Roger Ebert says financially-strapped “At the Movies” may end

By Sean O’Connell Is Roger Ebert’s retrofitted “At the Movies” about to get a thumbs down?

The longtime critic and television personality says its possible if the program can’t receive significant financial backing before the end of its current season.

“Unless we find an angel, our television program will go off the air at the end of its current season,” Ebert writes on his blog. “There. I’ve said it. Usually in television, people use evasive language. Not me. We’ll be gone. I want to be honest about why this is. We can’t afford to finance it any longer.”

The weekly review and commentary program has gone through several changes since the days of Siskel and Ebert, when Roger co-hosted an intelligent program with his friendly rival, the late Gene Siskel. Their program gave us the “Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down” model (for better or for worse), and introduced film criticism to mainstream America.

The Siskel passed, and Ebert grew ill, and substitute hosts were brought in. Few have worked. While Ebert praises his current hosts Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, people are not tuning in to the level that the show needs to succeed.

Ebert emphasizes that the program has hit its marks, though.

“The program has a coverage of more than 90% of the country, and all of the top 50 markets. Our ratings place us among the top shows on public television, and compare to the ratings of cable news. And we have loyal and vocal followers. Whenever our show is pre-empted for any reason we get immediate e-mails, calls and letters from viewers looking for it. We have also had cordial relations with the programmers and station managers across the country.”

But it costs a lot of fund a show like this, and the strain appears to have grown too much for Ebert and his producers to handle.

“We can’t afford to support the show any longer. That’s what it comes down to,” he writes. “American Public Television wants to know if they can tell their member stations we’ll be back in 2012. We have to give them our answer this month. Unless we find underwriting, I’m afraid our answer will have to be ‘no.’ Chaz says she still has a few more days to keep making calls.”

Will someone come in and rescue the program? Perhaps. Or it will change. Maybe fade away, and come back in a revised format. “At the Movies” has been around for decades. It comes and goes, and so long as Ebert has the passion (which he does), I find it hard to believe it’s ever actually dead. Stay tuned.

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