(Updated from an earlier story.)
The balcony is closed. Forever.
Chicago Sun-Times personalities Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert has decided to leave the 22 year-old Disney-ABC Domestic Television-syndicated At the Movies. Roeper succeeded the late Gene Siskel in the role after his death in 1999, but medical problems have sidelined co-host Ebert for the last two years, while ratings for the weekly show have dropped. Guest co-hosts have taken up the slack since, running the gamut from Aisha Tyler to Jay Leno to current Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips.
The move comes despite a relaunch of the program’s website last year.
Industry insiders have been saying Disney-ABC is looking to revamp the program with a more Hollywood focus, to compete with CBS’ Entertainment Tonight and NBC Universal’s Lyons & Bailes Reel Talk, a local New York movie-review show that went into syndication last fall.
At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper also dropped the long-time trademark thumbs-up/thumbs down method to review movies, after Ebert got into a contract dispute with Disney over the use of the only part of the hand that’s not a finger.
Roeper’s contract expires on the weekend of August 17.
Ebert & Roeper began as Siskel & Ebert in 1986 – after the duo left At the Movies, a syndicated movie review show syndicated by the now-defunct Tribune Entertainment. Both Siskel & Ebert began working together in 1975 on WTTW’s Sneak Previews.
Analysis: Since Ebert was forced out on medical leave two years ago, I felt this show was on borrowed time. Certainly, I’m not sure how Disney-ABC will revamp this show and relaunch it in six to eight weeks. My guess is after August 17, the show goes into reruns, and then fade away. Disney may not be adamant in filling At The Movies’ time slots given many of them are either in less-profitable weekend late fringe or overnight time slots, anyway. The talk about “revamping the show” is really nothing more than a PR ploy to save face. The only thing left is the “&”, and you can’t make a show out of that (or can you…)
As for Roeper, he really didn’t get the credit he deserved. He proved to be a terrific replacement for Gene Siskel, and grew into the role with ease. One of the more likable personalities on television, he’ll be missed.
Along with Robert Feder, Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper were the only personalities at the Sun-Times whose columns were worth reading.