|At The Movies|
|Also known as||Siskel & Ebert & the Movies
Siskel & Ebert
Roger Ebert & the Movies
Ebert & Roeper and the Movies
Ebert & Roeper
At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper
At the Movies
|Presented by||Gene Siskel
A. O. Scott
|Country of origin||United States|
|Location(s)||WLS-TV Studios in Chicago, Illinois|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Original run||September 13, 1986 – Present|
|Preceded by||At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert|
At the Movies (formerly Siskel and Ebert and The Movies, and later At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper) is a movie review television program produced by Disney-ABC Domestic Television in which two critics share their opinions of newly released films. The program has aired under various names. Its original hosts were Roger Ebert (of the Chicago Sun-Times) and Gene Siskel (of the Chicago Tribune). Richard Roeper (of the Sun-Times) became Ebert's regular partner in 2000 after Siskel died in 1999. Ebert suspended his appearances in 2006 for treatment of thyroid cancer, with various guest hosts substituting for him. From April to August 2008, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune cohosted. Starting on September 6, 2008, E! Entertainment Television film critic and reporter Ben Lyons and Turner Classic Movies and Sirius Satellite Radio host Ben Mankiewicz took over as hosts. On August 5, 2009, it was announced that Michael Phillips would return to the show along with New York Times film critic A. O. Scott on September 5, 2009.
During its run with Siskel and Ebert as hosts, the series was nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards seven times and also for Outstanding Information Series, most recently in 1997. It is widely known for the "thumbs up/thumbs down" review summaries given during Siskel's and Ebert's tenures (although these are a trademark held by Ebert and by Siskel's widow, not the producers). The show airs in syndication in the United States and on CTV in Canada; the show also airs throughout the week on the cable network ReelzChannel.
The show's origins and format trace back to Sneak Previews (1975), a PBS series produced by WTTW that originally featured Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, and At the Movies, a follow-on show that the two critics created with Tribune Entertainment.
The series itself began in 1986 as Siskel and Ebert and The Movies, when Siskel and Ebert signed with Buena Vista Entertainment, the television division of Disney. The title of the show was shortened to simply Siskel and Ebert in 1989.
Siskel and Ebert often had notably divergent tastes, and as a result, heated arguments and spats added to the series' popularity. Many viewers considered such "fights" to be the highlight of the program. In joint appearances on the talk show circuit, especially on David Letterman's shows, the two critics indicated a mutual respect and friendship off screen. Widely circulated outtakes from promo-recording sessions show the two both bickering and joking off-air.
In 1998, Gene Siskel was hospitalized for treatment of a brain tumor. For a few weeks, the show was filmed with Siskel on the telephone (from his hospital bed) and Ebert in the studio. Although Siskel would eventually return to the studio, he seemed noticably more lethargic and mellow than usual. In February 1999, Siskel announced he was taking a leave of absence for further treatment of the tumor, hoping to return. Less than three weeks later, Siskel died from complications of the surgery. The weekend following Siskel's death, Ebert devoted the entire half hour as a tribute to him. On the show were various clips from shows past as well their history together as journalists and then on television. Also, Ebert appeared on ABC's Good Morning America in a tribute to Siskel along with Diane Sawyer, Charles Gibson, Peter Jennings, and fellow critic and friend of Siskel Joel Siegel.
The last show that Siskel and Ebert hosted together aired on January 23, 1999. On that show they reviewed: At First Sight, Another Day in Paradise, The Hi-Lo Country, Playing by Heart and The Theory of Flight.
Ebert continued the show with a series of guest critics. Originally containing the Siskel & Ebert title, the program was renamed Roger Ebert & The Movies on September 4, 1999, due to the death of Gene Siskel. The guests were allowed to try out their wits with Roger Ebert and test the possible chemistry. Ebert and Martin Scorsese cohosted one noteworthy episode about the best films of the 1990s. This format continued through the end of the 1998–99 season and into 2000 before Ebert named fellow Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper as his new permanent co-host.
In 2002, Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and underwent radiation treatments for tumors on his thyroid and a salivary gland while continuing to work. Complications led to an emergency operation in 2006, which interrupted his reviewing schedule. (A few reviews written or taped in advance were released shortly afterward.) For the remainder of the 2006–07 season, the show continued with guest hosts during his recuperation. Ebert recovered enough by October 2006 to resume writing published reviews on a limited basis and later made a few public appearances, but due to his difficulty speaking, he did not return to the show. The show became available online toward the end of 2006, with access to movie reviews on demand. In June 2007, the online program updated its archive, making available all movie reviews since 1986. Over the summer of 2007, the show's official name was changed again to At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper, though the show's title graphics continued to use the shortened name.
As Ebert's absence from the show continued, a handful of critics came to be frequent guests. Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Observer and HDnet.com, Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips, and A. O. Scott of The New York Times each appeared repeatedly. On April 13, 2008, Scott wrote that his "experiences [as guest critic]... ended when Michael Phillips of The Tribune was made Mr. Roeper's permanent foil..." Phillips remained as Roeper's regular cohost until Roeper and Ebert ended their relationship with the series in August 2008. The pair's final appearance together occurred in an episode of Entourage that aired on September 6, 2008 (during the weekend the new version of At the Movies debuted), in which they played themselves using their show (filmed on the old sets) to lambaste the fictional film Medellin.
On July 21, 2008, Roeper announced that he was leaving the show after he and Disney-ABC Domestic Television did not reach an agreement on a new contract. His last show aired on the weekend of August 16. On the same day, Ebert announced through a statement on his website that Disney had "decided to take the program... in a new direction" and that he would therefore no longer be associated with the show. Both Ebert and Roeper have hinted of returning for a possible new show that would continue the traditional format devised by Ebert and Siskel. The following day, Disney announced that Ben Lyons (son of film critic Jeffrey Lyons) and Ben Mankiewicz would take over as the new hosts for At the Movies beginning on September 6, 2008. The show generally maintained the same format as before, with one of the two critics presenting a film, leading to a discussion of its merits.
