After many years on the air, offering film critiques and a fair share of bickering, Roger Ebert is ending his association with At the Movies. The announcement closes a chapter on the longest-running movie review show in television history. Ebert’s present co-host, Richard Roeper, has announced he is leaving as well.
Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune began their partnership in 1975 on a local public television program called Opening Soon at a Theater Near You. After two seasons, it became Sneak Previews. Siskel and Ebert were a competitive duo both on-screen and off and it was their heated bickering that helped grow the show’s popularity and viewership.
Siskel and Ebert left the show in 1982 over a contract disagreement and soonafter created the syndicated At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert for Tribune Entertainment. In 1986, they moved to Disney’s television division with Siskel & Ebert & the Movies. The show title was shortened to simply Siskel & Ebert in 1989. Millions of movie lovers tuned in to see which film would receive the dreaded two thumbs-down or the coveted two thumbs-up. While Siskel and Ebert were together, their program received multiple Emmy nominations.
In 1998, Siskel was diagnosed with a brain tumor. When he wasn’t able to co-host, Siskel either phoned in his reviews from a hospital bed or guests were invited to fill in. In February 1999, Siskel announced that he was taking a leave of absence from the show to devote more energy to treatment. He fully intended to return but died due to complications from surgery three weeks later.
Ebert hosted a tribute episode to his late friend and the show continued with various guests co-hosts. Ebert’s fellow Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper was eventually chosen as a permanent co-host and the program became Ebert & Roeper & the Movies.
In 2004, Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and underwent underwent radiation treatments for tumors on his thyroid and a salivary gland. In 2006, he underwent emergency surgery which interrupted the show’s schedule. By October 2006, Ebert was able to resume writing reviews but was unable to return to co-host the show. He has undergone additional surgeries but is unfortunately still unable to speak. He is still active behind-the-scenes of the show and various co-hosts have filled in since his absence.
Likely feeling that the series might have to be overhauled, Disney changed the title of the show to At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper in 2007, taking the emphasis off the critics’ names for the first time in many years. While in contract negotiations with Ebert in 2007, Disney hastily pulled the trademark thumbs-up/thumbs-down from the show. Ebert co-owns the trademark with Siskel’s widow and said they could continue to be used during negotiations. A deal was worked out, the thumbs returned, and Ebert remained involved — for a time.
Roeper was the first to announce that he was leaving the program a couple days ago. He explained, “Several months ago, Disney offered to extend my contract, which expires at the conclusion of the 2007-08 season. I opted to wait. Much transpired after that behind the scenes, but an agreement was never reached, and we are all moving on.” His last appearance will air on the weekend of August 16th.
The next day, Ebert said that he was done as well. On his website, he wrote, “After 33 years on the air, 23 of them with Disney, the studio has decided to take the program named Siskel & Ebert and then Ebert & Roeper in a new direction. I will no longer be associated with it.”
Yesterday, Disney announced that Ben Lyons, the son of film critic Jeffrey and a reporter for E! News, will join Turner Classic Movies’ Ben Mankiewicz in the balcony seats in a new show in early September. The two will have to work without the show’s usual thumbs-up/thumbs-down style of reviewing because of the trademark. No word on what other “new direction” the show will take.
Roeper says he will continue to review movies on the air elsewhere. There’s speculation that he may possibly continue to partner with Ebert in some way. He says he plans to “proceed elsewhere with my ninth year as the co-host of a movie review show that honors the standards established by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert more than 30 years ago.”
That new project may include the traditional thumbs-up/thumbs-down style of reviewing. Ebert writes, “The [thumbs] trademark still belongs to me and Marlene Iglitzen, Gene’s widow, and the thumbs will return. We are discussing possibilities, and plan to continue the show’s tradition.” Stay tuned!