TV No Longer A Safe Place for Film Criticism, Which Is Fine Honestly

by |
03/25/2010 11:02 AM |

Black is slimming, and serious, but neither serious nor slimming enough.
  • Black is slimming, and serious, but neither serious nor slimming enough.

After briefly experimenting with callow moronism, and then with enlightening professionalism, Disney has finally decided to pull the plug, come fall, on At the Movies, the syndicated two-dudes-talk-about-movies show started wayback when by Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, continued after Siskel’s death by Ebert and Richard Roeper, continued after Ebert’s cancer battles with Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz, and continued after Ben Lyons’ walking punclineitude by A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips. It’s the end of an era, and the commercial failure of a legitimate critical discourse, so in that sense it’s kind of a shame. But then again.

Glenn Kenny is sympathetic to his colleagues but suggests “in some respects the ‘A Couple Of White Middle-Aged Guys Sitting Around Talking About Movies’ model maybe is, well, a little antique,” which is true, when you consider how many new ways of having conversations about movies have developed since Siskel and Ebert first went on the air. I was fortunate to participate in one such conversation last week, in Austin; it’s my understanding that IFC is hoping to do more of the same, on air and online.

Roger Ebert seems to feel this way too.

The unified syndication model is obsolete, Ebert wrote earlier in a post about the show’s demise; but he has faith, as he should, that there are still ways, online and otherwise for compelling content to find an audience—though it’s surely more of struggle with more channels. Having a brand as compelling as Ebert’s helps a lot, as his ever-growing (even after all these years) prominence on the web demonstrates. Ebert himself is in the process of developing a new reel-talk show, he says.

He also cautions fans of the show not to mourn it too angrily:

“At the Movies” was one of the last survivors of half-hour syndication. It didn’t fail so much as have its format shot out from beneath it. Don’t blame Disney. Don’t blame Tony Scott and Michael Phillips, the final co-hosts, critics I admire who still have five months left on the air. Don’t blame Ben Mankiewicz. Don’t blame my pal Richard Roeper, who didn’t fancy following the show in a “new direction.” Don’t blame the cancer that forced me off the show. Don’t even blame Ben Lyons. He was the victim of a mistaken hiring decision.

The key passage there is, “Don’t blame the cancer that [sapped my strength and took my voice and sense of taste away from me]. Don’t even blame Ben Lyons.” My favorite part of that is the ordering, and the “even,” like Ebert knows that Ben Lyons is a more natural target of ire than fucking cancer. (There are a number of reasons he would think so.)

One Comment

  • The old-fashionedness is precisely why I enjoyed the new/old At the Movies so much. The constraints of the half-hour syndicated TV format actually make the show fun in a no-frills sort of way. And with so many outlets employing multiple critics, it’s not often you get to hear someone’s take on just about everything, even if it’s just in a brief TV discussion (Ebert, of course, also reviews most movies, but most others share their beat, probably necessarily). They even seemed, in recent weeks, to edge towards *more* discussion — in the past, even on Ebert’s show, sometimes an “early review” or a paucity of new releases would cause them to re-cover a few films over several shows, but lately I’ve seen them fill time with more in-depth discussion about a particular actor or director rather than confining it to a “web exclusive.” I’m probably showing my age, but I like being able to settle into a half-hour show, maybe while eating breakfast on Sunday morning, rather than find different bits on the web. I’d hope with all of the cable channels that someone would be interested in picking up a similar Scott/Phillips review show, but it seems unlikely. Too bad; despite their lack of Siskel/Ebert style head-butting, they make for good TV in a low-key PBS sort of way [that makes it no great surprise that it couldn't hack it on ABC affiliates].