Earlier this month, critic Roger Ebert announced that the latest iteration of his TV show, “Ebert Presents At the Movies,” was in serious financial trouble. The half-hour program, co-hosted by Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnivetsky, has aired on public television since the start of this year (Indiewire profiled newcomer Vishnivetsky in January).
Ebert and his wife, Chaz, also a producer of the show, have financed it out of their own pockets. However, “we can’t afford to finance it any longer,” Ebert announced on his blog, adding that the show would go off the air unless they could find a new backer.
According to both Roger and Chaz, his call for help didn’t fall on deaf ears, and a new plan for the show’s future seems imminent.
Within 24 hours, Ebert received around 60 comments on his blog recommending that the duo launch a Kickstarter campaign, along with numerous additional comments suggesting various other types of crowdfunding strategies. Phone calls and emails offering support poured in.
On November 10, Chaz Ebert posted a vague update on Roger’s blog. “We want you to know we are indeed listening to you and looking at the crowd-funding options so many of you suggested,” she wrote. “Please stay tuned, and we will have more information for you very soon!” Chaz also addressed viewers on that week’s program.
This week, Chaz outlined a few more details in an email to Indiewire. She confirmed they had been in discussion with two crowdfunding sites, Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, but had so far refused to take donations.
“We have been touched by the many viewers who have written in to pledge support in amounts both small and large,” she said. “I am asking them to wait until we have made a decision about how to accept donations. We don’t want anyone to donate until we are sure that we will need the donations.”
Chaz added that they have also been in discussions with corporate sponsors about various possibilities. “Our hope is to have some definite answers in place shortly after Thanksgiving,” she said, “but that is a target, and it may take a little longer than that.”
The reason for not going into more specifics, Chaz explained, related to the range of possible new homes for the show. “Some of the more sensitive conversations involve talking to other media platforms who have reached out to us,” she explained, “but that may involve leaving public television.” She also noted that several foundations have expressed interest in helping the show continue its life in that arena.
Of course, Ebert’s seamless transition into the online world, both as a blogger and avid tweeter, has garnered adoring press attention in recent years, especially since it followed a bout with cancer that left him unable to speak. It may strike many fans as a reasonable next step for his show to transition into the online realm as well.
Chaz didn’t rule it out. “The digital internet distribution systems are interesting possibilities, and there are several really good choices out there,” she said. “The ideal situation, of course, would be to find a solution that allows us to broadcast on both public television and an additional platform. These are complicated discussions and we have to see whether the rules allow it.”
Whatever the outcome, fans of Ebert and his show have a reason to feel thankful this weekend: Help is on the way.