010, and I had hoped they could have gotten Roger Ebert to make an appearance, but that didn’t happen. I really had hoped. Still, the last 10 minutes or so of the episode was dedicated to a segment on the legacy of the program, it’s shown below.
That’s it. “Show 3” is finally done after all these years..
TRYING TO GET OFF THE GROUND AGAIN
The time after Ebert & Roeper walked away from the show was spent with a few attempts to get the “old show” off the ground again. Here’s what I know about those, which I label “Show 4?” (I wrote this section in the fall of 2009, so some of the text could be a little off when it talks about Show 4 still happening)… There ended up being a true “Show 4” in 2011, but that’s not the same. Here goes…
EBERT & ROEPER PRESENT
“TALKING MOVIES”… NO WAIT..
“TWO THUMBS UP”.. NO WAIT…
It was stated at the same time when Ebert & Roeper left At the Movies that they would have some new show. That announcement was made on July 21, 2008. They said something like it would be announced “soon”, and would restore the legacy of the original Siskel & Ebert show:
Right when Roeper & Ebert departed, I set up a Google News Alert for “Richard Roeper”. I wanted to be told when their new show was talked about. Nothing happened with it after that. It was a dark time, as the old show was only on with the two Bens. Then on June 12, 2009, my alert sent me the following text:
The Thumbs will be returning to television in a new program named Talking Movies, with Richard Roeper, Michael Phillips and Christy Lemire. …
The alert stopped there, as they don’t email you the whole thing, just the first line or so. So I clicked on over immediately and found the link was a 404 Not Found. It had been taken away. What I suspect happened was someone was prepping an article about that, and it got published to the RSS feed, and then deleted before anyone (well, almost anyone saw it). This happens to me a lot when you use RSS feeds as your primary source of access to websites. Anyway, the link was gone, and I could not find anything online about this story other than this link, so I wasn’t sure what happened here, exactly. Whatever this “Talking Movies” was, it never got off the ground. I don’t know Christy Lemire, but Richard Roeper & Michael Phillips were the hosts who held the spiritual line of sucession going back to the Sneak Previews days of the 70’s, so it felt right to have them together. Both were hand picked replacements for Siskel & Ebert (by Ebert themselves), so I’ll buy them as the carriers of the flame.
EBERT & ROEPER PRESENT
“TWO THUMBS UP”
But again, nothing happened. It just sat there. On September 7th, 2009 I had discovered that Roger Ebert & Richard Roeper had been working on a website project called “Two Thumbs Up”. It had the URL of http://www.twothumbsup.tv. It appeared from what I could tell to be an internet based version of the old TV show. However..
When I saw it in Sep of 2009, it was stale, and had been abandoned more or less, there was nothing current when I saw it. I don’t know when it went online, either. This snuck out there with little fanfare, or I would have heard about it, since I was looking for info on them. Either I totally botched it, or this really was a small time thing. Either way, not much appeared to be going on with it, although Christy Lemire’s name was still attached to it.
On the day I wrote this section of the article (Sep 15, 2009), I went to grab a screen capture of the site for use here, and discovered it had gone. I have no idea what happened now. If you go there, you get a “Forbidden” error, which generally tells me one of two things. Either the site’s server has a serious configuration error preventing you from seeing anything, or someone just nuked the entire content off the server, and there’s nothing for it to show. Either way, whatever this experiment was, it appears to be gone.
The trademark is still in use, though. If you look at Roger Ebert’s current reviews, they’re called “Two Thumbs Up® reviews”. So it’s still out there. But how it will manifest itself on TV?
What’s going on, guys? What happened to the “coming soon” (In the summer of 2008) show that was going to restore the legacy of Siskel & Ebert? Some of us are still waiting, and as you can see by this article are still paying attention. While the old show is in capable hands with Scott & Phillips, I want the Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert show to return. It was said that it would be Richard Roeper & Michael Phillips with Christy Lemire on screen. Well, Phillips has another gig now, so he’s out. No matter who is picked as the other host, what the heck is going on with THAT?
