In Memoriam: At the Movies

 
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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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  • Great post. I've watched At the Movies forever. I don't believe anything ever measured up to Siskel and Ebert, but it was always entertaining. I saw on the news this morning that Ebert is going to start a new show shortly to fill the gap you identified.
    Keep writing... I love your blog Hammervision!

  • Thanks Nonie! I just read that Ebert and his wife were starting a new show. Too bad they've already selected the host (though they're keeping mum on who it is for the moment), I would have loved a shot at it! Kudos to Ebert for recognizing that there is still a market for this kind of film review show.

  • Wow, you read these articles and you're already to post your original idea and someone beat you to the punch. I too loved Siskel and Ebert. I was lucky enough to run into Gene many times and he was as down to earth as he was smart. They brought out the best and worse in each other and we the viewers benefited bigtime. There are other critics I respect like David Ansen in "Newsweek" or Richard Corliss in "Time" but as a team or aand a friend to the consumer Siskel and Ebert rocked. By the way that creep something "Lyons" that was on before these guys was a complete idiot.

  • Agreed - Siskel and Ebert in their heyday is a tough act to beat.

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