Thursday, September 23, 2010

Better Than Ever...and Now Back On TV

Roger Ebert Presents: At the Movies is the long-gestating, long-awaited, long-wondered-if-it-would-ever-come-together television project spearheaded by the Man himself. A while back, when the old Disney syndication contract ended and the historic "Thumbs" were packed away firmly within Ebert's palms, Ebert openly discussed vague plans for a new show--one that would feature Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips and Ebert's former Siskel replacement, Richard Roeper, and one that would restore the Thumbs to their showcased role as the foremost public arbiter of filmic quality.

Time passed. Disney continued without Ebert, Roeper, and the Thumbs, first casting a film review program that attempted to resemble the Ebert version with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz and "critic" abomination Ben Lyons. That tanked, for obvious reasons. Of late, the faux "At the Movies" featured Phillips--who, in his role with the Disney show, bailed on the new Ebert concept--and NY Times critic A.O. Scott. The result delivered stronger criticism and not-much-stronger television. And, as of August, it was defunct.

But alas, earlier this month, Ebert and Co. delivered the above video, a 7-minute demo of The Program That Will Be. It will feature Ebert not as a co-host, but in his own weekly segment, "Roger's Office," where he will do what he really cherishes the most: shed glowing light on overlooked gems, smaller pictures that are near and dear to his heart. It is a fitting segment for Ebert, who has long been famous for his thumbs and his arguments with Gene Siskel, but has been most passionate about sharing the joy of film with the world.

Christy Lemire of The Associated Press and Elvis Mitchell, former NYT critic and host of public radio's The Treatment, will serve as co-host, and Kim Morgan ( and Omar Moore ( will be regular contributors. The show will retain the basic format of At the Movies' former incarnations, but with additional content and more feature segments, as indicated in the 7-minute pilot. Ebert has been quoted as saying the new show is "a rebirth of a dream," a sentiment that will surely be echoed by those of us who made the old Siskel & Ebert show a weekly obsession.

Ebert's health battles have been well-chronicled over the past four years, and his eloquent and triumphant return to the throne has been wonderful to behold (for my discussion of that journey, read my article from earlier this year). Roger may no longer be able to speak, but his voice is still loud and clear. He has, almost indisputably, never been better. And his new show will hopefully restore the passion and verve to the enterprise that has long been missing.

Roger Ebert Presents: At the Movies is slated to premiere on PBS in January. If I could set my DVR now, I would. But I will be waiting impatiently. I hope you are, too.

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