UPDATE NOVEMBER 29 2009:
ROEPER GOES IT ALONE
It appears that the attempt at Show #4 has failed, and will not be happening. The why of that I’ll get into in a minute, but we do have some solid new stuff.
First off, on Nov 24th, I found an article saying that Richard Roeper was going to be getting back to the movie review thing. He isn’t on a new show (like we expected), but he’s going to be doing movie reviews from his website, and via some unspecified “deal” with the Starz cable network. The reviews will appear weekly on his website, they will then be on Starz. I wonder if they’ll be sandwiched in between movies akin to what is shown by Leonard Maltin on DirecTV. Anyway, it appears from what I read that he’ll be doing this by himself. While I’m eager to hear what he has to say again, part of what made him work I think was being with someone else. We’ll have to see how they go. Here’s a quote from Richard about the “new venture”…
“I’m so excited about this new project,” Roeper said Monday. “As much as I loved doing ‘Ebert & Roeper,’ this will have much more of an unfiltered, uncut, viral feel. As someone at Starz put it, they wanted ‘Roeper uncut.’ If a film is a piece of shit, I’ll say it’s a piece of shit. I love the idea of seeing the movie and turning around immediately and telling you what I think about it in a conversational manner. In some cases I’ll be recording reviews right there on the street as I’m exiting the theater or the screening room.”
There was a minor stink about it the next day from Roger Ebert thinking that Roeper thought he was censored on Ebert & Roeper, and I could see that, but Richard came out with a retraction saying that was not the case. Still, it made for an interesting bit of back and forth for a day there around Thanksgiving. :) One final amusing thing, Richard’s website says “Richard Roeper & the Movies” – nice throwback name. Richard had an intro video initially posted on his website (but was later removed – I don’t know why). It parodies the recent movie, Paranormal Activities. It’s here:
So Richard will be doing movie reviews. That likely brings an end to the hope that the old phoenix will rise from the ashes, as he’s now gone off on his own without Roger Ebert. Or does it? Ebert can never be on TV again (not regularly anyway), so he’ll need a “friend” to be on camera, which I assumed would be Roeper. However, in Roeper’s article he does leave the door open a bit for a return to syndication, which I’d realy like to see. Hopefully it’s with Roger Ebert and the thumbs. That needs to come back.
Which brings us to the other part of the update. Roger Ebert finally spoke out about all of this stuff, the old show, Richard Roeper, the two Bens, etc.. There was a really great journal update by him here detailing a ton of stuff. If you’ve read this far, you need to read that article too. Roger goes into issues of his own health, what happened behind the scenes after his boot off the air from thyroid cancer, and talks about other names (Philips, Scott, others) that could have been permanent replacements (some of that is covered above).
But the sad part is how Roger talks about the end of his incarnation of the show – the point where the “producers” decided on destroying the old classic balcony stage instead of donating it to something like the Smithsonian. I didn’t realize that kind of stuff happened.
But the final nail was when the studio hired AO Scott and brought back Michael Phillips to host the show, Phillips went to Roger Ebert’s house personally to tell him. I thought that was classy. Apparently Roger offered to the producers the legal return of the thumbs and his own endorsement of the show (which would have brought a nice closure to all this), but he was rebuffed, saying “the show has moved on”. That’s sad. That’s really sad.
Roger also goes into far more detail on “Show 4” (my term, not his) than I knew of. The reason THAT didn’t happen is due to the economy according to Roger. But he says the show can probably still happen, and from what Roger said, it seems to be more than a “glimmer”, but not exactly a raging inferno waiting to break out either. But I remain hopeful that the original show’s lineage (if not the legal version of it) will rise from the ashes.
Whatever Roger Ebert ends up doing, whether it be with Christy Lemire or Richard Roeper, or someone else, I think there’s enough room for their show, and Roger’s old show still going on with Scott & Phillips. I’d watch both for sure.
IT’S 2010: NOW WHAT?
