Roger Ebert, 2011

Santa arrived ten days early.

Wednesday, following up on past announcements, came the word that Roger Ebert Presents At The Movies is set to debut next month. While the balcony remains, its occupants will be different, as will the participation of the namesake. The new show, produced by Roger’s wife, looks to maintain the focus of the original show while updating the set and turning the reins (mostly) over to others, since Ebert has been unable to speak for close to three years.

From the announcement:

“The show will return to WTTW, Chicago Public Television, where Gene Siskel and I first taped “Sneak Previews” in 1975. The station still has our original seats, but we are constructing an all new set. Our critics of course will be back in the iconic balcony, and will be using the famous “thumbs up / thumbs down” rating system. Next week, executive producer Chaz Ebert will make an announcement regarding the co-hosts and contributing critics for the new show. She will also describe our website, with new and original content.

For me, this is the continuation of a journey that began 35 years ago with a local WTTW program at first titled “Opening Soon at a Theater Near You.” My wife Chaz and I have been working for two years with many others to bring the format back to television. I believe we will present critics in the show’s long tradition. Chaz is taking the leadership responsibilities as Executive Producer. I will be involved in all aspects, and will contribute regular segments of my own.”

VIDEO: A teaser with Christy Lemiere and Elvis Mitchell as the hosts.

Supposedly Mitchell is already off the program; not certain whether Lemiere will survive. But after viewing the clip I could see what they meant about the Mitchell/Lemiere dynamic – there was no apparent connection between the two. I’ve never found Mitchell to be a presence; even on his own interview program he seemed detached and out-of-place. Some people are better off behind the camera; Mitchell might be one of them. When the Ebert/Roeper show was initially cancelled, Ebert and Richard Roeper announced that they would move on to another project together. Why not Roeper in that other chair?  

My personal choice would be Ben Makiewicz, although both he and Ebert might be thinking once bitten twice shy. The colossal failure of the “Two Bens” version of the show had everything to do with the initial gimmick-laden format and the preening superficiality of Ben Lyons; Mankiewicz looked like the lone adult trying to take the high road. Lyons has since found a perfect role at the star-sucking E Entertainment network; Mank has settled back in to Turner Classic Movies where he and Robert Osborne are a constant gift to viewers.

The most disturbing part of that clip is the horrific digitized voice in Roger’s segment. We’ve all heard about the dynamic project to assemble a database of Roger’s own voice from his decades of sound clips; like many I assumed that meant Roger would type an essay and the computer would “read” it using those assigned clips of Roger’s voice like an audio ransom note. Lets hope this generic Stephen Hawking-like clipped speech is merely a placeholder until the real thing is ready. If not, I would rather they hire an impressionist to fake it. Or use five minutes of the show to revisit an older title using the actual voice and image of a younger Roger Ebert.

So Santa – there’s still work to do. But thank you for Ebert in 2011.

Here is the list of stations carrying the show.

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Filed under Editorials, Film/TV, Reviews

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