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After thirty years, one of the most popular television shows about movies has been canceled. "At the Movies" has survived the death of the legendary Gene Siskel and the dangerous bout with cancer fought by Roger Ebert, even the ideas of Richard Roeper attempting to fill Siskel's spot and take the show "in a new direction," but has been canceled this year. Ebert and Roeper both left the show and current critics, Michael Phillips and A. O. Scott didn't have what it took to carry on the show.
"At the Movies" first went on air under the title "Sneak Preview" in 1975 on a Chicago PBS affiliate, taking the reviews of Siskel and Ebert, the two most popular film critics at Chicago's two biggest newspapers and giving the box office openers for that week the famed "thumbs up or thumbs down."
In 1986, Siskel and Ebert left for another show, entitled "Siskel and Ebert and the Movies," which evolved into "At the Movies." Siskel andEbert became the most famous film critics in the final decades of the 20th Century, telling millions of Americans every week what to check out at the movies. Their praise was highly sought and movie studios plaster "Two Thumbs Up" in television ads and on movie posters as a way to showing their movie had received the most important approval by American critics.
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When Siskel died in 1999, many fans of the show wondered what would happen. For a period of time, Ebert shared hosting duties with a variety of co-hosts, everyone from journalists to talk show host Jay Leno to actors, actresses and directors such as Kevin Smith. Richard Roeper was given the herculean task of filling the chair Siskel left vacant in 2000. After his diagnosis with cancer, Ebert began taking lengthy leaves of absence from the show in 2006 for treatment, although he continued to write film reviews. Ebert was briefly replaced by critic Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune.
Phillips and Roeper then left the show and producers hoped to ressurrect its popularity by introducing newer, somewhat hipper critics Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz. Viewers were so upset by this replacement that there was even an online fansite started to have the critics fired. Lyons returned to working for the E! Channel and Mankiewicz now works as a host on TCM. The two Bens were quickly replaced by current hosts Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott.
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In light of the show's cancelation, Roger Ebert has written this beautiful relfection of the show that helped catapult him and partner Siskel to fame, the importance of the show in his life, as well as his future plans. This article includes the premiere of the original episode of "Sneak Preview" and "At the Movies," as well as Ebert's personal favorite review he and Siskel did of Citizen Kane.
Many believe that television shows about film criticism have become obsolete, being replaced by the Internet and sites such as IMDB.com or Rotten Tomatoes, where users can get reviews from the general population or "common man." Others believe that the show was too hastily canceled, not fostered enough to grow by producers and did not give audiences enough time to settle in to the new critics. Many fear that this most recent cancelation is signaling the end of intellegent, critical conversation about film.
Regardless, Ebert seems hopeful and claims to be going forward with a new television show about movie reviews. He doesn't seem to believe this is the end of an era, as others do, and writes hopefully: "I can't prove it, but I have the feeling that more different people are seeing more different movies than ever before."
Even though the balcony is now closed, Ebert still hopes that he will see us at the movies.