Well, it’s now late March 2010 as I write this, and it was just announced that the old Siskel & Ebert show (now manned by Scott & Philips and called “At the Movies”) will be gone come August. Is that truly the end? Apparently not.
First off, before I get into that, I wanted to mention the appearance by Roger Ebert on the Oprah Winfrey show. I am most definitely NOT a fan of Oprah Winfrey, but I brought myself to watch the show (or at least this part of it) that Roger Ebert was on. To my knowledge, it was the first appearance by him on TV since he was knocked off the air at his old show with Richard Roeper. I had seen pictures of him since, and was aware of his condition. But seeing him can be hard if you’re not used to that kind of thing. I was glad I tuned in, as his story is seriously cool that he’s been able to fight past all that’s happened to him, is cancer free, and all that. The bit where his voice was recreated by a company using tons of his old commentary DVD’s and whatnot was really quite awesome. This appearance was like a big step back for me, as he got to announce his own Oscar picks in his own voice for the first time in ages. The Oprah Winfrey website has videos of all this stuff online (for now, anyway). I suggest you go check them out here.
UPDATE: In April 2011, I found this video which was recorded at the Ted conference. Roger & Chaz were there, and Roger talked about all his surgeries, what happened to him, and all that. It’s pretty detailed – definitely moreso than the Oprah video. Check this out. I had never heard most of this stuff before. Just what happened to his carotid artery (seven ruptures). Wow.
I mention all that, because I think it ties in somewhat to something he announced today that the old show he was talking about awhile ago is still going to be happening. I found that as quite a surprise.
THE TRUE “SHOW 4”:
AT THE MOVIES
On Mar 25, 2010 Roger Ebert had another blog post (man, this guy can write well), this time about the cancellation of “At the Movies”. He talks about the past with Siskel again, why the show was gone, it’s (as usual) a fantastic read. But for someone like me, the real gold here was the announcement that he is still going to be doing a new show.
Roger talks about how he didn’t think it would work if they were just doing the same show as it always was. Which is kind of why I think the old show finally was canceled. It effectively was the same show from all those years ago, just a different tone and flavor, but the format was the same. Roger’s new show according to him will cover “New Media: Television, net streaming, cell phone apps, Facebook, Twitter, iPad, the whole enchilada.”. That’s good to see. I think if Roger just brought back the old format with new hosts, then it probably too would fail.
I also liked this text which Roger wrote.. “”At the Movies” was one of the last survivors of half-hour syndication. It didn’t fail so much as have its format shot out from beneath it.” He even goes on to mention everyone who has hosted the show (which is Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, Richard Roeper, Michael Phillips, AO Scott, Ben Mankowicz, & Ben Lyons).
The show will be produced by him and his wife. He wants to make appearances, and says his computer voice can be used to keep him “on” the show, even if he can’t physically appear. He mentions they know who they’ll cast as face talent (Christy Lemire perhaps? Her name has been attached to his for awhile now). He’s not giving details, but this is the most forward I’ve seen Roger Ebert be with a replacement show since he left the air.
Some of what this new show will be like was presented in September 2010. It was announced who was going to be on the show, what it was going to be like, etc. So much so that a “demo reel” showing what it might be like was produced. I’m assuming this was done in order to shop the program to people. Same goes for the show logo above. I’m unclear if it was intended to be the final logo or not, but it was there, so I’m using it in the story. The aforementioned video is still available online. You can check it out here:
The announced show in September 2009 was going to have two talking heads. Christy Lemire (AP News), who has been attached to Ebert for a few years now, and Elvis Mitchell (of NPR Radio). These were going to be the primary folks on screen. Ebert himself, while unable to speak would make a regular appearance via the use of his computer created voice, as demonstrated on the Oprah Winfrey show.
There were going to be other contributors as well. I’m guessing this is the part where they talked about changing the format around a bit. When the two Bens came on in the old show, they added a bunch of other people, and I didn’t think it worked too well. Granted, there they all tried to talk at the same time. This will be more of a “contributor segment” kind of thing. So it could work better.
