2010-2011: The Television Season That Was

The 2010-11 television season has technically come to an end with the broadcast of this year's Emmy Awards. While at the moment everyone is looking forward to this years fall season, lets take some time to reflect on the season that was.

Last season saw the debut of 30 new network shows. There were some modest successes, including "Body of Proof", "Mike & Molly", "Raising Hope" and "Blue Bloods", but the stand out hit was "Hawaii Five-0". Here was a textbook example of the right way to do a reboot of a classic series. Update it a little, add thrills that the original was missing, perhaps change the gender on a few characters, but do not stray too far from the original. Why even bother rebooting a series when you end up with something completely different? "Battlestar Galactica" did it right by reimagining the same characters and keeping the same premise of humans on the run from killer robots, all protected by the last surviving space battleship. Then they added a new twist borrowed from the Terminator movies, give the robots skin so that they could infiltrate the humans and not be suspected. "V" also followed this formula which kept it around for two seasons. "The Bionic Woman" did not follow this formula. With exception to the lead character's name and the fact she ended up bionic, the series had nothing in common with it's original. The whole point of a reboot is that the original series got it right the first time around. That is why it was successful, and the only reason you are doing a reboot in the first place was to capitalize on the original's success. Come up with something completely different then not only do you end up losing fans of the original, but you also have this completely new show that may or may not catch on with viewers. "The Bionic Woman" did not catch on, and as a result was cancelled after a few weeks.

Another reboot that strayed way too far from it's original was "The Defenders". The original had two strait-laced California defense attorneys, a father and son team who defended civil rights cases. The reboot was a legal dramedy which had two wacky Las Vegas lawyers ( Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell ) defending a wide variety of clients via wacky court room stunts. The series seemed more like a reboot of "Boston Legal" than the original series from which it took it's name. While it's ratings were not exactly in the toilet, they just were not good enough for CBS to give the series a second season. And just when cable television began a trend of dramedies featuring two wacky lawyers, USA Network's "Suits" and TBS' "Franklin & Bash". ( Both series were picked up by their respective networks for a second season. ) The 2011 season was disastrous for new courtroom series, the lone exception being the late-mid season replacement series "Harry's Law". Among the shows that didn't make it were Jerry Bruckheimer's "The Whole Truth" that followed both the defence team and district attorney's office, Jimmy Smits playing a judge on the Supreme Court who resigns so he can become a defense attorney in "Outlaw", and the series NBC cancelled the original "Law & Order" to make room for, the sexier "Law & Order: Las Angeles" which tried to stay afloat by mid season cast changes and a very special episode where the lead character played by Skeet Ulrich is murdered.

The carnage did not end with law procedurals. NBC tried once again to capitalize on the formula created by "Lost", this time with the series "The Event". I'll give this series credit. Unlike other shows of this type that take an entire season or more to give answers to any of the secrets, "The Event" did so within a few weeks. The first few episodes began with characters doing strange unexplained things, followed by flashback sequences that bit by bit showed why they were doing what they did, and had a lot of government officials talking about an "Event" that they did not want the public knowing about. But only after a few episodes the flashbacks were gone, the story became linear, and the event was revealed to have been the crash of an alien space craft back in the 1940s, half the crew which were able to scamper off to safety while the rest were captured by the army and imprisoned for 60 years. ( Did I also mention they did not age? ). By this time the only secret not revealed was the mysterious group who had attempted to assassinate the President by crashing a jet plane into a press conference he was holding. The assassination attempt took place during the first episode and ended with that same jet vanishing, leading to NBC claiming in promos that millions of Americans were asking the same question, "What happened to the plane?" I never asked that question, and I do not recall anyone else asking it. And judging by the drop off of nearly 2 million viewers who did not watch the following week's episode, millions of Americans could not care less where the plane went.



More Failures

Another failure was "No Ordinary Family", a show that took the same elements that caused the series "Heroes" to fail and implanted it into a brand new series. Take a typical American family, send them on a vacation to a jungle near the Amazon, have their plane crash into a mysterious glowing lake, then give each family member their own power as a result. Oh, and have most of the family restraining their powers for the majority of the season. Only Michael Chiklis' character, who gains super strength and bullet proof skin, decides he should use it to act as a superhero. The rest of the family uses their powers to tackle chores and schoolwork, only occasionally helping Dad out. One wonders why television producers keep getting this genre wrong. The whole point of giving characters powers is so they can use them to fight crime and save victims from disasters. Not for sitting around for an entire season debating if it was proper to use them. Turn them into superheroes by the end of the first episode, costumes and everything. Have the first supervillains by the second episode at least. If you are not going to do that then don't waste perfectly good super powers on them.