The See It/Skip It/Rent It review thumbnails, the DVD recommendations, and the "3 to See" segment were retained. For some films, the show used a new "Critics Roundup" segment (see below). In addition, instead of the traditional "The balcony is closed" sign-off, one of the hosts said "We'll be at the movies," which echoed the "We'll see you at the movies" sign-off from the first seven seasons of Sneak Previews and the Tribune Entertainment-produced At the Movies. The show also featured a new upbeat theme arrangement and brighter color scheme. An attempt to liven up film clips during reviews by filling clip letterboxes with coloring was quickly discontinued after the first two episodes due to viewer complaints.
On August 5, 2009, ABC announced Lyons and Mankiewicz were dropped from the series due to low ratings, with A. O. Scott and Michael Phillips returning to the series as the program's new permanent critics. After rerunning the "Two Bens'" final programs for two weeks, the first program with Scott and Phillips premiered on September 5, 2009. The program has returned to most of its former structure in the Ebert & Roeper era (reviews, the DVD roundup and "Three to See"), the "Critics Roundup" segment was fully discontinued. The recap segment moved to within the closing credits sequence; however the "we'll be at the movies" sign-off remained. The theme music was also changed to have more resemblance to the Ebert and Roeper theme.
The hosts review a number of recently released and soon-to-be-released movies per episode, taking turns providing a narrative critique interspersed with studio-supplied clips, moving into a back-and-forth debate over the merits. Siskel and Ebert were especially known for sharp criticism that veered close to personally attacking each other, although they insisted this was largely a television act rather than a feud.
Reviews from the week's show are posted on the website, atthemoviestv.com, usually the Tuesday following the show's airing. The site's archives have reviews as far back as the latter half of the eighties. However, only the reviews for theatrical movies get posted on the website; the weekly DVD feature and "3 to See" segments do not.
Since 1981 (as a test run, used permanently since the Siskel & Ebert incarnation in 1986), show reviewers would approve/disapprove the films they reviewed with a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" as a bottom-line recommendation on whether to see a reviewed movie or not. This system departs from the longstanding tradition of ratings with a number of stars or other symbols. As the show became more influential, studios would proudly advertise when their movie got "two thumbs up." In response, the phrase was trademarked in 1989 to ensure against fraudulent use that would endanger its credibility. The critics frequently qualify their recommendations (e.g., "a mild thumbs up" or "two thumbs way down") in their remarks, but the official rating remains simply positive or negative. Prior to their 1986 move to Disney, the critics approved/disapproved the films they reviewed with a yes/no verdict.
Following the death of Gene Siskel, Disney considered not permitting guest critics to use the "thumb" rating in their movie review. However, this was quickly revoked, enabling the show to continue with its signature. (A picture of the guest critic's own hand giving a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" was used in the show's graphics presenting his or her review.)
On August 20, 2007, Disney pulled the thumbs system from the program during contractual negotiations with Ebert over his involvement with the program. Disney states that Ebert forced the program to do so. In a statement to Poynter Online, Ebert says Disney ordered the thumbs removed from the show. He says he had not expected this after an association of over 22 years. "I had made it clear the THUMBS could remain during good-faith negotiations."
Upon being informed in mid-2009 of the most recent change in co-hosts to Scott and Phillips, Ebert indicated to Phillips that he would be prepared to return his endorsement and the "Thumbs" system to the series. However, Disney turned down the offer, saying that the show had "moved on".
On the show airing the weekend of May 24, 2008, the hosts began using the terms "See It" [green] and "Skip It" [red] (which appeared in on-screen graphics) when summarizing their reviews. "Rent It" [yellow] has been used to indicate a weakly positive verdict, suggesting that the viewer wait until the movie is available on home video.
From 2005 to 2006, the show experimented with a "Wagging Finger of Shame" feature, denoting films that were not made available for a standard advance screening and therefore could not be given either a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down." Failure to prescreen a film for reviewers is generally considered an indicator of low confidence by the distributor, apparently believing that negative reviews would harm opening-weekend box office sales. Films so spotlighted included The Amityville Horror, The Fog, In the Mix, Æon Flux, Underworld: Evolution, and Date Movie. This public rebuke was discontinued when Ebert decided the studios were not taking it seriously. Roeper has asserted that too many films (eleven in 2006 by April, compared to two by that date in 2005) are being withheld from critics.
Introduced during the Roeper/Phillips era in 2008, "3 to See" is a segment appearing at the end of each show, in which the reviewers list their top three favorites of the movies currently in theaters.
Introduced during the Lyons/Mankiewicz era in 2008, "Critics Roundup" was a variation of the traditional format in which one of the hosts presents a film, reviews it, and then asks three other critics who appear via satellite. Each critic provided their own See It/Skip It/Rent It rating, as does the other host, leading to a panel discussion. The votes of the whole panel were then tallied to provide the show's recommendation. Guest critics on the Sept. 6 debut show included Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe, Tory Shulman of ReelzChannel, and Matt Singer of IFC.
Occasionally, special shows are produced that focus on particular aspects of film or home video. The show gives the hosts a convenient soapbox to feature their opinions on such issues as film colorization, letterboxing, the MPAA film rating system, product placement, independent filmmaking, and social issues. Also, at the end of every year, the two run down their choices of the top ten films from that year, followed the week later by their rundown of what they consider the ten worst studio releases from that year. In addition, the regular episodes sometimes devote a few minutes for the hosts to give their opinions of a current issue related to the motion picture industry or to pay tribute to something.