Siskel And Ebert Facts You Didn’t Know

At the Movies, originally called Siskel & Ebert & the Movies, and later At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper is a movie review TV program in which two film critics share their opinions of newly released films. Its original hosts were Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.

While Siskel and Ebert were hosts, the show was nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards seven times and also for Outstanding Information Series. The show’s cancellation was announced on March 24, 2010, and the last episode was aired during the weekend of August 14–15, 2010.

During its run, the show was well-loved, and if it wasn’t for an unfortunate loss, the show possibly couldn’t have ended. Read on to find out the other reasons why this show was well-loved.

12. Roger Ebert Once Dated Oprah Winfrey

Believe it or not, Roger Ebert and Oprah Winfrey went out on two dates, but the one that made history started when they went to the movies. Afterward, they went to the Hamburger Hamlet for dinner. While having dinner, Ebert urged her into syndicating her show. This suggestion led her to take over the world. Good one for Roger.

Roger Ebert is also a Pulitzer Prize Winning writer. And they don’t hand these out to just anybody. In 1975, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for his writing. Gene Siskel, on the other hand, was a Yale graduate with a degree in philosophy. Even though the pair is considered as acclaimed thinkers, they were commendeded for not talking down to their audience and for appearing more like quarreling brothers than university professors.

11. They Didn’t Fight That Often

There is a held belief that Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert disagreed most of the time. This is, in fact, not true. They agree most of the time on either a negative or positive review, but since they were best known for their feuds in between, the belief has grown that the two were always at odds with each other. Taken from all of the films that they reviewed in their years together they only disagreed about 30% of the time.

Their differences are what made them so appealing. People find them funny and their reviews, while intelligent are upgraded by an easy chemistry and sense of humor. They were perfectly matched opposing power. While Roger Ebert was the thoughtful, artistic soul, Gene Siskel was the pushy, no-nonsense reporter. Their contrasting personalities, along with their academic knowledge of cinema, helped elevate the show and give humor in their reviews.

10. Siskel and Ebert Had Worked Together Even Before Their Flagship Show

Although the well-loved film review series started its run on September 13, 1986, as Siskel and Ebert and the Movies, it wasn’t the first time Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert had worked on a TV program. From 1975 to 1982, the two critics had co-hosted the PBS series Sneak Previews.

Before the show, they came from the biggest rival newspapers in the country. Gene Siskel was the film critic for the elitist Chicago Tribune, while Roger Ebert wrote his reviews for the blue collar Chicago Sun-Times. Both newspapers had an intense rivalry. The stage was set for high tensions when one TV producer suggested pairing both critics up for a show in which they review and debate upcoming movies.

9. They Fought Harder For Each Other Than They Did Against Each Other

Though Ebert acknowledged that he and Siskel often disagreed on movies, when it came to real life, they always had each other’s backs. “In my darkest and moodiest hours, when all my competitiveness and resentment and indignation were at a roiling boil, I never considered [going our separate ways],” Ebert wrote. “I know Gene never did either. We were linked in a bond beyond all disputing. ‘You may be an a**hole,’ Gene would say, ‘but you’re my a**hole.’ If we were fighting—get out of the room. But if we were teamed up against a common target, we were fatal.”

Besides reviewing movies, they also talked about the nature of moviemaking. Though reviews were their main business, Siskel and Ebert worked hard to develop an appreciation for the art of moviemaking itself in their viewers. The pair investigated into issues facing moviemakers of the day, including the colorization of films, the virtues of letterboxing, the art of black-and-white cinematography, and why the MPAA was the same as censorship.

8. They Filmed an Episode in Black and White

To demonstrate that point about black and white cinematography, Siskel and Ebert filmed an entire episode in black and white. Ebert confirmed that their approach worked: “Siskel & Ebert was the first, and often the only, television show of any kind to deal with many of these subjects,” he wrote. “It would be fair to say that most mainstream Americans who have formed an opinion on colorization and letterboxing were inspired to do so because of our program.”

Their philosophy has endured to this day. Both critics produced quotes that have become synonymous with movie criticism. Ebert used to say “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough” and “We live in a box of space and time. Movies are windows in its walls.” Siskel had a golden rule when it came to movies: “I always ask myself, ‘Is the movie that I am watching as interesting as a documentary of the same actors having lunch together?’”

7. A Coin Toss Determined Whose Name Would Be Listed First In the Title

According to the Archive of American Television, Siskel and Ebert decided whose name would come first in the title of their new show by a coin toss. They originally planned to switch the order of their names every two years. But the title became so well-known that they decided not to change it.

Ebert described the tension-filled first days. Ebert wrote: “We both thought of ourselves as full-service, one-stop film critics. We didn’t see why the other one was quite necessary. We had been linked in a Faustian television format that brought us success at the price of autonomy. No sooner had I expressed a verdict on a movie, my verdict, then here came Siskel with the arrogance to say I was wrong, or, for that matter, the condescension to agree with me.”

6. They Turned Audiences’ Attention Onto Some Independent Films and Documentaries

While most parts of the show were dedicated to major Hollywood movies, Siskel and Ebert made a point to review smaller films, including foreign films, art house movies, and documentaries.

