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'At the Movies' is canceled. Was it too soon?

March 24, 2010 |  7:10 pm

Here we were all ready to gin up a post about how "At the Movies" seems to be hitting its stride this year with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott after the shaky experiment that was the two Bens (Lyons and Mankiewicz) last year. And now we find out there's nothing to gin -- the show is being canceled.

Sco "At the Movies" fought the good fight of balancing the commercial with the art house -- every second of coverage for a small or foreign film was precious, and Phillips and Scott found a way to secure enough of them, even amid the obligatory "Twilight" and "Alice In Wonderland" assessments (just as Gene Siskel and Rogert Ebert did in the 1970s and 1980s).

But today, Disney-ABC, which syndicated the program, gave up on the fight. Some will say they gave up too soon; it takes years, after all, for any talk-format show to find its audience. There's something to that. But the show was in many ways an anachronism, with even the more hospitable precincts of print and radio struggling to attract audiences for film reviews.

And after trying a younger, more populist approach with Ben Lyons last year that didn't work, and then going back to serious criticism this year, at least they gave it a shot.

Many point to the growth of review-aggregation tools and social media as a reason for the demise of the show (and the declining prominence of critics in general). There's something to that too, though it's worth remembering that Twitter isn't all tweens breathlessly effusing about the Jonas Bros.; some old-school critics, like Ebert himself, have brilliantly used social media too.

We didn't always agree with the new "At the Movies" pair -- Phillips in particular -- though Scott was often brilliantly on point in taking on scared cows like "Shutter Island' and supporting less fashionable causes like "Green Zone." But even when their take differed from our own, it was great fun to watch two intelligent people gab about the movies, whether to get worked up, nod along in agreement or just take the temperature of two of the country's leading critics.

We can only hope a version of the program -- or least some sort of film-review show -- will survive on cable. Everything else good on television seems to.

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips. Credit: Disney-ABC


Dumbing down the film critic

Comments () | Archives (19)

The comments to this entry are closed.

I think A.O.Scott deserves to get honor for "At the Movies". And Michael Phillips was also good. But as we know that "At the Movies" had to fight for balancing the commercial with the art house -- every second of coverage for a small or foreign film was precious.


"Shutter Island" was a scared cow, you say?

Ebert is developing a new show that will take advantage of new media, so that should be interesting. Not with himself as host, obviously.

"...supporting less fashionable causes like "Green Zone."

With that one sentence, you just proved why this show was canceled: you guys are hopelessly (and I do mean HOPELESSLY) out of touch. I bet like Michael Moore you probably thought it was "brave" to make a movie like "Green Zone" in Hollywood too, huh? Man, get out of whatever coast city you're in and BREATHE THE REAL WORLD for once in your life. Making a Hollywood movie about the EEEEEEEEEEEVIL American Government invading Iraq is as "brave" as making a movie where the token black sidekick in a comedy is sassy and knows how to dance.

What appears to be happening here is that the Almighty Dollar rules the roost. The Almighty Dollar needs the lowest common denominator to make a large profit. Unfortunately, in this country the lowest common denominator is the lowest level of intelligence. When two men start to discuss the merits of films on a moderately intellectual level, half the audience says, "Huh?"

By the way, JJM, it's "Two elitists" - not TWO ELIETIST.

Malarkey....One of three shows I can actually still stand to watch on television and they're dumping it. It disgusts me further that the two Bens got a longer chance to make the show work when that was a colossal failure from the start. Well, every word I'd like to say will be removed from the comments, so I'll just close by expressing my heightened aggravation and announcing my complete and utter hatred of people. Screw you Disney, screw you...

I'm really disappointed to hear this news. I have greatly enjoyed the show since they made the transition to Scott and Phillips and felt they were providing intelligent and thoughtful criticism. Sadly though, people in general do not have a great level of respect for the opinions of critics. That is why we continue to see mindless commercial fare like "Bounty Hunter" score well at the box office and the studios to continue cranking out the same old schlock. If people paid attention and checked out films like "Where the Wild Things Are" like A.O. loved so much, we could begin raising the bar for the film industry.

This sucks! They were an insightful, intelligent pair who introduced us week after week to the many nuances of filmmaking. Bring it back, please, or we may be plagued with Sunday AND SATURDAY editions of "On the Red Carpet." (Are you listening, ABC7?)

