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Thumbs down to movie reviews on television?

Siskel and Ebert

Siskel and Ebert Credit: Handout

No film critics have played a greater role in shaping the way we talk about movies than Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, but lately, when it comes to TV film review shows, the public’s verdict has been clear: two thumbs down.

Recently, major outlets have been scrapped and big names shed from their perches.

The most prominent recent change: the August cancellation of “At the Movies” — the long running program started by the aforementioned duo, shepherded through a disastrous run with Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz and ended with critics A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips at its helm.

Beyond poor ratings and slashed salaries, experts pinpoint another major player in the demise of TV reviewing.

“I believe that the future is on the Internet, not TV, especially for specialized programming like a film review show,” said Scott Feinberg, entertainment contributor to WTNH-8, New Haven, Conn.’s ABC affiliate.
Still, there may yet be hope. Chicago critic Erik Childress believes there is room for a new type of review show.

“It is hard to do the two-person format anymore because the comparison to ‘Siskel & Ebert’ will always be there,” he said. “I think you want to do ... the kind of panel discussions that are so widespread on both sports and political shows.”

To that end, Ebert in September announced “Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies,” a program that will attempt such a tack. Plans are for two hosts to review new movies, featured contributors to offer in-depth segments and for Ebert himself to host a recurring feature, using his computer voice.

The famed critic called the show — which is scheduled to begin syndication to PBS member stations next month — “a rebirth of a dream.”

Whether the 68-year-old critic’s “dream” can last in the age of the Internet and DVR, however, is no sure thing.

“My gut feeling … is that while his content will be great, his audience will not be,” Feinberg said.

Timeline of movie reviews on TV

• 1970: Gene Shalit begins 40-year run on “Today”

• 1975: “Sneak Previews” premieres, featuring rival Chicago critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert

• 1981: Joel Siegel debuts on “Good Morning America”

• 1982: Siskel and Ebert leave “Sneak Previews” for “At the Movies”; Neal Gabler and Jeffrey Lyons replace them.

• 1986: The duo jumps ship again, for the Buena Vista Entertainment produced “Siskel and Ebert and the Movies.” The pair earned seven Primetime Emmy nominations during their 14-years on the show, which would be renamed several times.

• 1996: “Sneak Previews,” with hosts Lyons and Michael Medved, is canceled.

• 1999: Siskel dies of brain cancer; Ebert employs a revolving door of guest hosts.

• 2000: Richard Roeper is made Ebert’s new partner.

• 2005: “Reel Talk,” a syndicated show produced by WNBC and featuring Lyons and Allison Bailes, begins its run.

• 2006: Ebert takes leave from show for thyroid cancer treatment; guest hosts fill in.

• 2007: Siegel dies of colon cancer.

• 2008: Roeper and Ebert, who has been off the air since 2006, leave show; replaced by the much-despised Ben Lyons and better-respected Ben Mankiewicz. Show is renamed “At the Movies.”

• 2009: Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott replace “the Bens”; “Reel Talk” is canceled.

• 2010: “At the Movies” is canceled; Shalit retires; Ebert announces plans for new PBS show “Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies,” to launch in Jan. 2011.

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