The day Roger Ebert discovered his thumb changed cinema forever. And now the veteran Chicago Sun-Times film critic is making hand gestures again – this time with the middle digit – at the folks at Disney-ABC Domestic TV who canceled production on his long-running syndicated film review show At The Movies. Ebert announced today that he was bringing the series back to life less than a month after the series’ supposedly final episode aired Aug. 14. The new Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies will start airing next January on public television, and will be taped out of Chicago’s WTTW affiliate. That’s only fitting: WTTW is where Ebert first hooked up with the late Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel and, in 1975, launched their dueling-fingers act, then called Sneak Previews. The new hosts of At the Movies will be AP’s Christy Lemire and NPR’s Elvis Mitchell, but Ebert says he’ll also be making appearances in segments from time to time (using a computerized voice; he lost his lower jaw to cancer).
Personally, I’m happy to see Ebert get his show back on the air. I have fond memories of watching Sneak Previews as a kid – finally, there was something on PBS that interested me! – and was sad when Siskel passed away in 1999 of a brain tumor. But 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? But maybe I’m wrong, Popwatchers. Maybe there’s still a place on TV for old-fashioned finger pointing. What do you think?
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