Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Balcony Closed for Good? Say it Ain't So!

It's a bad day to be cinephile. Word came down from Disney yesterday that "At the Movies," the syndicated film review program that was the home of "Siskel and Ebert" for nearly two decades will cease broadcast in August. The show was never the same after Siskel's death in 1999, but Ebert kept it going until untimely his departure in 2006. And despite all the bumps and bruises that the show suffered since, I thought it finally found its feet again last year with new hosts Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott.

I called foul on the widely trumpeted demise of professional film criticism after Todd McCarthy was dropped from Variety last week, but it doesn't look good for the last reviewers standing. Philips and Scott will still be writing for their respective papers, but the end of "At the Movies," is a major loss for critics nonetheless. It was the most popular, most accessible television review program for years, and found a permanent place in the cultural zeitgeist of the 80s. I know most film lovers of my generation owe the show a debt of gratitude, as it was one of the only places to hear about smaller cinema gems in those hazy days before the advent of the Internet.

Even now, I can't think of any real alternatives to "At the Movies." There are some podcasts and webcasts that have gained popularity, but nothing aimed at general audiences that are nearly as comprehensive or as well presented. Though built on the charisma of two great personalities, I really thought the format could endure without them.

I remain hopeful that Ebert or Richard Roeper or someone else down the line finds a way to resurrect the program in some format. I never stopped watching and never missed a show, even when the dreadful Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz were foisted on.

I know my Sunday nights will never be the same without it.

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