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Toronto 2010: Roger Ebert will bring festival-esque debate to PBS

September 10, 2010 |  5:20 pm

With syndication a tough market, the next frontier for intelligent on-air movie criticism was supposed to be cable, not public television. But Roger Ebert decided to go back to his roots, announcing that he will bring back the half-hour show he made famous, this time as "Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies."

As my colleague Yvonne Villarreal also reports here, Ebert is producing this time, along with wife Chaz, and the couple will be, at least at first, largely financing it themselves and looking for sponsors as they go. Public television station WTTW in Chicago, the birthplace of the series, will produce, and PBS stations will broadcast the show beginning in January.

The new "At the Movies" will use the appealingly simple formula of knowledgeable people riffing about current and classic film, with the AP's Christy Lemire and NPR's Elvis Mitchell serving as hosts and Roger Ebert himself making the occasional appearance.  "American television is swamped by mindless gossip about celebrities, and I'm happy this show will continue to tell viewers honestly if the critics think a new movie is worth seeing," Ebert said in a statement.

When "At the Movies" was pulled by Disney this year because of the changing syndication landscape -- the last show from critics Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott aired several weeks ago -- the thought was that a new review program might migrate to cable. That could still happen, but Ebert said he thought the more uncluttered landscape of public television was the better place for his new show.

“I believe that by returning to its public roots, our new show will win better and more consistent time slots in more markets,” he said.

The announcement sent a nice little ripple through the Toronto Film Festival, where movies are discussed in the corridors of hotels and on street corners with gusto.

Of course, these days there's plenty of intelligent conversation on the Web about movies and the conversation is  more interactive. Ebert himself, for that matter, has helped make Twitter a more cinephile-friendly place. Still, when it comes to the lean-back medium of television, it's encouraging to see that there will be some movie talk, in whatever form it takes.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Siskel & Ebert At the Movies. Credit: Tribune Broadcasting