Yes! Sometimes the grown-ups win.
Disney/ABC has has added the New York Times’ Tony Scott and the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips to their At the Movies roster, getting rid of the two callow youths–Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz–they had placed in the roles of established film critics. Scott and Phillips had alternated as co-hosts with Roger Ebert’s former cohort Richard Roeper; Phillips landed the gig for a time, but the two critics have never appeared opposite each other.
Sanity has returned along with the quality of my Sunday night At the Movies ritual. How many viewers did Disney/ABC lose along the way by embarking on this ill-fated experiment? The only risk they’re running now is that Roeper (too expensive to bring back) was relatively TV-friendly, while Scott, especially, is a bit dry. Phillips is quite engaging on-camera. Two thumbs up on this long overdue move.
UPDATE: Faced with tepid ratings, Disney/ABC called the critics two weeks ago with offers. Disney/ABC Television exec Roni Selig has departed the scene, while David Plummer, a survivor of the original At the Movies, stays on at the local ABC affiliate in Chicago. New York-based Scott will fly in every two weeks to tape two shows back-to-back.
Finally, these two print critics are excited about giving the show some content again. “I want the show to be lively and smart and serious,” says Scott. “I want it to be idea-driven. It’s about the thoughtful and lively discussion of movies. I want it to be a critics’ show. For me criticism is the most exciting way to engage on the movies. One of the ways I learned about criticism was watching Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who were passionate, smart and opinionated, even prickly, mixing it up every week.”
Phillips wants the show to cut through the noise and clutter, he says: “There’s more opinion on movies floating around on more platforms than at any time in the history of the medium. There’s never been more danger of all this noise canceling itself out. The best thing Tony and I can do is get people to think about why they feel the way they do about movies, not just what it’s about. If we can get to the why in addition to the what, then we’ll be getting back to why this show was on the air in the first place.”