and Ebert represents the first and most popular of the movie
review series genre that emerged on television in the mid-1970s.
The lively series focuses on the give and take interaction and opinions
of its knowledgeable and often contentious co-hosts, Gene Siskel,
film critic of the Chicago Tribune and Roger Ebert, film
critic of the Chicago Sun-Times. Syndicated to approximately
180 markets across the United States, as of this writing, the spirited
pair reach a potential 95% of the country on a weekly basis.
from am idea credited to producer Thea Flaum of PBS affiliate WTTW
in Chicago, the original series, Opening Soon at a Theater Near
You, was broadcast once a month to a local audience beginning
in September 1975. Using brief clip of movies in current release,
the rival critics debated the merits of the films making simple
yes or no decisions for positive and negative review. On those not
so rare occasions when the two disagreed, sparks might fly which
delighted viewers. An additional element of interest featured Spot
the Wonder Dog jumping on to a balcony seat and barking on cue to
introduce the film designated "dog of the week."
two seasons, the successful series was retitled Sneak Previews and
appeared biweekly on the PBS network. By its fourth season, the
show became a once-a-week feature on 180 to 190 outlets and achieved
status as the highest rated weekly entertainment series in the history
of public broadcasting. Based on their success, in 1980, WTTW made
plans to remove the show from PBS and sell it commercially as a
WTTW production. The two stars indicate they were offered a take-it-or-leave-it
contract which they declined. They left the series in 1981 to launch
At the Movies for commercial television under the banner
of Tribune Entertainment, a syndication arm of the Chicago Tribune.
Basically utilizing the same format as Sneak Previews, the
new series made some minor adjustments including the replacement
of the black and white Wonder Dog with Aroma the skunk which ultimately
was removed to make room for commercials. At WTTW, Sneak Previews
replaced Siskel and Ebert with New York based critics Jeffrey Lyons
and Neal Gabler. In time, the PBS offering would settle on Lyons
and Michael Medved as its hosts and the show remained on air through
the 1995-1996 season.
contractual problems with Tribune Entertainment, in 1986, Siskel
and Ebert departed At the Movies for Buena Vista Television,
a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, and created a new series
entitled Siskel and Ebert and the Movies. The order of the
names was decided by the flip of a coin and the show title was eventually
shortened to Siskel and Ebert. Ebert also suggested the Romanesque
thumbs up-thumbs down rating system which has since become a distinctive
Siskel-Ebert trademark. Their former show, At the Movies, acquired
Rex Reed and Bill Harris as hosts, and added news of show business
to the format. Harris left the series in 1988 end was replaced by
Dixie Whatley, former co-host on Entertainment Tonight, and the
series continued into 1990.
Of all the different series/co-hosts in this genre, the Siskel-Ebert
partnership has remained the most celebrated. Offering responsible
commentary in an unedited spontaneous fashion, in twenty years the
two critics have reviewed more than 4,000 films and have compiled
an impressive list of firsts and show milestones. In his defense
of television film critics in the May/June, 1990 issue of Film
Comment, Ebert, the only film critic to have won a Pulitzer
Prize for criticism, points out that Siskel
and Ebert were the first national show to discuss the issue
of film colorization, the benefits of letterbox video dubbing and
the technology of laser disks. They have provided an outlet for
the ongoing examination of minority and independent films, attacked
the MPAA rating system as de facto censorship and protested product
placement, i.e., incidental advertising, within films. And, in May
1989, extolling the virtues of black and white cinematography, they
videotaped their show in monochrome--the first new syndicated program
to do so in twenty-five years.
and Ebert's influence with audiences is also notable. Their
thumbs up reviews are credited with tuning films such as My Dinner
with Andre (1981), One False Move (1992) and Hoop
Dreams (1994) into respectable box-office hits. Thumbs down
reviews have had the opposite effect but many filmmakers feel that
ultimately it is up to the public to choose what films they see
and many directors/producers speak to the benefits that exposure
on Siskel and Ebert can provide. Notwithstanding, there have
been occasional disgruntled feelings. As reported in the Los
Angeles Times (10 December 1995), screenwriter Richard LaGravanese
used "Siskel" as the name for one of the "bad guys" in his film
The Ref after a negative review of his previous work,
The Fisher King.
Siskel and Ebert agree their animated dialogue is crucial to the
show's success and more compelling than criticism from a solitary
voice. They view their disagreements as those of two friends who
have seen a movie and have a difference of opinion. But, they have
had more intense moments as evidenced in a pre-Oscar special broadcast
in 1993--when an angry Ebert took exception to Siskel's revelation
of the significant plot twist that concludes the film The Crying
Through the years, the television industry has recognized Siskel
and Ebert with six national Emmy nominations and one local Emmy
(1979). In 1984, the pair were among the first broadcasters initiated
into the National Association of Television Programming Executives
(NATPE) Hall of Fame. They also received NATPE's Iris Award for
their achievement in nationally syndicated television. The Hollywood
Radio and Television Society named them Men of the Year in 1993.
As Richard Roeper wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times (15 October
1995) on the occasion of their twentieth anniversary, "Siskel and
Ebert took serious film criticism and made it palatable to a mass
audience--and in so doing, became celebrities themselves, as recognizable
as most of the movie stars whose films they review."
Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert
Arlidge, Ron. "'At the Movies' Rates Higher than Improving 'Sneak.'"
Chicago Tribune, 11 November 1982.
John. "Why is 'Movies' So Successful? It's Simple." Chicago Tribune
TV Week, 1-7 September 1985.
Ginia. "Pro Thumb Wrestling." Time (New York), 5 April 1993.
Roger. "All Stars or, Is There a Cure for Criticism of Film Criticism."
Film Comment (New York), May/June 1990.
Richard. "Thumbs Up! 20 Years in the Balcony." Chicago Sun-Times,
15 October 1995.
Kenneth. "Rating TV's Movie Critics." TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania),
18-24 March 1989.
Richard. "'It Stinks!' 'You're Crazy!'" Time (New York) 25