Balcony closing: Ebert’s show runs out of time and money
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Roger Ebert and Christy Lemire
A post-Thanksgiving cornucopia of Robservations on the media beat:
- Calling it a “sad but necessary moment of realism,” Roger Ebert announced Wednesday that his weekly movie-review show will go off the air at the end of December. In a blog post titled So long for a while, the famed Chicago Sun-Times critic said Ebert Presents At the Movies would go on hiatus while he and his executive-producer wife Chaz continue to seek funding for the public television series, produced at Window to the World Communications WTTW-Channel 11. Earlier in the month, Ebert disclosed that they had been bankrolling the show almost entirely on their own since its debut last January. “The show has been a success,” he wrote. “We will have produced 50 episodes. In Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky we have co-hosts whose chemistry has ignited, and who provide two definitely different viewpoints, which is the idea. We have developed a cadre of contributors who have created video essays and festival reports. What we haven’t been able to do is find the financing.”
- Nine months after the parent company of the Sun-Times lost its financial angel and savior, the newspaper may be on the verge of changing hands again. Crain’s Chicago Business reported Wednesday that an investor group led by Michael Ferro Jr.’s Chicago-based Merrick Ventures is preparing to make a $14 million bid in cash and assumed debt for Sun-Times Media Holdings. The principals already have an investment in the Chicago News Cooperative. Sun-Times Media was rocked by the death last March of chairman James Tyree, who rescued the paper from liquidation in September 2009. His successor, Jeremy Halbreich, would not comment on the Crain’s report, but said in a statement: “The paper and the company have never been put up for sale. We’ve not been shopped. We are not being marketed.”
- It’s a good thing there’s no one watching Fox Chicago’s noon newscast. Otherwise, there might be hell to pay for the train wreck that aired Wednesday. It was one embarrassing blunder, miscue and snafu after another. (Never mind the hypocrisy that one of the stories ridiculed NBC Nightly News’ Brian Williams for maintaining his composure during a fire drill in his studio.) The Fox disaster culminated a few seconds into a live interview with TMZ’s Harvey Levin when the satellite “window” closed, Levin was cut off midsentence, and the screen went to color bars. “Please give us a chance tomorrow,” an exasperated anchor Patrick Elwood pleaded with viewers at the end of the show. Added co-anchor Jan Jeffcoat: “We promise we’ll be better.” For the record, the noon news averaged a dismal 0.7 rating in November — down 42 percent from a year ago.
- The old line about putting lipstick on a pig came to mind Wednesday when Merlin Media moved to change the call letters of its FM News 101.1 from WWWN to WIQI. Until last July, the station had gotten along fine as WKQX for 34 years. One Merlin exec told me the new call letters “match up with the frequency better,” although he acknowledged that the move was mainly cosmetic. With the latest Arbitron ratings showing the station mired in 44th place with a 0.3 percent audience share, you’d think they might have more pressing concerns. Like coming up with a decent format, for instance.
- Today will mark the public opening of the National Radio Hall of Fame Gallery at Chicago’s new Museum of Broadcast Communications at 360 North State Street. From 10am to 5pm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the shrine to radio’s pioneers and contemporary stars will be open to visitors. (Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children and youth under 18, and free to those under 10.) On Wednesday, the museum was cited by the Chicago Architectural Foundation as “a testament to the vision and perseverance of broadcaster Bruce DuMont, president and CEO, a true patron of Chicago.” The tribute added: “The new museum has revitalized a critical corner in Chicago’s urban fabric and transformed an old parking structure into a new and exciting tourist attraction and a venue for entertainment and education.”
- Janet Rausa Fuller has resigned as food editor of the Sun-Times to spend more time with her family. And in her case, it’s true. “I’m ready to move on, though to be honest, it breaks my heart a little,” she told me Wednesday. Other than focusing on her two daughters (ages 6 and 3), Fuller said she has no specific plans. “I hope to figure all that out in time — maybe something that involves food and cooking and writing and getting people excited about Chicago’s food scene and getting people to cook, which is what I was striving for with the section.” Fuller, 37, a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago, joined the Sun-Times as a sports agate writer in 1998 and was named food editor in 2007. Her duties are expected to be assumed by deputy features editor Sue Ontiveros, who preceded Fuller as food editor.
- Also on the eat beat, ABC 7 viewers will be seeing more of food reporter Steve Dolinsky. Under his new three-year deal with the station, Dolinsky’s Hungry Hound reports will be airing four times a week — on the 10pm newscasts Friday and Saturday and on the 11am newscasts Wednesday and Friday. (One of his morning reports reruns at 6am Sunday as well.) Dolinsky, whose new blog is subtitled Always Hungry, Seldom Speechless, is starting his 20th year on the air in Chicago.
- Yet another celebrated foodie on the move is Alpana Singh, who resigned Wednesday after 12 years as master sommelier at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. “Excited for new adventures ahead!” she tweeted. “I’m finalizing the details & will announce my new plans soon!” She is expected to continue as host of Check Please!, the WTTW restaurant review show.
- Funeral services will be held Saturday for Tim Cuprisin, 53, the longtime Milwaukee media critic and a valued and respected colleague. He died November 23 of melanoma. A Chicago native and veteran of the fabled City News Bureau, Cuprisin covered radio and television for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before joining OnMilwaukee.com. A celebration of his life will be at 11am Saturday at Schmidt & Bartelt Funeral Home in Mequon, Wisconsin.