Roger Ebert returns to PBS with "Roger Ebert Presents ... At the Movies"
The rumors about Roger Ebert's new movie review show have been floating around for a long, long time, but today, it's a done deal. And Ebert is coming full circle with "Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies"; the show will air on public television, just as his first show with Gene Siskel did back in 1975. That's not a big surprise; the commercial syndication market for new half-hour programming has basically died in the last decade, so PBS is the logical place to go. Roger and Chaz Ebert will produce, and the show will be taped in Chicago. That's good news for Chicago, particularly at a time when Oprah is walking away. It may also be good news for Chicago critics, who may enjoy the continued benefit of more advance screenings held for the show. (We'll see about that second part—I'm skeptical, since studios seem to have de-ranked Chicago to the second tier in terms of doing advance press screenings, even while Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott were taping At the Movies here.)
The choice of hosts is bound to generate some discussion. Ebert has signed AP critic Christy Lemire, of whom Ebert has long been a notable fan (he mentions her in print whenever he's talking about critics he likes), and Elvis Mitchell, a roving critic who had a famous but brief association with the New York Times and has since put together a living between NPR and various television interviewing gigs. Also contributing will be Kim Morgan and Omar Moore. That means the show has fully broken free of the "middle-aged white guys" charge that is often made against film criticism in general. Two women and two African-American men will be the faces of film criticism on PBS.
Also notable, especially to me, is that the show "will expand into coverage of New Media, special segments on classics, on-demand viewing and genres, and an extended website." I would modestly add that we're right there with Ebert in thinking that on-demand and online movies merit more coverage. That's why we revamped our New Video section.
The show will launch in January 2011. Until then, expect a lot of speculation and pontification from film folk about whether anyone cares about any kind of film criticism in the age of Twitter and Facebook, and whether television, whether public or commercial, is even on the radar of anyone under 40. Personally, though, I wouldn't count Roger and Chaz Ebert out. They're very media-savvy people, and I'm sure they've thought this out carefully. But the devil is in the details, and for that we'll just have to wait and see.