Sunday, September 7, 2008

A New Generation

In 1975, there started a television show entitled "Sneak Previews." It starred two young writers--Gene Siskel, a news analyst for the Chicago Tribune, and Roger Ebert, a sportscaster for the new Chicago Sun-Times. The game: Two highly opinionated critics in a verbal sparring match about the new movies opening (this was in the olden days, when movies came out monthly). The challenge: Keeping audiences interested. Well, it did, for the next 33 years. It was known as "At the Movies," "At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert," and then just "Siskel and Ebert" (this title was the longest incarnation, at a whopping 16 years old).

Watching their reviews was the pastime of many a movie-lover and, in fact, spawned the careers of a few of them (James Berardinelli, Dustin Putman, Mark Dujsik, and Eric D. Snider among those worshipful students). Such infamous reviews were those for Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and Batman. Trust me, they're great. Watch them here.

Then, suddenly, Gene Siskel died of an inoperable brain tumor in 1999. Everything changed. A gruesome year-long process was necessary for looking for the right new cohost. Ebert found one in Chicago Sun-Times sports and humor columnist Richard Roeper.

But then, in the midst of summer 2006, Ebert fell victim to salivary cancer and was hospitalized for a full year and a half. He never came back to the show, and didn't seem too hurried to come back in general. After all, he could no longer speak due to problems in surgery (although fortunately, he has reviewed a lot of films this year.

Due to his predicament, Richard Roeper was forced to begin the exact process that brought himself into the longest-running program this side of that painting show on Channel 2. Cohosts abound, until "permanent guest host" Michael Phillips of Siskel's Chicago Tribune was seen as the shoo-in for the next addition.

That is, until July of this year, when Roger Ebert announced that "At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper" would be shut down. Richard Roeper quit the next day. They made way for a new show, whose title would revert to one of the originals--"At the Movies," with E! Entertainment host Ben Lyons (ironically, the son of NBC film critic Jeffrey Lyons) and Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz.

The new format started yesterday, September 6, and I must say it's fantastic. Featuring two full-length reviews (namely, for Burn after Reading and Traitor, which I said was one of my favorite movies this year) and one less-than-a-minute "Short Take" review (College). They also reviewed Babylon A.D. and Hamlet 2, in a "Critics Roundup" session that included Matt Singer of IFC, Tory Shulman of Hollywood Reporter, and Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe.

I hope it works. It had a wonderful beginning episode. Will it be as great as the Siskel/Ebert/Roeper/Various version? No. But few review shows are. This one works just fine right now. Here's to hopin' it'll stay that way.

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