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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Can Roger Ebert’s new ‘At the Movies’ survive in the current TV environment?

Roger Ebert announced earlier this week that he will be producing a new version of At the Movies, the PBS and later syndicated film criticism series he and Gene Siskel pioneered in the 1970s. From the press release:

“Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies,” a weekly half-hour film review program, was announced today by its producers, Chaz and Roger Ebert. The program continues the 35-year-old run of a reviewing format first introduced by Gene Siskel and Ebert and later by Ebert and Richard Roeper.

It will return to its birthplace, launching nationally on public television with presenting station WTTW Chicago, where it began in 1975 as “Opening Soon at a Theater Near You” and then in 1976 as “Sneak Previews,” became the highest rated entertainment show in PBS history. The original format moved into syndication as “At the Movies” in 1982 with Tribune Entertainment and a quarter-century with Buena Vista Television.

The Eberts said the new program will air in January 2011, and in addition to reviewing new movies will expand into coverage of New Media, special segments on classics, on-demand viewing and genres, and an extended website. It will use the copyrighted “Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down”® format made famous by Siskel & Ebert.

Critics Christy Lemire of the AP and Elvis Mitchell of NPR will host. A demo:

(What? They trashed Iron Man 2 and loved the hideous remake of Death at a Funeral? Ack!)

Will it work, though? As Benjamin Svetkey at EW’s PopWatch notes:

I also kind of understand why Disney-ABC pulled the plug on the series, which they’d been producing since 1986. “From a business perspective it became clear this weekly, half-hour, broadcast syndication series was no longer sustainable,” the company announced in a statement last spring. And they’re right. Thanks to websites like EW.com (and one or two others), it’s never been easier to get a thumbs up or thumbs down before heading out to the multiplex. Why wait around to watch a TV show once a week when you can get dozens of movie reviews on your iPhone in an instant?

PBS is, of course, less reliant on ratings than the commercial networks, but the money to produce such a show has to come from somewhere. Perhaps Ebert’s pockets are deep. Perhaps there are ancillary income streams from such a show… though it’s hard to imagine it could be DVD, which must be one of the biggest supporting factors for PBS’s nature and drama series.

What do you think? Can Roger Ebert’s new At the Movies survive in the current TV environment? If so, how?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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