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Siskel & Ebert & The Long Legacy of Movie Review Shows

July 25, 2010

Chicago was the birthplace of what we now know as movie review shows, when Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, two columnists writing for competing newspapers, began hosting a weekly show on local public television in the mid-seventies.  Originally called Opening Soon at a Theatre Near You (later Sneak Previews), the program was eventually picked up nationally for syndication and retitled Siskel & Ebert & The Movies, capitalizing on the hosts’ popularity and name recognition.  Their ‘thumbs-up, thumbs-down’ reviews led to  the phrase “Two Thumbs Up”, for which they themselves acquired the trademark.

Because of their frequent and passionate disagreements over the films they reviewed, Siskel & Ebert were generally perceived as disliking one another, but their on-camera camaraderie which began as mutual respect eventually did develop into a close friendship.

Following Siskel’s death to cancer in 1999,
a series of guest hosts joined Ebert until fellow Chicago columnist Richard Roeper became permanent co-host, an alliance that lasted until 2008.

When Ebert’s own health issues with cancer surfaced, both he and Roeper left the show, which soon evolved into At the Movies, hosted by Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz.  The familiar ‘thumbs up/thumbs down’ judgments were replaced by ‘see it/skip it/rent it’.  Ironically, the show found itself  in direct competition with Reel Talk, a syndicated TV show hosted by Ben Lyons’ own dad, film critic Jeffrey Lyons.

In August of 2009 A.O. Scott of the New York Times and Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune took the helm in a format that revived certain elements of the show’s earlier heritage and achieved an effective chemistry between its hosts.  Additionally, a new segment called “Over/Under” spotlighted films that Scott and Phillips considered overrated or underrated.

Sadly, this 35-year tradition comes to an end on August 14th when ReelzChannel airs the final episode of At the Movies.  For those of us who enjoy seeing movies, hearing about movies and talking about movies, this creates a genuine void in the entertainment landscape.  As Rick & Ron attempt to do our part to contribute lively and friendly discussion about films as well as other aspects of pop culture, we can only tip our hats to the masters who started it all.

Thanks, Gene.  Thanks Roger.  And everyone else who invited us to join them At the Movies.

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