Roger Ebert is a superman. I am currently buried in his must-read memoir, “Life Itself,” which is a pleasure to go back to every night. The man can write. And he is trying to hang on, bless him, to his new TV review show, “Ebert Presents At The Movies.” He and wife/producer Chaz Ebert have been financing their show themselves, with help from the Kanbar Charitable Trust. In his most recent blog post on the subject, Ebert is checking out a Kickstarter campaign as he takes the show on hiatus.
People have been very supportive. We’ve spoken to the top executives of several channels and film distributors, charitable foundations, web delivery services, potential corporate sponsors, and crowd-funding sources. And we are still talking with them, but the time crunch has intervened. It is a complicated process, and so we are going on hiatus while we sort it out. During this period I’ve been moved by the determination of Chaz and our team to push ahead. We really believe in this show and its mission to provide an intelligent place for the discussion of movies in a forum accessible to the public, and in a manner that is easily understood yet that feeds the thirst for both entertainment and knowledge.
Ebert, until he lost his voice to cancer, was able to hang on tenaciously to Disney/ABC’s “At the Movies” after the death of his best and most evenly matched sparring partner, rival Chicago critic Gene Siskel of The Chicago Tribune. While I enjoyed the revisits to Ebert & Siskel episodes past on the reconstituted show this year, and commend the Eberts for trying to bring a new smart review show back to television, unfortunately the voiceless Ebert could not provide the show with his full-throated personality. He tried typing with voiceover, and replaying past shows, but his new reviewers, perky eager-to-please blonde Christy Lemire (A.P.) and smug gap-toothed upstart Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (Chicago Reader and Mubi) simply lacked the right stuff.
Women film critics on television walk a tightrope: while they write with authority in print, on camera they instinctively soft-pedal their opinions so as not to come off shrill or harsh. Meanwhile men are free to be as arrogant and know-it-all as they like. It’s an unfair match. Lemire knew more than her younger less experienced partner, but he was more aggressive about winning arguments and not letting her get a word in edgewise. I found them annoying. I wanted her to stand up to him and I wanted him to shut up.
So. Roger and Chaz: you tried. Let it go. Ebert is hugely successful as the new model critic in print and online who uses social media as well as anyone. His book is a bestseller, no surprise. Onward.