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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is film criticism on TV officially dead?

You may have heard already: Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz have gotten the boot as the hosts of the syndicated TV series At the Movies, long the bastion of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. They’ve been replaced by the New York Times’ A.O. Scott and the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips.

But this isn’t necessarily good news for the show.

The Los Angeles Times’ Patrick Goldstein — who calls the Bens “an embarrassment to all, meaning the previous hosts, the network and the critical profession in general” — breaks it down:

The network clearly believed that the venerable TV show, which traced its roots to the mid-1970s, when the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ebert and his Chicago newspaper pal, the late Gene Siskel, launched the first nationally known TV film critic program, needed a re-branding to appeal to younger audiences and boost its ratings. Of course, the opposite happened. As ABC reported on its own website, the show’s ratings dropped sharply, slipping from 2.1 million to 1.7 million after Lyons and Mankiewicz took over.

The network made one simple miscalculation: It thought that by hiring younger, more effervescent critics that it could get a younger audience to watch a cobwebby network TV format. That’s never going to happen. Just ask the great minds at CBS, who hired Katie Couric, thinking that a younger, more effervescent newscaster could get a younger audience to watch a cobwebby network TV format. Film critics are in the same boat as evening news anchors — their core audience is people 50 and over, and getting older by the day. You could hire Jessica Alba to read the evening news — or review “G.I. Joe” for that matter — and younger audiences still wouldn’t care….

[E]xpecting Phillips and Scott to deliver network-sized ratings in an era where hardly anyone under 40 pays attention to critics is a fool’s errand.

Despite their intellectual heft and engaging personalities — when you have dinner with Michael Phillips, you are sure to enjoy a sparkling evening of good conversation — they are being asked to revive a format that is as moribund as a black-and-white detective series.

Is Goldstein right? Is film criticism on TV “cobwebby”? Does no one under 40 pay attention to film criticism? Is film criticism on TV officially dead?

(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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