Roger Ebert’s “At The Movies” on the ropes

Could the balcony close again? Sure looks like it.

Roger Ebert’s revival of At The Movies could bite the dust after only one season due to problems finding financing for the show, according to an item he posted on his Chicago Sun-Times blog. Movies has been primarily funded by Ebert and his wife Chaz themselves. With the Eberts no longer being able to fund the series, production on At The Movies could cease at the end of the month if the series can’t find an underwriter.

At The Movies has done well in the ratings, but isn’t able to generate revenue because no advertising time is sold during the show since its on U.S. public television (thus the need for underwriting.) Launched in January after the syndicated version folded in 2010, the movie-review program is hosted by Associated Press movie critic Chirsty Lemire and’s Igor Vishnevetsky.

The Eberts must have an answer soon as American Public Television (the entity that distributes At The Movies to public TV stations nationwide) has given them until the end of this month to decide if they’ll continue to produce the show next year.

If the balcony closes, it would be a disappointing end to what would had been a glorious return to PBS after spending 28 years in syndication under different titles (At The Movies, Ebert & Siskel, etc.) The movie-review show began in 1975 as Coming Soon To A Theater Near You (later renamed Sneak Previews) with Ebert and Gene Siskel. Both departed for Tribune Entertainment’s At The Movies in 1982.

Movies’ departure would also be yet another blow to Chicago’s television production community as it would leave only three national programs left in production in the Windy City: Warner Bros.’ syndicated Judge Mathis; Starz’s new Kelsey Grammer drama Boss; and OWN’s ratings-challenged The Rosie Show, which shoots in The Oprah Winfrey Show’s old west side studio (Oprah ended after 25 seasons last May.) In the last three years, NBC Universal’s Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos’ talk shows departed for Connecticut, while Fox’s Chicago Code, NBC’s The Playboy Club, Warner Bros.’ Judge Jeanne Pirro and A&E’s The Beast were all canceled – the latter was due to star Patrick Swayze’s declining health (he died in 2009.)