Another Sad Blow for Film Criticism

As if to rub salt in the already gaping wound of professional film criticism, it was announced this week that Disney was revamping “At the Movies,” the syndicated TV series in which Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper (filling Gene Siskel’s original slot) gave weekly “two thumb” ratings to new film releases.

Unthinkably, this “revamping” includes firing Ebert and Roeper and hiring (brace yourselves) Ben Lyons of E! and Ben Mankiewicz of Air America to take the reigns. Now I don’t know much about Mankiewicz, but I do know that Ben Lyons (son of legendary poster-quote whore Jeffrey Lyons) is not a film critic by any means. He’s a film critic in the same sense that Heidi Montag is Christian pop singer. In other words: nothing more than a pitiful wannabe.

In addition to the new hosts, the reworked “At the Movies” will aggressively target a “younger demo,” according to Mankiewicz. In essence this will mean no more nuance or intelligent analysis of film.

Thankfully Roger Ebert has refused to relinquish his trademark ownership of the “thumbs up” moniker, so the new pair will have to use another set of catchy critical criteria: “See it, rent it, skip it.” Doubtless they will put the “see it” designation to frequent use with respect to Jerry Bruckheimer, Tony Scott, and Eli Roth films, and other such wicked awesome frat film favorites.

Granted, Ebert being replaced was a necessary change (he can’t speak anymore), but why couldn’t they have replaced him with some up and coming critic of merit like Variety’s Justin Chang, LA Weekly’s Scott Foundas or The New York Times’ Manolia Dargis (a colleague of mine at UCLA).

Alas, I shouldn’t be too worried. The new version of “At the Movies” will doubtless be cancelled within a year. Young people aren’t going to start watching TV again just to hear what some unproven idiot like Lyons has to say about The Watchmen.

Even so, it is certainly the end of an era—the “Ebert on TV Era” we might say—and that is a painful fact for those of us who’ve looked up to him for so many years.