The balcony is permanently closed on ‘At the Movies’ – or is it?
The collective thumbs of movie lovers everywhere should be flying at half-staff this weekend when the final original episode of ABC’s syndicated series “At the Movies” airs after more than three decades of broadcasting.
The venerable movie-review show, that began on Chicago public television in the mid-1970s featuring dueling newspaper critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, will see its final curtain after the Aug. 14th show.
Current hosts A.O. Scott of the New York Times and Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune will usher out an era of syndicated television that was profoundly formative for many film lovers as well as scores of movie critics practicing the craft today in print, on the air and in various corners of the internet. Barely a working movie critic today was not provoked, challenged and inspired by the heated back-and-forth debate and sparkling insights provided by the show’s familiar format. A generation of critics owes the show a fond farewell.
Earlier this year, Disney-ABC Domestic Television, which distributed “At the Movies,” and ABC Media Productions, which produced it, announced they were pulling the plug on the show after crunching some numbers and deciding that “it became clear this weekly, half-hour, broadcast syndication series was no longer sustainable.”
Read that: the audience for intelligent, insightful film criticism is rapidly aging and younger audiences are much more interested in advertising sound bites, garish, red-carpet glamour and gossipy, insider-Hollywood programming that is more about marketing than thoughtful analysis of weekly studio and indie releases.
Through several incarnations, “At the Movies’ offered a weekly glimpse at what was coming to multiplexes and art houses everywhere, along with concise synopses and spirited evaluations (that for many years ended with a thudding thumbs-up or thumbs-down verdict).
The frank, straight-laced Chicago Tribune critic Siskel and the contrarily erudite Chicago Sun-Times critic Ebert hosted the show through its leap from the public airwaves to corporate syndication and its eventual landing under the Disney umbrella.
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