The whole list of names that was announced was:
- Roger Ebert
- Christy Lemire
- Elvis Mitchell
- Kim Morgan (sunsetgun.com)
- Omar Moore (popcornreel.com)
To be honest, I didn’t know any of them. Christy Lemire I knew only in that her name was attached to other attempts to revive this show, but really – these are all newcomers to me. That was a LITTLE bit of a concern to me personally, given I didn’t know any of them. But obviously I’d be watching.
So the show sat that way for awhile. There was a Facebook group set up in September 2010 for fans (myself included) to discuss the show, but it never really got going. That incarnation of the show had the logo shown here (with the white head and glasses). I presumed that was going to be the show’s logo as it was on the Official Facebook group. Looked legit enough. Had an “artsy” feel to it.
But not much happened for awhile. For the remainder of 2010, it was pretty quiet. I’m guessing there was a ton of behind the scenes stuff going on. They had to sell the show, build sets, etc, etc…
But given the at times tortured history this show has had, we couldn’t get to launch without some other drama rearing its head, could we?
2011: Ebert Presents “At the Movies”
So we finally get to January 2011. The launch of the new show. While the precise date wasn’t yet set, it was found out in mid December actually that the previously announced host of the show (Elvis Mitchell) was no longer with the show (Link). No reason was given for this change – read the link for more. A few weeks later, it was also announced who his replacement was. It’s a 24 year old kid named Ignatiy Vishnevetsky. Another person I knew nothing about. This is not a Ben Lyons move here, to hire a “kid”. Ignatiy has movie credentials – in fact, there was a good story published at the same time about the kid. You can read that here.
The only thing that article leaves me with is that the kid is kind of a movie snob. Back in the Siskel & Ebert days, I always got the impression that Ebert himself liked the “common, popular” movies like an Iron Man, or a Terminator or something along those lines. What I’ve read about this Russian kid is that he’s more into arty films. I wonder if he’ll like these more “popular” films at all, or if it will turn into a “Lemire likes the popular stuff, the kid won’t” dynamic before you even hear them say anything about a movie. Granted, that’s an unfair assumption on my part, but as I write this text, the show is three days away from its first episode premiere. I’ll give the kid the benefit of the doubt, but what I read tells me he’ll be the “Siskel” in this pairing. We’ll see. Elvis Mitchell wasn’t on a street corner selling pencils after this move, he was announced as the lead movie review person for the website “Movieline”, so he’s doing fine. Well, he was for awhile, anyway. I read on April 24, 2011 that he had been terminated from movieline.com – you can read more about that here.
Another interesting point is the show had a subtle name change. Since it was announced many months ago, it was called “Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies”. It’s now called just “Ebert Presents At the Movies”. It’s a subtle change, but I wonder – if Roger dies, I have to assume that his wife will retain control over the show, it’s copyright, and all that. I wonder if the simple removal of ‘Roger’ from the title is something to do with that. I could be reading into it way too much – and I admit that. But it does make me curious about the subtle name change.
As long as I’m talking about the name.. When the old show went off the air after Disney canceled it, they owned the name “At the Movies”. Now, the name “At the Movies” has been around for a long time. Going back to “Show 2”, it was ued, and then again in “Show 3” (the really long part of the history), and the name morphed a lot during the Show 3 years depending on who was hosting it, but “At the Movies” was in there. I wonder if Roger Ebert bought the rights to the name from Disney, and owns it, or he is just licensing it at this point. I realize that’s a highly anal point, but from a purely legal standpoint, I can’t imagine him just “using it” like that, one would think Disney legal wouldn’t go for that. I’ve asked about that point, I’ll be curious to see if I ever get an answer on it.
The week of the premiere, some pictures were posted of the recording of the first episode (which originally was going to be a “Best of 2010” segment, but changed to a standard show at the last minute), and the old “movie set” is back. Check out the pictures below, which if you look at them, remind me a LOT of the set as it was when Ebert & Roeper were on the show. There are two additional pictures available as well as significantly larger versions of the pictures available at this blog post from Roger Ebert.
