Straight from the blog that has given him such a powerful online voice since losing his own, Ebert has announced that the thumbs will return to television, as he has promised for some time. Producing with his wife Chaz, Ebert is resurrecting his televised movie review show as Roger Ebert Presents… At The Movies. The show will be hosted by Christy Lemire (Associated Press) and Elvis Mitchell (NPR), with periodic segments from Ebert and his Apple-powered text-to-speech vocalizer. The show will begin airing in January of next year on PBS (where Ebert first started on television).
Though I question how many of us were religiously watching the show anymore, sadness seemed to fill the air when Disney and ABC canceled the 24-year running At The Movies. Perhaps it was the disregard for the beloved movie critic with which they unceremoniously dumped show that caused much of the grief, but Ebert has taken the reins and won’t be ignoring the online audience that has helped keep his criticism so relevant, as the press release acknowledges, “…with the content of the show’s multimedia website, its reach will extend its content reviews and features to a global audience His current site with the Chicago Sun-Times, www.rogerebert.com, makes him the web’s most-read movie critic, with more than 100 million hits a year.”
That engagement of the web will have to be strong I believe, for this show to have any chance of renewed success. I must admit that I’m skeptical of a full-format television show’s ability to engage a public who turns increasingly towards aggregates and averages for their movie recommendations. It’s hard enough to get eyeballs on fleeting online editorials and critiques… will a full show on the subject flourish once again? If the multi-media segments are interesting and the hosts manage a special kind of chemistry then perhaps there will be a place for At The Movies again, at least for a little while. The embedded video below is the test segment for the show, and it certainly feels classic in its presentation, even as it labors to begrudge full acknowledgment towards the web and the modern paradigm of film discussion.
Here’s hoping Ebert’s new endeavor is successful, if only because a treasure to the world of film-watching like him deserves it.
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.
The Eberts said the new program will air in January 2011, and in addition to reviewing new movies will expand into coverage of New Media, special segments on classics, on-demand viewing and genres, and an extended website. It will use the copyrighted “Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down”® format made famous by Siskel & Ebert.
The program’s principal co-hosts will be Christy Lemire, film critic of The Associated Press, and Elvis Mitchell of National Public Radio. Lemire began reviewing for AP in 1999 and was named its first full-time film critic in 2004. She is a Los Angeles native with a mother who loved Fellini and a father who loved Bogart. Mitchell is a former film critic for The New York Times and a contributor to NPR. He hosted the highly-regarded “Black List” series on TCM, a series of living portraits with prominent African Americans of many backgrounds.
â€¨Regular contributors and occasional co-hosts will be Kim Morgan of Los Angeles and Omar Moore of San Francisco, both respected and popular film bloggers. Morgan celebrates her love for film noir and classic film at her website www.sunsetgun.com and writes for MSN Movies and the Huffington Post. Moore, an attorney, publishes reviews, essays and video essays on his website, www.popcornreel.com. He is a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. Lemire, Mitchell and Morgan were guest co-hosts after the death of Siskel in 1999.
“This is the rebirth of a dream,” said Ebert, who partnered in recent years with Richard Roeper before cancer robbed him of the ability to speak. He said he will act as co-producer and employ a computer voice to appear on every episode with segments titled Roger’s Office devoted to classic, overlooked and new films. He will not debate with the two co-hosts, he said: “They’ll be awarding the Thumbs, and you can’t have three Thumbs.”
â€¨A pilot of the new program featuring all the critics was taped in early summer, under the aegis of the Tribeca Flashpoint Academy of Chicago, a school specializing in new technology. Its director was Scott Dummler of Chicago’s Luminair, a full-service video production house. “In addition to reviews of new movies, debated by Christy and Elvis,” Ebert said, “the pilot included a segment with Kim discussing a classic film noir, Omar discussing the growing role of the internet in the success of indie films, a segment with Christy and Kim discussing new women directors, and a segment where I review a new indie documentary.” A sampler from the pilot is linked below.
“The pilot won a warm reception,” Chaz Ebert said. “Marlene Iglitzen, Gene Siskel’s widow and our dear friend, was on the set when the pilot was taped, and said Gene would be proud that the format he helped create is still working as one of the longest-running in television history.”
â€¨Although distributed nationally, the show will be shot in Chicago. “Mayor Daley and the City Council recognized the show over the years, and Governor Quinn formally recognized Roger for his film efforts in Illinois,” Chaz said. “Gene and Roger had it in their contracts that the show would be taped here, and we’re happy to continue that tradition.” She said her production team is scouting for a full service Chicago studio with a professional staff.
With a salute to Michael Phillips and A. O. Scott, co-hosts for the final season of the Disney-produced show and another to Richard Roeper, his co-host for six years, Ebert said, “I believe that by returning to its public roots, our new show will win better and more consistent time slots in more markets. American television is swamped by mindless gossip about celebrities, and I’m happy this show will continue to tell viewers honestly if the critics think a new movie is worth seeing.”
Ebert said that with the content of the show’s multimedia website, its reach will extend its content reviews and features to a global audience His current site with the Chicago Sun-Times, www.rogerebert.com, makes him the web’s most-read movie critic, with more than 100 million hits a year.
The program will be produced by Chaz Ebert, an attorney who for 20 years has been vice-president of The Ebert Company, Ltd. “A contract has been signed between WTTW National Productions and Ebert Productions, LLC, and the show will be distributed by WTTW to the nation’s public broadcasting stations by American Public Television (APT),” said Frances J. Harth, the station’s Vice President, Program Development and Syndication for National Productions. “We’re pleased to welcome the show back home.”
Underwriters and sponsorships are being handled by Valenti Advertising Design Ideas of Chicago. Legal Services for Ebert Productions LLC are being handled by Eliot Ephraim of Ephraim and Associates, PC, in Chicago and Anita First of Anita First Law Corporation, Inc, in Los Angeles.
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