Man that really sucks, after all these years of the show being on, it's cancelled. I'm gonna miss this show. And those of you who are complaining about how A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips didn't connect to the average film goer @!#$ you. I have news for you, the average film goer is an idiot, who will marvel at anything schmaltzy (The Blind Side/Twilight) and anything that's loud and colorful (Michael Bay). These men appealed to a higher class of film goers, you know people who see movies as an art form rather than just noise. Americans don't understand this show because most people don't understand movies and hearing criticism throws them off.

SoOutofTouch, dude, you're rambling. No one was talking about the politics of Green Zone, but rather the fact that it was universally panned by critics, thus making is "unfashionable" to praise it.

I know, it's crazy. Somehow the coast-dwelling, elitist, latte-swilling film critics actually PANNED a movie critical of the Iraq War. Funny, that sounds like the complete opposite of the argument you were trying to make...

Watched the show every week. The movie reviews weren't "movie" reviews. They seemed lost and there was no chemistry between the hosts. The pruducers are not adapting to the new generation of media. I'm not surprised it gone!

I'm bummed out. Started watching this when I was 9, so I've been watching it for over 20 years, and now it is going away. It's really too bad since the show has been at its best since the passing of Gene Siskel. Phillips and Scott are really clicking (although I still miss the adversarial venom of Siskel & Ebert), and is the only place a film buff can hear intelligent conversations about film. This show is the reason why I appreciate film of all kinds, not just studio films. It introduced me to so much, especially in high school, something the internet does not do unless you are seeking it out. It is ashame we are losing At the Movies.


I have really loved "At The Movies", first with Siskel & Ebert, then Ebert & Roeper, and even found the 2 Bens tolerable. I really liked A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips. They are intelligent, insightful, and had good chemistry. I was always entertained for 30 minutes each week watching them on "At The Movies".

Damn it, Disney. Couldn't you leave well enough alone? I mean, how much money could you be losing on this show anyway?

I'll really miss it.

bury the dead--and these guys were dead on arrival. the idea of having critics on camera blathering on about their 'picks of the week' is ridiculous as they worked to become more camera-friendly (just looked at the retouched photo of the pair in the story above) than the last pair--who needs to be told what to go watch at the movies, anyway?--be brave and pick for yourselves, people! it's only time and money if you're wrong.

the peckish scott and nebbish phillips leave exactly as they arrived--two little voices lost in a sea of subjectivity--who cares what they think?--in the end, no one did.

crawl back to your dying newspapers, boys--you will not be missed.

Not that it would ever have happened, but I'd have loved to see Adam Kempenaar and Matty Robinson of Filmspotting http://www.filmspotting.net/ take up the hosting duties on this show. They have a very good reviewing style, and try to balance commercial and independent/foreign films.

I just think this is a bunch of crap one of the best shows on tv is going off the air it just makes me upset for a movie lover like myself to hear their reviews then going out and seeing the movie personally and sharing my thought with my family and peers just bothers me alot

Damn. I really like these guys. And it has nothing to do with their taste in movies. I agree with them around half the time. And, yes, I can more expeditiously access a consensus of reviewers, including them, from Rotten Tomatoes. What I really like about this show, and these two in particular, is their wit, erudition and intelligence which television captures so much better than print media or the blogosphere. I will miss this show. Damn.

I think these guys deserve to be cancelled! I watched the show once and they both stink as reviewers. They both come off arrogant, egotistical, and they are biased, maybe paid off? Their reviews were so "off" most of the time while thinking they were clever. I can see why they cancelled this show.

They tried to "rip-off" Siskel & Ebert, but failed miserably. Siskel & Ebert at least had realistic and "thoughtful" comments on the movies they reviewed, not these guys. It is a good thing these guys are cancelled, you see,sometimes you get what you deserve!

Yes (too soon). That's the short answer.

I was very disappointed to turn on channel 7 this evening to find that mindless "Red Carpet" star-adulation has replaced the only intelligent film review show on TV. Since the Bens were dropped, the show had gotten good again, first with rotating critics and then with regular hosts, Scott and Phillips. Even when you didn't agree with one or the other or even both of them, the show was always thoughtful and entertaining. What a loss. One less reason to watch broadcast TV.


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