Going back several hosts, I always wondered if the “movie theatre set” for this show was capable of actually projecting movies. Given this set was built using modern tech, one would think it’d be easy enough to build something into the set where you could actually watch movies on it. It would be a laugh, that’s for sure.
As I said before, the new show premieres in four days. As I write this, it’s Jan 18, 2011. Roger Ebert is back. The movie theatre set is back. The Thumbs are back! Sadly Gene Siskel is not. Neither is Richard Roeper. But I’ll be there checking it out too, as it does feel like the old show’s proper lineage has returned. When the last show ended, I said that I enjoyed what was being done by AO Scott & Michael Philips. I did really enjoy them. The one negative against them is that they were mostly the same person – what made Siskel & Ebert work best was they were NOT, and had conflicting opinions. This new show is definitely different in it’s presentation, and I hope that the old feel of Siskel & Ebert (and Roeper) is there as well. Just NOT the feel of Ben Lyons. Barf.
As a taste, the opening credit sequence for the new show was posted online just a few days before the premiere. Here it is:
Post Launch Show Reaction
I updated this entry in April 2011, four months after the new show has premiered. I will say. The new combination is like no other that has come before them, the two Bens included. The first couple of episodes I watched with interest, but I have to say I held a feeling of “is this going to work?” Neither was bad, although Ignatiy was young, that’s for sure. As the weeks have gone on, I feel they’re working better together, although there’s not a ton of confrontation with each other. Not that I expected a row like we used to get from Gene & Roger, but they have a little too much in common, at least in terms of what they seriously don’t like. Ignatiy, for his age, likes an obscenely high level of films that I’d venture the majority of people watching the show have never even heard of. He loves a ton of imported films, which isn’t in and of itself weird, but he seems to have command of films from 80 years ago, something you’d think a 22 year old wouldn’t have any clue about. Not that he’s Ben Lyons young, he obviously knows his movies, and I’m sure that’s why he was chosen. But he tends to skew towards “artsy” films, as I theorized he would before any episodes aired. It’s not as a clean cut as that, he’s liked some films I was surprised he would, but generally I’ve found Ignatiy & Christy tend to like the films you’d expect them too. I guess I was hoping for a bit more in the surprise department.
It’s a good show, and it’s Friday night prime time slot helps. My wife and I have watched many episodes, specifically to see what they had to say about some new movie. They still hit the popular new movies (as of this writing, Rio & Hop were of interest – hey, we have a six year old daughter!), so it’s good to see them cover that, in addition to the deeper, and in Ignatiy’s case, the obscure.
Also, the secondary cast isn’t on as much as I would have expected. They way they were billed in the promo, I got the impression they’d be on a lot. They are on, but I was expecting one of them weekly, which really isn’t happening. Also, the list of secondary names is much larger than we were originally told it would be. Outside of Ebert, Vishnavesky, & Lemire, the secondary players are:
- Alison Bailes (More Magazine & NBC’s Today Show)
- Dann Gire (Chicago Film Critics Association)
- Jeff Greenfield (CBS News)
- Nell Minow (Movie Mom for beliefnet.com)
- Omar Moore (College writer, attorney, film critic)
- Kim Morgan (Sunset Gun, MSN Movies)
- David Poland (Movie City News)
- Kartina Richardson (mirrorfilm.org)
- Matt Singer (IFC News)
So there’s a lot of contributors, as opposed to just the original two we were aware of.
But, the best part is that Roger Ebert is on the air weekly. He’s not in the seats, he’s in a segment called “Roger’s Office”, where he is shown at his desk typing, and his review is read. Originally it was said that Roger’s own voice would be used, but I’m guessing it was decided his computer generated “Roger Ebert Voice” wasn’t good enough for a three minute speech like that. Most of them have been voiced by Bill Curtis, although his wife Chaz has done a couple. The video used of Roger appears to be stock, I’m not sure if they film that each time or not. Be nice to see him out in the seats sometime. Still, it’s a great thing to have Roger Ebert back on a movie review program, even if he can’t be the same Roger (physically) we knew from the past.
