It was with great surprise and sadness that I turned the page of this morning's Chicago Tribune Business section and learned that ABC/Disney would be cancelling the long-running film review show, currently titled At the Movies and long known before that as Siskel & Ebert. Though Ebert has been away from the show for a while, I was happy to see Siskel's replacement, Richard Roeper, carry on the show's legacy with a rotating panel of guest hosts. When Roeper left in '07 and Disney took the show in a new direction, with d-bag host Ben Lyons, it all but killed the franchise. Recognizing their mistake, Disney recently hired esteemed film critics Michael Phillips (whom I like quite a bit) of the Chicago Tribune and A.O. Scott (of the New York Times) to bring the show back to its former glory. I think they did.
Each week, At the Movies offered a critical look at studio films and often shone a light on obscure indies that you should see if you could find them at a theater near you. As a movie fan, I looked forward to the show and seeing two intelligent, film-literate men discuss the merits of each week's new releases. It was a one-of-a-kind show and I can't believe ABC/Disney is killing it. The reason? Some vague reference to cancellation making sense from a "business perspective." Nonsense. The show can't be that expensive to produce, and it filled a gap in niche programming that is now left wide open.
Maybe the cancellation hits a bit too close to home for me. I interned for the show back in the summer of 2000, not long after Siskel had passed away, and Ebert was continuing the show with a different guest each week. I worked about three days a week, doing all kinds of odds and ends. Like most intern jobs, not all of it was glamorous. But I loved working in that environment, and I saw a ton of free movies that summer. I even got to see one with Ebert: The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle. The movie sucked, but the experience was unforgettable. It was a great time to be working for the show - while there, the producers made the announcement that Roeper would be taking over permanently as co-host. That was such an exciting day - the Disney/ABC publicity folk descended, spreading the word and the media blitz was in full effect. It was awesome. Ebert & Roeper at the Movies was born.
One other memory - my last day at the job, Ebert came in and we had a short discussion about movies and trying to see everything. He would receive all kinds of free DVDs, and during this conversation, he pulled out a Clint Eastwood box set and gave it to me. I still have it. At the Movies, in all its incarnations, was, and still is, a special show. It will always be a big part of my life, and I'm going to miss it.
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