It’s the end of an era. The At the Movies syndicated series is coming to an end after two dozen years on the air.
The program, produced by Disney’s Buena Vista Entertainment, began in 1986 as Siskel & Ebert & the Movies. It was the third movie review series for newspaper critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. They had left their two previous shows due to contract disputes.
In 1989, the series title was changed to simply Siskel & Ebert. Things remained essentially the same until 1999 and the untimely death of Siskel from a brain tumor. For a season, the program was renamed Roger Ebert & the Movies and various film critics filled the second spot. In 2000, Richard Roeper was chosen as the permanent second critic and program was renamed Ebert & Roeper and the Movies. It was soonafter shortened to just Ebert & Roeper.
In 2002, Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and in 2006, his spot on the show was filled with guest critics. In the summer of 2007, the program’s title was changed to At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper, de-emphasizing the critics’ names. In 2008, Ebert was permanently replaced on-camera by Michael Phillips but remained involved. It was rechristened At the Movies.
That new pairing was short-lived as Ebert, Phillips, and Roeper ended their association with the show in August 2008.
Disney hired younger critics Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz to host. Disney hoped the pair would attract a younger demographic but the ratings fell. They were replaced after a year by A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips for more serious film criticism. That apparently hasn’t worked out as the show has now been cancelled after 24 years, several hosts, and thousands of reviews.
A statement from Disney says, “After 24 seasons with us in national syndication, the highly regarded movie review show At the Movies (formerly known as Siskel & Ebert and Ebert & Roeper) will air its last original broadcast the weekend of August 14, 2010. This was a very difficult decision, especially considering the program’s rich history and iconic status within the entertainment industry, but from a business perspective it became clear this weekly, half-hour, broadcast syndication series was no longer sustainable. We gratefully acknowledge the outstanding work of the program’s current co-hosts A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips and top-notch production staff, and it is with heartfelt appreciation that we extend very special thanks to the two brilliant, visionary and incomparable critics that started it all, Roger Ebert and the late Gene Siskel.”
Yesterday, Ebert tweeted, “R.I.P., ‘At the Movies.’ Memories.”
Today, Ebert reiterated his and his wife Chaz’s plans to produce a new movie review program for television. He wrote, “No, Wednesday’s cancellation of At the Movies hasn’t discouraged us. We believe a market still exists for a weekly show where a couple of critics review new movies.”
He’s unable to give many new details about his plans but could say that the title will be Roger Ebert presents At the Movies. He recalled that the “At the Movies” part of the title had been used by he and Siskel for their second program, for Tribune. He also maintains that the well-known “thumbs up/thumbs down” will return as well.
Ebert writes that they’ve held video tests for the hosts and know who they’ll use. Echoing Ebert’s own growing web presence, the new show will make full use of new media as well. He may do occasional appearances using his computer-supplied voice.
What do you think? Are you surprised or sad that At the Movies is ending? Who were your favorite hosts?