Two Thumbs Down: R.I.P. At The Movies


It wasn't hard to laugh off Kevin Smith using Twitter to announce he was banning critics from free preview screenings of his movies. The profession of film reviewing has taken bigger and more serious hits in the past couple years. And now it's been dealt perhaps its biggest body blow yet -- after 35 years on the air, At The Movies will come to an end on August 14.


While At The Movies' misfortunes are well-chronicled -- the death of Gene Siskel, the cancer that robbed Roger Ebert of his voice and TV job, the ill-advised dumbing-down tenure of Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz -- things seemed to have turned around in the past year with respected new co-hosts. It's nothing but a double bummer that distributor Distributor Disney/ABC Domestic TV can't justify continuing with A.O. Scott of The New York Times and Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune.

The Disney/ABC Domestic TV statement said:

"This was a very difficult decision, especially considering the program's rich history and iconic status within the entertainment industry, but from a business perspective it became clear this weekly, half-hour, broadcast syndication series was no longer sustainable. We gratefully acknowledge the outstanding work of the program's current co-hosts, A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips, and top-notch production staff, and it is with heartfelt appreciation that we extend very special thanks to the two brilliant, visionary and incomparable critics that started it all, Roger Ebert and the late Gene Siskel."

Roger Ebert Tweeted: "RIP, 'At the Movies'. Memories".

But what Ebert has blogged more recently is that he doesn't believe smart film criticism on TV is dead. Far from it, in fact.

Yes, Chaz [wife Charlie Hammel-Smith] and I are still going ahead with our plans for a new movie review program on television. No, Wednesday's cancellation of "At the Movies" hasn't discouraged us. We believe a market still exists for a weekly show where a couple of critics review new movies...

I can't reveal details about the talks we're deeply involved in. I can say that the working title was "Roger Ebert presents Fill in Words Here," and that it has now become "Roger Ebert presents At the Movies."

So there's that glimmer of hope.

Now one can only await Kevin Smith's Tweet-a-thon that the passing of this institution simply vindicates his theory that film critics are as useful and necessary as screen doors on a submarine.


  • Sally in Chicago says:

    He doesn't realize that critics aren't the problem -- Twittering and email are the problem as the public lets word of mouth get out really fast these days.

  • Karlacita says:

    Yes, and now that we can all find previews all over the web, we don't have to wait for Roger and Gene (or anyone) to show them to us.
    I'd be surprised if the show caught on, but Leno's getting good numbers, so anything can happen.