Just when I was getting used to The Battle of the Bens, the producers of At The Movies pulled the rug out from under me (and more importantly, them) by dropping the current hosts of the program. Yes, Ben Lyons (E network) and Ben Mankiewicz (Turner Classic Movies) got Disneyfried. In an effort to “go back to its roots”, the producers are bringing two past guest critics onboard - A.O. Scott of the New York Times and Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune.
Roger Ebert is still unable to speak as a result of his surgery (although his writing is as astute as ever); both he and longtime co-host Richard Roeper left Disney last year when producers wanted to change the format and dynamics of the show and retool it for a new, young audience. Oops! That sound you now hear is Disney backpedalling furiously as their decision all but ruined a legacy.
Why they thought a jury of three additional critics – and I use that word very loosely, they were inept and boring - particpating as via monitor was a good use of time is beyond me. Those of us who appreciated intelligent discussion of the medium also wondered why they would try to dumb it down for the masses – certainly there are enough gossip mags and morning shows doing that already. Eventually they toned down the flair and tried to center back on the core of the show – the movies – but by then whatever audience was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt had fled faster than Dodger fans from a day game.
I actually feel bad for Ben Mankiewicz. I always found him concise, literate and willing to defend his opinion with depth and reasoning, and he possesses a wry sense of humor. Hopefully he’ll appear more often on TCM, and if I find that he’s writing reviews I’ll definitely read them. As for Ben Lyons…well, I tried really hard. I was almost at the point where I was so used to it, I wasn’t bothered anymore…I just found Mank’s side of the conversation infinitely more interesting. Lyons came off like one of those people with a microphone on the red carpet at award shows – pleasant but superficial.
Maybe it’s genetic? Joseph Mankiewicz was a talented producer, writer and director, so maybe some of that gravitas rubbed off on his son. But I always thought Ben Lyons’ dad, Jeffrey Lyons, was a hack - one of those critics who are more interested in getting a pull quote in the movie ad than communicating their opinion. (Lord knows, we have enough of them). Ironically, the senior Lyons was also fired from his gig (Reel Talk) in May.
So it will be interesting to see how the new/old regime fares in September. I’ll tune in, I’m a movie hound. But I’m really waiting for the day when Roger Ebert looks in the camera once again and tells me what’s on his mind. Hopefully, when he does, he’s sitting across the aisle from Richard Roeper.
Wikipedia has the history of regime shifts.
The Trib breaks its own story.
I can’t post links to Ebert’s Blog often enough.