There’s also a really good website for the show, where the new episodes are posted weekly. This is helpful, as a few times here in Dallas, episodes were missed due to PBS pledge drives. Plus you can look back on older reviews, watch them again, interact with fans through Facebook and all that. It’s very well put together. It’s available at http://www.ebertpresents.com – I wish it had the old show’s long history of reviews, but Disney owns all that, sadly. :(
So four months in, I’ll give the show a thumbs up. It’ll take some time to grow into the powerhouse I think that Siskel & Ebert was. Not that I think these two will get like THAT, but good, smart movie discussion is always welcome. We certainly get that here for sure.
EBERT PRESENTS GOES DARK
After several months, I was enjoying the heck out of Ebert Presents. Seeing Roger back on TV, even in his reduced capacity was great. I grew to like the team of Christy & Ignatiy. They mostly skewed the way I thought they would, but they’d occasionally surprise me with their picks.
Then all of a sudden my station (KERA-TV in Dallas) stopped showing the program. I contacted whoever was handling media for Ebert Presents, and they took note of it, as apparently I wasn’t the only person who complained. And not just about KERA as well, there were other channels with this same issue. KERA didn’t even relocate the program elsewhere, it was just “dropped”, although KERA denied they had removed it. I don’t have their email handy, but it was something along the lines of looking for the “right slot” for it. Now as I understood it, prime time is dictated by PBS nationally, so that didn’t ring true. IMO, I think they felt the Friday at 7:30 (Central) time slot was too “prime” for a show like Ebert Presents.
So for me, the show went off the air about halfway through the first series. That was disappointing. Given they made the episodes and reviews available online, I could still see what they said, but that wasn’t the same thing. I missed the show on my TV – which is where it really belonged.
So it was some big disappointment that in late December, Roger & Chaz Ebert announced that there would be no Season 2 – at least not straight away. Apparently Roger & Chaz paid for the financing for Season 1 of “Ebert Presents” out of their own pockets, with the idea that they’d find corporate financing during the season. Well, it didn’t happen, and the show officially went “on hiatus” in the last week of December 2011. They were insistent that they weren’t canceling it, they wanted to continue, but couldn’t continue to pay for the show’s production out of their own pockets anymore.
That’s disappointing for sure, but I can understand it. Don’t like it. But I understand it. There was a blog post by Chaz Ebert on Dec 29, 2011 detailing all of this, and included a few pictures, including one from their wrap party.
NOTE: I used to have a video here showing a highlight reel of the Ebert Presents show, but the uploader no longer has their Youtube account, and I cannot find the video. It used to have Youtube ID cga5UZYCnlc.
As we went through 2012, that was the status of the show for a long time. “On Hiatus”. I’d periodically inquire on the Facebook page, lots of fans were screaming “Kickstarter”, and various other ideas for financing. But it never happened. In fact, during the whole of 2012, it felt like the time when we never got any news about Ebert & Roeper after they left “Show 3”, and we had the Two Bens (that still frightens me) all over again. The lack of information was definitely disheartening.
So we roll on into 2013, and not a whole lot of action, much like 2012. At the start of April 2013 (Apr 2 to be precise), Roger posted a blog entry entitled “A Leave of Presence”. Roger detailed that his cancer was back. I recall reading back when he last had treatments and whatnot that if it returned he wasn’t going to go through treatments, and just let it go. That wasn’t his mindset anymore, as he stated in this blog entry that he was going to finally launch a kickstarter campign to bring back “At the Movies”. He talked about a new project called “Ebert Digital”, and was moving forward on several fronts, while still battling his returned cancer. Things were looking up.
Then just two days later, it was announced he had died from his long bout with cancer. It seemed a surprise given the announcement of just two days ago. But one can’t be truly shocked by this, Roger has been sick for a long time. That he battled through it as triumphantly as he did was nothing short of amazing. That we got another season of the old girl “At the Movies” at his own expense was a treat.
