Posted on Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 by Peter Sciretta
At The Movies, the ABC-produced syndicated movie review show made famous by Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, is once again switching hosts. After Ebert and Richard Roeper were unable to come to terms with ABC, the network decided to take the show in a new direction. In 2008 they hired Ben Lyons (son of film critic Jeffrey Lyons) and Ben Mankiewicz. Many people in the film community were outraged, with Lyons receiving the brunt of the criticism for his hyperbolic statements (calling I Am Legend one of the “greatest movies ever made”) and his apparent inability to engage with films on level much higher than the average teenager.
The new hosts of At The Movies take the show back in the right direction — A.O. (Tony) Scott of the The New York Times and Michael Phillips of the The Chicago Tribune will co-host, with the “new season” premiering the weekend of September 5, 2009. ABC’s announcement today was spun to sound like new hosts were hired for the new season of the show, but the underlying message in the press release is clear. Here is an excerpt: “Both of these seasoned and influential film critics, who have appeared on the series repeatedly as guest co-hosts, will bring their extensive credentials and respected personas to the program.”
In discussing Ben Lyons and Ben Mankewicz’s exit, Brian Frons, president, Daytime, Disney-ABC Television Group, commented in a press release, “We tried something new last season and we think the world of Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz. They did everything we asked of them and they have been complete professionals. However, we’ve decided to return the show to its original essence – two traditional film critics discussing current motion picture and DVD releases. We thank them for their hard work and dedication this past year and wish them nothing but the best on all of their future endeavors.” The press release then lists extensive background of the new hosts (again, something the previous hosts really didn’t have):
A.O. Scott will complete his first decade as a film critic at The New York Times in January of 2010. Over those ten years, in addition to reviewing thousands of new releases, he has written essays and articles about film history and the state of the movie business and profiles of stars and directors for the Times Book Review, Magazine and Week in Review sections. He has been a frequent guest on Charlie Rose, NPR’s Talk of the Nation, The John Batchelor Show and many other radio and television programs. Before coming to the Times, Tony was the Sunday book critic at Newsday and a freelance contributor to dozens of publications, including The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Review of Books and Slate. He served on the editorial staffs of The New York Review of Books and Lingua Franca, and has edited A Bolt From the Blue, a collection of essays by Mary McCarthy. Born in Massachusetts, Tony graduated from Classical High School in Providence, RI and received a bachelor of arts degree in literature from Harvard and a master of arts degree in English from Johns Hopkins. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, their two children and two dogs.
Michael Phillips is the film critic of The Chicago Tribune, a position he’s held since 2006. He has written about entertainment and the arts as a staff writer and critic for The Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The St. Paul Pioneer Press, The Dallas Times-Herald and the Twin Cities weekly City Pages. Phillips has covered movies for Minnesota Public Radio, WGN-AM, MSNBC and has guested periodically on the Filmspotting.net podcast, also heard on Chicago Public Radio. He has reported from film festivals around the world including Cannes and teaches annually at the University of Chicago’s Graham School, as well as at the NEA/USC Arts Journalism Institute in Los Angeles. Phillips holds a bachelor of journalism degree from the University of Minnesota. He lives on Chicago’s northwest side with his wife, Andrea Lenaburg Phillips, and their 8-year-old son, John.
Overall this is good news, but I honestly don’t believe there is a place for a half hour movie review show on television anymore. To me a television movie review show is almost like the movie listings in the Sunday morning newspaper. Who uses the movie listings in the paper anymore? Especially when you can do a search online, or from your iphone. Same thing with movie reviews. Why seek out a television show when you could find one of many reviews online instantly.
I understand that a movie review television show is supposed to appeal to the masses, giving them recommendations of what to see this week in theaters or on DVD. But even when Ebert was still on the program, the show was dumped in the late night or early morning hours of the weekend, where almost no one would see it. It is much easier for the masses to seek out an actual review on the web, than record and later watch the show. And it doesn’t help that the masses really don’t care what stuffy film critics have to say about the latest popcorn flicks.
The selected few (relatively speaking) who crave intelligent critical reviews are reading full form reviews in newspapers (or more likely, online). Podcasts like Filmpotting and, yes, the /Filmcast offer 45 minute in-depth discussions about the movies of the week, which to me, offer much more substance than At The Movies could ever provide. And that isn’t a knock on the great film critics that are now at the helm, but rather the format of the show. How far you can delve into a film in the 30-minute timeframe, offering only tiny insights into the films of the week.