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Minus Ebert, 'At the Movies' sees ratings drop 23%

November 26, 2008 |  5:16 pm

The people behind "At the Movies" are discovering that life can be hard without Roger Ebert.

Earlier this year, Walt Disney Co. revealed plans to shake up the syndicated movie-reviewing show. Longtime co-host Ebert, who'd been off the program recovering from cancer surgery since 2006, announced his departure, along with on-air partner Richard Roeper. The duo were replaced by a younger team, Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz, sometimes jokingly referred to as "Ben Squared."

The new "At the Movies," which premiered in September, has already earned raspberries from some critics. Audiences don't seem impressed, either. Ratings for the first two months have slumped 23%, to 1.7 million total viewers, compared with the same period last year, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research. Among the crucial category of adults ages 25 to 54, the program is off 25% (from a 0.8 rating to a 0.6).

But ABC Media Productions, the unit that produces "At the Movies," sees a silver lining. The revamped program has shown improvement since the September premiere among total viewers and its target demographic of women ages 25 to 54, a spokeswoman said. Comparing the new guys with Ebert and Roeper is also unfair, she added.

"You are comparing hosts who had been nurtured for years to a team that just started two short months ago," the spokeswoman said.

The big test for "At the Movies" may come over the next few weeks, as movie studios roll out their slate of holiday films and Oscar contenders, and as viewers may look more to critics for guidance.

--Scott Collins