Goodbye Roger Ebert, And Yes, I Know You're Not Dead - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Goodbye Roger Ebert, And Yes, I Know You're Not Dead

Gene Siskel, left, and Roger Ebert, spent several years reviewing movies together. Gene Siskel, left, and Roger Ebert, spent several years reviewing movies together.
Roger Ebert Roger Ebert

09/26/2008

On July 21, Roger Ebert, the 66-year-old, Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, and my role model, announced that he will not be returning to his syndicated TV show Ebert & Roeper at the Movies.

Ebert has been absent from the show since 2006 when he had to undergo throat surgery to remove some cancer.

Ebert will continue to write for the Chicago Sun-Times as well as his blog http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert.

The surgery on his throat left Ebert unable to speak, so obviously his presence on the film dialogue-debate show would be impossible.

He had hoped to have his speech restored, but that seemed less and less likely as the days went on. With the ratings for the show at their lowest since the show began, Ebert called it quits.

The show was originally titled Siskel and Ebert at the Movies. Ebert co-hosted the show with Gene Siskel, who died in 1999 of a brain tumor.

Columnist Richard Roeper came along to fill his vacant balcony seat in 2000. Roeper turned out to be a very suitable adversary, in some ways similar to Siskel. He managed to maintain some of the same charm, but it was obvious that Roeper was no real match for Ebert.

The film critics' program was described as a "meeting of the rivals." Ebert was seen as being the subtly pugnacious scribe for the Sun-Times and Siskel as being his good-naturedly, aloof, crosstown counterpart who worked for the Chicago Tribune.

"Two scrappy guys who made the criticism of the art a battle," said Dann Gire, president of the Chicago Film Critics Association. "They were passionate, intelligent, knowledgeable people who tackled the art form as if it were a sports game. That is never going to be recaptured."

"On a certain level it kind of feels like the end of an era," said Matt Atchity, editor of the movie review-collecting Web site RottenTomatoes.com.

The original TV show was born when Chicago newspaper critics Siskel and Ebert started Sneak Previews in 1975 for WTTW. They moved to PBS nationally in 1978 with the renamed At the Movies and then went commercial with Tribune Syndication. The Walt Disney Company bought the show in 1986, renaming it Siskel & Ebert at the Movies.

Both men of the same age grew the show together. They were on the same level and had equal force behind them. Roeper knew and saw a lot of movies, but he never had the same force.

Ebert and Roeper's replacements - Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz - are notably younger, with arguably hipper resumes. Lyons is 26 and Mankiewicz is 41. Both are sons of Hollywood and I'm sure have a respect for the business and industry. However...

"I don't think there's an expectation that they're coming in with a great deal of film knowledge, and I think with Siskel and Ebert that was there," said Norm Schrager, a senior writer at filmcritic.com.

A higher style quotient could be attractive at a time when the more substantive jobs of newspaper and magazine film critics are disappearing, Gire said. "Even though we're not getting the authoritative voices out of the printed page, we're opening a whole new generation of young voices on the Internet who have a wide range," Gire says. "That's a reawakening of film criticism."

"People are looking for a consensus of opinion," says Chris Barsanti, senior writer at filmcritic.com. "That's the great thing that the Internet can bring. A lot of people just want to go read four or five reviews and see what's the overall opinion. That's where the Internet has something that TV and newspapers can't really compete."

"Some people want to know whether or not a movie is worth seeing," Atchity says. "Some people really want to get in a discussion about the merits and deeper issues that a film talks about. There's room for both."

This new formatted show sans Ebert and Roeper, at first glance, doesn't seem to be that however.

"It's an awesome responsibility," Mankiewicz told The Associated Press. "We're going to try to reach an audience that cares about movies" - the same audience as before, he said, but perhaps bigger.

In that attempt, they may lose the deep thought, which echoed through Siskel and Ebert's original show, and even into Ebert and Roeper's.

"This is the pinnacle of being a film critic," said Lyons. "Being here in L.A. on studio lots and meeting with executives, I sort of have inside information that will make the show grow and continue its legacy."

Both Lyons and Mankiewicz have show business and media roots. Lyons' father is film critic Jeffrey Lyons, and his grandfather.

Mankiewicz's grandfather, Herman Mankiewicz, won an Academy Award for the screenplay for Citizen Kane (1941); his great-uncle, writer-director Joseph Mankiewicz, won Oscars for All About Eve and ", A Letter to Three Wives and cousin Tom Mankiewicz wrote several James Bond movies including The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and Diamonds are Forever (1971).

But, perhaps the beauty of Siskel and Ebert's show is that they weren't insiders, reporting from the trenches. Siskel and Ebert were outsiders commenting and interpreting from a safe distance.

The original Siskel and Ebert show was also interesting because both men realized a golden opportunity to spotlight for people those films that they might not have known about otherwise. Some films, some really good ones, for one reason or another, just don't get the attention they need or deserve. Siskel and Ebert did their part to boost those films when they could. Thus the birth of the Gene Siskel Film Center and Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival!

Ebert himself will not go overlooked, certainly not in the annals of history, and even not in the present-day. His inability to speak may have taken him off the TV airwaves, but his ability to write will ensure that his voice is never silenced. After all, Ebert's movie reviews are still syndicated in hundreds of newspapers. He's written fifteen books, including "Awake in the Dark" and "Your Movie Sucks," both have been compilations from his columns.

They are columns that I will continue to read. He's a film critic that I will always refer, but I will miss seeing and hearing him on a weekly basis. Many of my weekends were decided because of him. I used to watch him exclusively on WBOC. His program aired on our station on Saturday mornings at 6:30AM. Even if I had a late Friday, which was often, I would do my best to be up at that moment to see and hear his reviews. If a new movie was playing that he gave his famous thumbs down, that freed two hours on my schedule that evening and saved me anywhere from five to ten bucks. He's been like a compass and a companion.

He's helped by steering me away from bad films and has also enlightened by guiding me toward amazing, interesting, smart or fun films that have only enriched my life, and have not just been mere diversions on a weekend night. It's always been enjoyable. I look up to him. I respect him. I think he's a great guy. Roger Ebert, I know you're not dead, but your exit from TV feels like a death to me, if only because I won't get to see you live anymore, but if you see this, know that you were always appreciated. Thank you!

Reporting provided by Don Babwin of the Associated Press in Chicago, Lynn Elber, AP Television Writer, Caryn Rousseau, AP Writer, and Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer.

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