Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On Ebert's New Show

As you have probably heard and hopefully even seen, Roger Ebert returned to television with his new show, Ebert Presents At The Movies. Since he lost the ability to talk following complications from cancer, the fate of his long-running "At The Movies" endured a series of blows before finally being shut down. First, Buena Vista put a pair of mismatched hosts, one of whom was designed to appeal to the "average" movie fan. This completely failed. Ebert deserves credit for having the gumption to restart the program, doing it the way he wants.

After seeing the first episode, here are my reactions. The format is nothing new. It's the same one that Ebert created with Gene Siskel 25 years ago. Two critics debate the latest releases, and get it over with quickly enough to cover five or six movies in a half hour plus commercials. And that's probably OK. The only real reason the last show ended was that Ebert couldn't perform anymore.

Now, all eyes are on Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and Christy Lemire. I have to feel for them. Siskel and Ebert were able to start with a complete void of expectations. Nobody was paying much attention. Now these two are expected to carry the mantle while everyone watches them get their sea legs. And it's clear that they don't have them yet. Every movie discussion feels like they are a couple on a first date. They're both polite and when they disagree, they don't really want to get into an argument. Both are still hoping they'll hit it off and at least make it to date #2. And in that respect, the chemistry will simply take some time.

Perhaps more worrisome is that both hosts are clearly reading their parts. Yes, I know this is how television works. But it's important to keep in mind that these are writers, not talking heads. And it is also going to take them a while to feel comfortable being in front of a camera. They will surely improve, but the question is how soon. In this area the show may have made a miscalculation. For me, I don't really give a damn. If they are giving insightful commentary and an interesting take, I don't care if they stammer their way through the half-hour, but what I think doesn't matter so much

What is important is that a show like this succeeds. Because the movie industry is steadily devolving into marketed products. As Erik Lundergaard recently pointed out, whether a movie is, you know, good or not plays a bigger role in how it fares commercially than movie executives would like to think. But that's because most movie executives don't really care about seeing quality movies. They are marketers who are looking to get return on investment. And they feel that if they can get their movie's toys in Happy Meals across America, they will make a profit.

A show like this has power to combat that. It can bring more attention to the best movies, and get more people to shun the awful ones. But that will only happen if the show is good. People like you and me are going to find our own movie news and opinions. If the show fails, we will have our other outlets online. And there are only so many of us, anyway. What I would love to see is this show having the same impact on the public at large that Ebert's previous show did.

I know. I'm judging this output way too quickly. We owe them a fair shake. Watch as much as you can. Write the TV stations and tell them you want more. Because it's the best chance we have for worthwhile criticism being as mainstream as possible. The show matters, and the more support it gets, the better.

Bear with the new hosts. Once they're grow into "couplehood", we can expect some worthwhile battles of wit between Lemire and Vishnevetsky. Ideally they can even get to fighting like an intelligent yet acerbic married couple. If it doesn't work out, well, we'll have to try to find a way to enjoy Ashton Kutcher movies.


PMaz said...

I watched it and started to wonder, "Is Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (he might want to go by something that rolls more easily off the tongue, like Iggy Vicious) ever going to not like a movie?" I think he panned one, but they were pretty gentle with one another and lacked chemistry. But it's too early to judge, I agree. I really liked A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips, but technically, that was an unrelated show. Oh, and I hate to admit it, but I laughed out loud when Roger Ebert gave the thumbs up.

Reed said...

Yeah, I forgot to mention that Iggy gave every movie a thumbs up and Christy gave them all thumbs down. But they never really disagreed about anything. Weird.