The balcony’s getting full

The balcony has officially re-opened – and it’s getting a little bit crowded as PBS’ new Ebert Presents At The Movies is adding another movie critic to its roster.

This time it’s Daily Herald movie critic Dann Gire who is joining the Chicago-based movie review show (the Daily Herald is an Arlington Heights-based newspaper which serves the northwest ‘burbs.) Gire is also founding director of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

Gire joins a full list of critics who appear on the show and on EbertPresents.com, which is the main website of the show. Ebert is shot at WTTW’s North Side studios and airs on the station Friday nights at 8:30 p.m. (WTTW was the original home of Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert’s Coming Soon To A Theater Near You and Sneak Previews from 1975-82.)

Ebert debuted on the weekend of January 22 in 192 markets and is co-hosted by Christy Lemire of the Associated Press and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of mubi.com. Vishnevetsky was a last-minute replacement for Santa Barbara, Calif.-based film critic Elvis Mitchell, who was dropped from the show before its premiere (in other words, Elvis left the building before the concert even began.)

Reviews for the first show (that’s right, reviews of a movie review show) were met with cautious praise and optimism (you can read the roster of reviews here and scrolling down.) On the first show, Lemire and Vishnevetsky split the movie reviews right down the middle – they didn’t agree on a single movie.

Roger Ebert pops in every week to review a movie in a segment titled “Roger’s Office”, but due to his loss of voice from thyroid surgery, the reviews are read by a voice-over artist until his computer-generated voice is ready to use (this week, it was Bill Kurtis reading Ebert’s review of The Rite.) Recently, Ebert was fitted with a prosthetic chin and neck.

The Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal said it best when the show needs time to evolve – and it certainly will get that chance since Ebert’s show is airing in the less-pressured confines of public television and not bow to the beast known as the overnight Nielsen ratings. The show’s social networking components (Twitter and Facebook, and Ebert Presents.com) also should help. But the real challenge for Lemire and Vishnevetsky is emerging out of the shadow of Roger Ebert himself – a role he and Gene Siskel (and later Richard Roeper) perfected on their various television shows.

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