I had been looking forward to writing a critique of "Ebert Presents: At the Movies," the third incarnation of the long-running movie review program that coined the phrase "Two Thumbs Up!"
After the passing of Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert's longtime sparring partner, the program continued with replacement Richard Roeper.
Ebert's subsequent battle with thyroid cancer which claimed his ability to speak forced him to step down his co-hosting duties.
What followed was a kerfuffle in which "Ebert officially left the show ... following a fallout with the show's distribution company—Disney/ABC." In a move that was widely panned, new critics were cast. First, Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz put their thumbs in the pie. They were replaced by A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips, who hosted the final season until the show was cancelled.
In January of this year, Roger Ebert launched a new iteration of the program entitled, "Ebert Presents: At the Movies." The new program, co-hosted by Christy Lemire, film critic of The Associated Press, had problems of its own when announced co-host Elvis Mitchell opted out and was replaced by 24-year-old MUBI.com writer Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, handpicked by Roger Ebert from Chicago’s underground film society.
When Ebert first announced the new program, he was especially excited by the prospect of returning to its public broadcasting roots.
It will return to its birthplace, launching nationally on public television with presenting station WTTW Chicago, where it began in 1975 as "Opening Soon at a Theater Near You" and then in 1976 as "Sneak Previews," became the highest rated entertainment show in PBS history. The original format moved into syndication as "At the Movies" in 1982 with Tribune Entertainment and a quarter-century with Buena Vista Television.
Now, less than a year into its run, the program which airs locally on Sunday nights at 11:30 PM on GPB, and the only program licensed to use the copyrighted "Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down"® format is in jeopardy of cancellation.
In an eloquently written blog post, Ebert breaks the news:
Unless we find an angel, our television program will go off the air at the end of its current season. There. I've said it. Usually in television, people use evasive language. Not me. We'll be gone. I want to be honest about why this is. We can't afford to finance it any longer.
Before I go into details, let me say that by any fair measure, "Ebert Presents At The Movies" has been a great success. The program has a coverage of more than 90% of the country, and all of the top 50 markets. Our ratings place us among the top shows on public television, and compare to the ratings of cable news. And we have loyal and vocal followers. Whenever our show is pre-empted for any reason we get immediate e-mails, calls and letters from viewers looking for it. We have also had cordial relations with the programmers and station managers across the country.
Chaz and I were just sitting here watching this week's episode, and when it was over she turned to me and said, "It's a damned good program." I agree. In Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, we have ideal co-hosts. It took them a few weeks to settle in and get used to working together, but right now I think they're doing it as well as it can be done. They know their movies, they come from different viewpoints, they listen, they respond, they are clear and forceful. We are also proud of our our contributing critics, director, staff and crew, and the educational programs we have established for our interns.
I believe a program like this is needed on television. On "Ebert Presents," a new Johnny Depp movie can get two thumbs down (or up, or a split decision) from two intelligent people who will tell you why they voted that way, and challenge one another. Movie coverage on TV is otherwise so intensely driven by marketing that some programs actually cover the marketing itself.
The rest of the piece is here:
In the wake of the announcement, the Eberts considering all their options, including a Kickstarter campaign.
At the end of December, our public television program "Ebert Presents At The Movies" will go on hiatus while we find necessary funding. This move is necessary to allow the public television stations that carry our show to plan their programs for the beginning of the new year. We held off as long as possible but we had to give notice today.
It was a sad but necessary moment of realism. The show is nationally distributed by American Public Television (APT), and they have been very helpful. They send us to more than 95% of the U.S. public television audience and all 50 top markets. The show is also distributed overseas by the American Forces Network to over 175 countries and even to Navy ships. But in mapping out their 2012 program schedules, APT's member stations need to know what they can count on.
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