It was announced last March that this would be the last season of "At The Movies," the iconic show started by Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. I read a couple articles on it, and for some reason, some writers blame Rotten Tomatoes. A show with two film critics duking it out about films is somehow made irrelevant by a larger consensus on the web. It's two different mediums and two different beast. Watching two critics duking it out about a film's merits is a lot different then just looking at the box score. The former will always be more entertaining. There'll always be room for a show like Siskel & Ebert, you just have to find the right two guys. And Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were the right two guys. They were the right opposites. They complimented each other perfectly.
THE SHOW THAT INSPIRED ROTTEN TOMATOES
When I was in high school, my favorite American actors were Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Kurt Russell. Yes, all action stars, except for maybe Kurt Russell. He's just there because of Big Trouble in Little China and ... ahem ... Tango and Cash. I was lifting weights and trying my best to be as manly as them. My weekly routine consisted of checking out the box office at the Sacramento Bee and watching Siskel & Ebert. I like looking at box office figures to see what people are watching - and see how my favorite actors are faring with their latest movies. The guys might be box office giants, but probably not critics' darlings.
I don't know what it is about Siskel & Ebert that hooked me the first time I saw their show on a Saturday evening. It's just two guys arguing and discussing movies. It was entertaining and informative. Just as I like to see how my actors fare at the box office, I also like to see how they fare with critics.
When I was looking for a name to call my movie review aggregation site, I was thinking "Thumbs Down" - as a tribute to the show. How cool would it be to have a big thumb squashing a bad movie. I was naive. Luckily, Ebert, Siskel, Disney and cybersquatters had already bought domain names for every permutation of "Two Thumbs Up." I had to find a more obscure name - Rotten Tomatoes - and not have to face lawsuits by the show I revered.
Since the show ended last Saturday, I thought I'll give it a final tribute by giving a brief rundown of Siskel & Ebert and its various permutations:
BUT FIRST, A WORD ABOUT GENE SISKEL
I started to notice that his output had lessened. His reviews were shorter. I also remember a user complaining about his shorter reviews. I sensed that something was wrong. When Gene Siskel passed away, it was still early in the development of Rotten Tomatoes. I featured him on the homepage then. It was just a large pic of him on RT's homepage for a week or so. Between him and Ebert, he's the tougher and meaner (in a good way) of the two. He'll call out producers, directors, writers, and actors when they deliver a stinker.
EBERT & ROTATING CRITICS
I actually liked this. I liked seeing and hearing what the actual critics were like. Back then, I ran the site by myself and, because of this, did all of the quote culling. I could finally attach faces to the critics and their reviews. Most of them were just way too respectful of Roger to go all out and wrestle him though. It was great for at least a season. The only problem is the ratings were inconsistent - two thumbs up from Ebert and a bunch of different critics isn't the same as just Ebert and Siskel (or Ebert and Roeper).
EBERT & ROEPER
Richard Roeper eventually got more comfortable with his role. He might not be as knowledgeable about films as Gene Siskel, but he was energetic and had screen presence. It's like watching wise Yoda sparring with a young Jedi.
ROEPER & ROTATING CRITICS
He did an admirable job holding down the fort while Ebert was out. It was interesting seeing celebrities on the show, even though most of them would only pat their peers on the back.
ROEPER & PHILLIPS & SCOTT
Still watchable. Michael Phillips and Tony Scott were kinda geeky, but they add credibility.
BEN & BEN (& RT)
I have a vested interest in this because RT was involved. Matt Atchity, the editor-in-chief of RT, was one of the regular guests on the show. He was a natural. Being interviewed on the spot is hard. I'm constantly amazed at how people can be so eloquent with these things. Ben Lyons, on the other hand, was not a natural. I felt like he had his lines memorized and was just reciting them. Much of the time, what he recited was insubstantial.
PHILLIPS & SCOTT
Didn't watch any of the shows until the end. Planned to, wanted to, but DVR did not cooperate. I liked them both when they were taking turns co-hosting with Richard Roeper.
THE SIMPLE REASON WHY THE SHOW HAD TO END
Gene Siskel passed away. Roger Ebert was no longer involved with the show. The thumbs were replaced with See It, Rent It, and Skip It. The original set for the show was even destroyed to make room for Ben & Ben. Other than the format, there's nothing left from the original show. And that's the simple reason why the later shows failed.
EBERT'S NEW MOVIE REVIEW SHOW
There is hope. Roger Ebert has been developing another movie review show, and I hope it gets picked up. Meanwhile, you can always read his reviews and blog at RogerEbert.com, follow up on Twitter, and/or join his club.