A bad review of the Fisher King led to a villain named Siskel in The Ref. Ahead of the 1992 Academy Awards, Siskel and Ebert ran a pre-Oscars special where they discussed that year’s nominees and Siskel announced The Fisher King, written by Richard LaGravenese, among the least deserving nominees. Two years later, while watching The Ref, also penned by LaGravenese, Siskel noticed something odd: The bad guy’s name was Siskel. “I think it’s a strange form of revenge,” Siskel said. “I don’t know that it’s the most effective form of protest. I think people may be waiting for a Roger Ebert joke after that.”

5. They Used To Have a Dog Sidekick, Then a Skunk

When they were first starting out, Siskel and Ebert used fun little gimmicks here and there. First, there was Spot the Wonder Dog, who helped the duo reveal the worst movie of the week (a.k.a. the “dog”). When asked about the canine, Ebert told The Washington Post, “You want the story of Spot, I’ll tell you the story of Spot. Spot was fired by PBS because of his salary demands. He was getting $40 a week.” Then came Aroma the skunk, who introduced the critics’ Stinker-of-the-Week.

The duo trademarked the phrase “Two Thumbs Up.” Siskel and Ebert popularized the idea of a thumbs up/thumbs down rating system, with “two thumbs up” being the holy grail for any filmmaker lucky enough to have his or her film reviewed by the duo. This practice strayed from the longstanding tradition of ratings with a number of stars or other symbols. As the show became more influential, studios would proudly advertise when their movie got “two thumbs up.”

4. The Balcony Seats Were Eventually Destroyed

Like many movie props before them, the balcony seats the film critics kept for so many years were eventually destroyed. Ebert was not happy. He wrote about how “one of the most iconic set ideas in … television history, which had survived for more than half of the life of the medium” and which he believed belonged in the Smithsonian were instead thrown “in a dumpster in the alley.”

Aside from movies, Gene Siskel was also an extreme Chicago Bulls fan. When asked to describe his favorite things about Chicago, he said “Mayor Daley” and “Michael Jordan.” Siskel was a season ticket holder and is often seen courtside at Bulls games. He occasionally did reporting and commentary on the Bulls for WBBM-TV, including interviewing a champagne-soaked Michael Jordan after their fourth championship victory. 

3. Disney Claimed That Ebert Forced Them to Pull Those Thumbs during One Heated Contract Negotiation

In 2007, Disney pulled the thumbs system from the program during contractual negotiations with Ebert over his involvement with the program. Disney said that Ebert forced the program to do so. Ebert said that Disney ordered the thumbs removed from the show, having not expected this after  over 22 years: “I had made it clear the THUMBS could remain during good-faith negotiations.”

The dynamic duo was irreplaceable and the show died with a whimper after Ebert left. In the summer of 2008, Ebert and Roeper both walked away from At the Movies, unhappy with the direction the producers wanted to take the show. They weren’t alone in their discontent. When the new At the Movies debuted with hosts Ben Mankiewicz and Ben Lyons, many complained that the show had been dumbed down. You couldn’t replace a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and Philosophy degree holder.

2. Their Disagreements Were the Show’s Main Draw

Any fan of Siskel and Ebert and the Movies can tell you that some of its best moments came when the critics were in a serious argument about a movie. And while the critics themselves knew that their frequent differences of opinion were one of the show’s main attraction, their relationship was based on fierce mutual respect.

Ebert wrote about their chemistry. “Gene Siskel and I were like tuning forks,” Ebert wrote on the 10th anniversary of his longtime partner’s passing. “Strike one, and the other would pick up the same frequency. When we were in a group together, we were always intensely aware of one another. Sometimes this took the form of camaraderie, sometimes shared opinions, sometimes hostility. But we were aware. If something happened that we both thought was funny but weren’t supposed to, God help us if one caught the other’s eye. We almost always thought the same things were funny. That may be the best sign of intellectual communion.”

1. Siskel Hid His Terminal Brain Cancer from Ebert until His Final Days

“He didn’t really want the TV show producers at Disney to know how sick he was. … and Roger didn’t know. And that really wounded Roger,” said Ebert’s ex-producer Thea Flaum. “I don’t think it’s that he didn’t trust Roger personally. Nonetheless, when something like that happens, you take it personally. How else is there to take it?” Eventually, Ebert learned Siskel was sick. But it was too late. Ebert’s widow Chaz Ebert said the timing was tragic. “I was so sad for Roger for not being able to tell his ‘brother’ goodbye. We were going to go and visit him that Monday, but he passed away that Saturday.”

The show must go on. After Siskel had died suddenly Feb. 20, 1999, of a brain aneurysm, a saddened Ebert continued the show with a rotating cast of critics and film lovers before eventually settling on new co-host Richard Roeper, another writer (though not a film critic) from The Chicago Tribune. While Roeper did an admirable job, the show lacked that magical chemistry of two rival film critics at the top of their games.

See, the show just didn’t do an ordinary movie review. The hosts, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, elevated the level of the show nd made their viewers think critically about the movie. It wasn’t just plain criticisms but it intelligent criticisms from these two brilliant minds.

They knew the movie industry well and didn’t just throw critiques without thinking well. Sadly, Gene Siskel unknowingly even to his partner passed away which was painful to his “brother.” They we’re on top of their game and was considered the best.

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