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Disney/ABC Replaces Lyons and Mankiewicz with Adult Critics Scott and Phillips

by Anne Thompson
August 5, 2009 11:45 AM
11 Comments
  • |
Thompson on Hollywood

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."

11 Comments

  • harlan jacobson | August 6, 2009 11:47 AMReply

    great news! dry is the new wet.

  • Alboone | August 6, 2009 10:08 AMReply

    Amen! There is a God!!! Although I did like Mankewicz, he seemed genuinely smart whom you could tell was biting on the lip to mix it up with the other Ben who quite frankly was just insufferable. You can't mix it up with someone without a brain. But this is good news indeed.

  • Carol | August 6, 2009 9:13 AMReply

    Watched the prior At The Movies once after Roeper and once was enough. Can't wait for the new show!! As a replacement for Ebert and Roeper have been reading Philips', Ebert's and Scott's print reviews, but I can't wait for the discusiion between Philips and Scott. Finally intelligent movie reviews on TV again. It was becuase of Siskel and Ebert I became a film student--I'm sure the level of reviews will now continue!

  • Glenn Kenny | August 6, 2009 5:04 AMReply

    To the guy asking why they don't get Roeper back: I was hearing for quite some time, even before the switch to the two Bens, that Richard just wasn't feeling it about movies anymore and wanted to develop a sports show or some such thing. So that might have something to do with it.

  • Edward Cullen | August 6, 2009 3:00 AMReply

    How does the lofty New York Times justify having their head film critic on the Disney payroll? Will Scott recuse himself from reviewing Disney films?

  • Alan Green | August 6, 2009 1:54 AMReply

    have to apologize to ben mankiewicz. i lumped him with the other ben w/o thinking. mankiewicz was okay, i think. but, to me, he couldn't stand lyons -- it was pretty obvious -- and that didn't help the feel of the show.

    lyons was the real problem. his reviews were of the 'i really liked it' variety. he's so young -- you get the impression he couldn't tell you anything about film history or style, what influences a director or writer has, or the differences in camera technique.

    the irony is, if they weren't replacing ebert and roeper (who got the unenviable task of trying to maintain the energy created by siskel), the two bens might have fared better. if they had a website instead of a tv show they'd better easier to take. any venue where there is less need for chemistry, and where it's not painfully obvious when one guy thinks little of the other.

    i doubt phillips and scott will click like siskel and ebert (who could?), but i'm looking forward to their informed opinions. the two bens didn't click and the show lacked that insider feel, but i think most of this gets pinned on lyons.

    i agree with wells' take:

    http://hollywood-elsewhere.com/2009/08/dong-dong_bens.php

  • Alan Green | August 5, 2009 11:42 AMReply

    i grew up with ebert and roeper. cannot express what their assessment of movies meant to me. watched every show. it came on twice per weekend on different channels where i was. watched both shows if i could (remember to). very important for a movie fan in the middle of nowhere with no friends who knew jack about movies, etc.

    watching the two bens was an undoable thing (for me). they just did not hold a candle.

    note to the two bens (i know you're reading this): get thicker-than-air.

  • Craig Kennedy | August 5, 2009 11:40 AMReply

    "with adult critics"
    hahahah.

  • Ryan Sartor | August 5, 2009 10:43 AMReply

    Lyons and Mankiewicz were unbearable. Scott's very dry, you're right. I wonder why they didn't get Roeper back. I always liked his and Philips' back and forth. Ebert writes about an upcoming show starring Roeper and himself. I'd love to see what that is, no matter what the format.

  • mitkid | August 5, 2009 10:25 AMReply

    Here here, watched the two Bens twice, then switched viewing habits. Now and then (not often) the right thing happens.

  • Sergio | August 5, 2009 9:55 AMReply

    THERE IS A GOD!

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