Big Bens to helm "At the Movies"

Well, that was quick.

Forty-eight hours after Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper announced their departure from At the Movies, Disney-ABC Domestic Television Distribution has named new co-hosts for the weekly syndicated movie review show – and announced a new format as well.

Ben Lyons – the son of New York film reviewer Jeffrey Lyons (who coincidentally co-hosts a competing syndicated movie review show based in New York) – and Ben Mankiewicz are stepping into the roles vacated by Ebert and Roeper.

Lyons reported on movies for E! and Mankiewicz was a host at Turner Classic Movies and Sirius Satellite Radio.

At the Movies is being completely revamped with a new set, new music, and new graphics, plus a new feature which enables to talk with other critics via satellite throughout the country.

The moves are being made to hold on to the weekend time periods Disney-ABC currently has after the depature of the longtime co-hosts.

The program will continue to be shot at the studios of WLS-TV in Chicago (for now), and the ABC-owned station is expected to continue carrying the show this upcoming season after the station’s Saturday late newscast.

Thought: They can take this show and move it to Detroit for all I care – this isn’t a local show anymore. This is a show Disney-ABC has now “plopped here” featuring two outsiders who wouldn’t know Michigan Avenue from State Street. This is nothing more than a desperate ploy for Disney-ABC to hold on to some weekend time periods, which has become the eptitome of greed in the syndication business. Low-rated shows that have no business being renewed are being renewed anyway, and it’s a joke.

The big six studios claim so many time periods in syndication – weekdays and weekends – it’s ridiculous. Only a handful of smaller syndies (Litton, Program Partners, MGM, Debmar, CF Entertainment among others) can only claim a fraction of what the big six got. You can thank media consolidation for that.

To the big six, time periods are like real estate properties. And like the real estate market, syndication is starting to crater as well, with time periods becoming less and less valuable as viewers have fled to other alternatives in locally-programmed time periods, including cable, home video, and the Internet, and that’s been going on for more than a decade.

And keep in mind when the television syndication business took off in the 1980’s, Disney was one of the last major studios to enter the business, outsourcing their syndicated programming to SFM Entertainment beforehand. In fact, Siskel & Ebert was one of what was then-called Buena Vista Television’s first first-run syndicated properties when it debuted in 1986.

If this is what they did to Ebert and Roeper, who’s next? Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa? Nothing is scared anymore. When they replace Regis with Disney’s favorite son Jim Belushi as co-host of Live, then we have really reached the height of absurdity in this business.