The end is apparently nigh for television film criticism, at least of the sort unsupported by morning news shows. After eight years of filling Gene Siskel's vacant chair across the aisle from Chicago Sun-Times colleague Roger Ebert on At The Movies With Ebert & Roeper, columnist Richard Roeper has opted not to renew his contract, which expires in August. And since Ebert's persistent health problems have kept him off the air for most of the last two years, it seems unlikely that the show will continue in anything like its present form.
According to this piece in the Tribune, Disney, the company that owns At The Movies, was pushing to reconceive the show as something closer to Entertainment Tonight, with more of a focus on Hollywood movies. (Shudder. -ed.) It's certainly been no secret that Disney has long been unhappy with the syndicated show. Back in August of last year, Ebert decided to withhold the "thumbs up/thumbs down" ranking system—which he and Siskel had the foresight to copyright—until the company presented the show with a new contract. Roeper's inability to come to terms with Disney seems to reflect that discord behind the scenes. Nothing official has been announced about the fate of the show, but we wish the best for our friend, esteemed Tribune critic Michael Phillips, who has ably served as Ebert's semi-permanent replacement of late.
The presumed end of At The Movies comes 33 years after Siskel and Ebert started reviewing movies on television with the PBS show Sneak Previews. Whether such an enterprise will be viable in syndication again remains to be seen.
Update: Included in Roeper's statement were these lines about his future plans: "In the meantime, it is my intention to proceed elsewhere with my ninth year as the co-host of a movie review show that honors the standards established by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert more than 30 years ago. I will be free to share the details on that program in the near future."