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Siskel and Ebert
Medium
NationalityAmerican
Years active1975–1999
Genres
Notable works and rolesOpening Soon at a Theater Near You (1975–1977)
Sneak Previews (1977–1982)
At the Movies (1982–1986)
Siskel & Ebert (1986–1999)
Members

Gene Siskel (January 26, 1946 – February 20, 1999) and Roger Ebert (June 18, 1942 – April 4, 2013), collectively known as Siskel & Ebert, were American film critics known for their partnership on television lasting from 1975 to Siskel's death in 1999.

At the time two of the most well-known film critics writing for Chicago newspapers (Siskel for the Tribune, Ebert for the rival Sun-Times), the two were first paired up as the hosts of a monthly show called Opening Soon at a Theatre Near You, airing locally on PBS member station WTTW. In 1977, the show — renamed Sneak Previews — was expanded to weekly episodes and aired on PBS affiliates all around the United States. In 1982, the pair left Sneak Previews to create the syndicated show At the Movies. Following a contract dispute with Tribune Media in 1986, Siskel and Ebert signed with Buena Vista Television, creating Siskel & Ebert & the Movies (later renamed Siskel & Ebert, and renamed again several times after Siskel's death).

Known for their sharp and biting wit, intense professional rivalry, heated arguments, and their binary "Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down" summations, the duo became a sensation in American popular culture. Siskel and Ebert remained partners and in the public eye right up until Siskel's death from a brain tumor in 1999.

Early careers

Siskel started writing for the Chicago Tribune in 1969, becoming its film critic soon after. Ebert joined the Chicago Sun-Times in 1966, and started writing about film for the paper in 1967. In 1975, Ebert became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for criticism.

Partnership

Main articles: At the Movies (1982 TV program) and At the Movies (1986 TV program)

Siskel and Ebert started their professional collaboration on the local Chicago PBS station WTTW with a show entitled Opening Soon at a Theatre Near You (1975-1977), before it was renamed two years later when the show was syndicated nationally to Sneak Previews (1977-1982). The show was later distributed by Tribune Broadcasting and changed to At the Movies (1982-1986), and final iteration of the show was when it was produced by The Walt Disney Company with Siskel & Ebert & the Movies (1986-1999). During its largely successful run with Siskel and Ebert as hosts, the series was nominated for various awards including for Daytime Emmy Awards as well as seven Primetime Emmy Awards including for Outstanding Information Series.[1] Siskel died of a terminal brain cancer in 1999. Ebert continued with the series with rotating guest which included Martin Scorsese, Janet Maslin, Peter Bogdanovich, Todd McCarthy, Lisa Schwarzbaum, Kenneth Turan, Elvis Mitchell, and the eventual replacement for Siskel, Richard Roeper.

Review style and trademarks

Siskel and Ebert's reviewing style has been described as a form of midwestern populist criticism rather than the one formed through essays which other critics including Pauline Kael felt undermined and undervalued the profession of film criticism.[2] They were criticized for their ability to sensationalize film criticism in an easygoing, relatable way. Together they are credited with forming modern day film criticism. The New York Times described Ebert's reviews as a “critic for the common man".[3]

The pair were also known for their intense debate, often drawing sharp criticisms at each other. Ebert reminisced about the experience saying, "Gene Siskel and I were like tuning forks, 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.”[4]

In 1983, the critics defended Star Wars films against critic John Simon in an episode of ABC News Nightline. The film Return of the Jedi (1983) had hit theaters that summer and Simon was criticizing the film for "making children dumber than they need to be". Ebert responded saying, "I don’t know what he did as a child, but I spent a lot of my Saturday matinees watching science fiction movies and serials and having a great time and being stimulated and having my imagination stimulated and having all sorts of visions take place in my mind that would help me to become an adult and to still stay young at heart. I wouldn’t say that I am childlike, but that [Simon] is old at heart.”[5]

Advocacy

The pair also advocated for up-and-coming filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Steve James, Quentin Tarantino, Jane Campion, Michael Moore and Werner Herzog.

They especially decried the lack of an Academy Award for Best Picture for Lee's Do the Right Thing (1989), and James' Hoop Dreams (1994)[6][7]

Appearances

Siskel and Ebert were known for their many appearances on late night talk shows including appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman sixteen times and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson fifteen times. They also appeared together on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Arsenio Hall Show, Howard Stern, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

Together they also voiced themselves in an episode of the animated comedy series The Critic in 1995 entitled, "Siskel & Ebert & Jay & Alice".

They also appeared as themselves on Saturday Night Live three times, 1982, 1983, and 1985. They appeared in the episode "Chevy Chase/Queen" (1982) where they reviewed sketches from the night's telecast.[8]

Siskel and Ebert were satirized on the popular Nickelodeon series Doug in the episode "Doug's Monster Movie". They appear in a dream sequence and vote two thumbs down on Doug's home movie.

Awards and nominations

Siskel and Ebert received a Chicago Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Program in 1979. They also received seven Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Informational Series. They also received three Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Series from 1989 to 1991.

References

  1. ^ "Siskel and Ebert - Awards". May 20, 2021.
  2. ^ "Criticwire Survey: Ebert". IndieWire. July 7, 2014. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  3. ^ Martin, Douglas (April 4, 2013). "Roger Ebert Dies at 70; a Critic for the Common Man". The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  4. ^ Wood, Jennifer M. (September 13, 2016). "13 Facts About Siskel and Ebert At the Movies". Mental Floss. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  5. ^ Parker, Ryan (October 25, 2019). "When Siskel and Ebert Defended 'Star Wars' After It Was Called Not Cinema". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  6. ^ Collins, K. Austin (January 22, 2019). "When the Oscars chose Driving Miss Daisy over Do the Right Thing". Vanity Fair. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  7. ^ "Siskel & Ebert - Hoop Dreams (Compilation)". Youtube. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  8. ^ Blevins, Joe (November 18, 2015). "The Night Siskel and Ebert Took Over 'SNL'". Vulture. Retrieved May 20, 2021.