So many people have written so many things about the death of Roger Ebert, that I don’t know what I can write unique here. If you’ve read this far down the page, then you should know I’ve been a fan for a long time, and have read and watched his work for 35+ years. I think this entire blog entry would stand as my memorial for Roger, especially given he endorsed it himself.
Well, if you had asked me on April 2nd, I would have said that we might have some real news about a return of “At the Movies” later this year. Then Roger died two days later. His blog said they’d start a kickstarter in a couple of weeks. I think at this point, we should consider the show not gone, but delayed even further. Nobody in their right mind would want to go to Chaz now, “So, about that show…” I want it back as much as anyone, and I want Christy Lemire & Ignatiy V back as hosts, as they were both hand picked by Roger to be the keepers of the flame – the old Siskel & Ebert legacy. They need to return when the show does.
I’m going to sign off – I will update this again at some point in the future if there’s ever any news regarding the future of “At the Movies”. I hope there is. But if there is not, I enjoyed the ride, going back to the 70’s, and was thankful to see “Siskel, Ebert, and the rest” on my TV, talking movies.
Until then, the balcony is closed.
So there we are. The full, and somewhat twisted history of the Siskel & Ebert movie review show. Many names, many incarnations, I know I’ve covered it all, and more importantly gotten it right – due the “blessing” that Roger himself gave this article back in January of 2011.
I’ll leave you with some amusing videos I saw on Youtube of various funny bits from episodes over the years. These show that Richard Roeper & Roger Ebert could still complain at each other like Siskel & Ebert did, they weren’t the bland pair that I’ve read about over the years. Enjoy.
The Newspaper in 2013
After the death of Roger in 2013, there was a hole left at the Chicago Sun Times. No matter what happened to Roger’s voice, his mind was still there, and his hands worked, and in this digital age, that meant he could still work, and work he did. Produced movie reviews all the time, and after he died, well, the newspaper still needed someone to cover that hole.
To this, they tapped Roger’s friend and long time co-host Richard Roeper to handle Roger’s old slot at the Sun Times handling reviews. This was announced on September 12, 2013, and according to the stories was a ‘multi year deal”. Which tells me that the newspaper itself isn’t planning on going anywhere – a bold prediction in this day and age when newspapers are folding left and right.
Roger’s widow Chaz had this to say about Richard’s appointment to Roger’s old job at the Sun-Times..
Chaz Ebert, widow of the late critic, released a statement congratulating Roeper, whom she called “Roger’s colleague and our friend.”
“Roger would have been as thrilled as I am over the news because he thought Richard was a top-notch writer and a hard-working journalist and movie reviewer,” she wrote. “On a personal note, I want to thank Richard for his support and friendship during Roger’s last hospitalization. Richard’s willingness to fill in for Roger at the Chicago Sun-Times meant so much to Roger and gave him the freedom to concentrate more on his treatments. I wish Richard continued success. The paper is fortunate to have him.”
This is a good move, IMO, and one that long time fans of the “At the Movies” series can probably all get behind. There’s a few news stories announcing this move. You can read them here, here, and here.
But what about the main TV show?
A mere MINUTES after I posted the Apr 7, 2013 update, someone posted on the official Facebook page for “Ebert Presents..” and when asked if the show was going to continue, they posted this..
“For all please stay tuned. It was and is Roger’s wish for the show to continue, so please stay tuned.”
That’s a nice little postscript. Looks there will be a future update somewhere down the line. :).
UPDATE Dec 26, 2019: Nothing ever came of that Apr 7, 2013 update I mentioned. I followed it for awhile, and eventually stopped looking, as it’s obvious it’s not coming back now. That’s OK. I would have still preferred to see something coming, but it isn’t at this point. Also, I noticed that several articles I linked to in this piece had become broken over the years since I first wrote this. This morning I went through the entire article and fixed all the external links and videos that I could. There was one or two links that can’t be fixed, as there’s no archive copy anywhere, but I fixed everything I could.
Still eternally grateful to Roger for his blessing. That still blows my mind, even eight years later.