With "Lost" concluding the prior season, fans looked forward to the next J.J. Abrams series. That series was suppose to be "Under Covers", a throwback to annoying series like "Hart to Hart". The show begins with two ex-secret agents ( Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Boris Kodjoe ) who both retired after they got married. They are drafted out of retirement when a fellow agent and former friend disappeared on a mission, and predictably they are the only ones who can find and rescue him. The couple work so well together that they are convinced to remain active so they can be recruited for the occasional mission. Abrams had created the superior secret agent series "Alias", so there was expectations that this series would have been as dynamic. It wasn't. At lest two thirds of each episode was the couple bickering.

Last season's most spectacular cancellation was predictably on FOX. "Lone Star" was last season's most critically acclaimed new series, but that did not save it from being pulled after only two episodes. But the season's most confusing cancellation was "$#*! My Dad Says" pronounced in the network promos as "Bleep My Dad Says" but who's real title was "Shit My Dad Says" It was based on a twitter account started by out of work comedy writer Justin Halpern where he posted the often vulgar quotes made by his father. The account picked up a cult following, and eventually Halpern got a television deal to produce a sitcom based on it. This despite the fact that the account's name and nearly all the quotes could not be used on network television. The result was a lame sitcom about an out of work writer named Henry ( Jonathan Sadowski ) who is forced to move back in with his opinionated Father ( William Shatner ). As the series progressed it became more formula and the Henrey character was marginalized to practically being written out completely while most of the supporting characters took more prominence. Despite the premise being a bad idea for censored network television, and despite critics panning the series, it turned out to be a minor hit averaging around 10.5 million viewers. It was also voted best New Comedy at the People's Choice Awards. This did not stop CBS from pulling it from the schedule in February of 2011 to make room for "Rules Of Engagement" which was being moved from it's Monday night time slot. And while "Rules Of Engagement" ended up losing almost 3 million viewers in the same time slot, CBS announced that "$#*! My Dad Says" would be cancelled while "Rules Of Engagement" would be getting a sixth season.



Mid Season Mistakes

Lots of cancellations meant mid season replacements. In some cases this meant a second chance for older nearly cancelled series, like "Parks And Recreation", in other cases it meant a second chance for new series that were not yet cancelled but on hiatus, like "The Event". But for the most part it allowed for a lot of new second string series. In the past this included "Seinfeld" which was a mid season replacement three years in a row before being picked up as a regular series. Hoping that lightning can strike twice NBC ordered 7 episodes of "The Paul Reiser Show" which shamelessly aped "Seinfeld". NBC cancelled it after two episodes, electing not to air the other five. But take heart Paul, the same thing happened to "Seinfeld", cancelled after one episode and the rest of the first season airing as a replacement series a year later. Of course, "Seinfeld" did not tank at 2 million viewers. Other notable mid season failures included a series starring Matthew Perry as a manager of an arena called "Mr Sunshine", another critically acclaimed series that had the misfortune of airing on FOX called "The Chicago Code", a medical series from the producers of "Grey's Anatomy" set in a jungle called "Off The Map", Paula Abdul's "Live To Dance", and a superhero series called "The Cape" where the hero's powers were.... well, actually he had no powers, did he? But he did have a nifty cape which he learned to use like a whip. "The Cape" was actually a fun series, but having to overcome the crutch of a powerless hero who more often than not got his ass kicked, it did not do well in the ratings.

Another mid season failure after only four episodes was the reality series "Same Name" where a celebrity changes places for a few days with some random person ( apparently picked out of a phone book ) with the same name. It is not usual for reality shows to get the early cancellation for the simple reason they are so cheap to produce that even the lowest rated episodes make money. Perhaps they should have realized by that time that the featured celebrity in the first episode, David Hasselhoff, had already failed with his own reality show "The Hasselhoffs" on A&E. It was cancelled after the first night where an average of only 600,000 viewers watched. Other high profile celebrities who's reality shows failed this past season include Paris Hilton in "The World According to Paris" and "Sarah Palin's Alaska". After only one season "Kate Plus 8" bit the dust as viewers were less interested in seeing the spoiled brat and her kids now that she drove her husband off.



Prime Time Game Shows ( the )

Despite the declining ratings of reality programming on cable ( this mostly due to too many celebreality programs competing at the same time ), on network television reality game shows were for the most part stronger than ever. The second biggest story last season was the fate of "American Idol". The previous year was the first season without original judge Paula Abdul, the arrival of new judge Ellen DeGeneres, and the announced final season with Simon Cowell. After the season finale DeGeneres announced she was resigning to devote more time to her daytime talk show. It later turned out FOX asked her to leave, giving her the opportunity to resign rather than be humiliated by being publicly fired. Fourth judge Kara DioGuardi was simply never offered a contract for the 2011 season. Randy Jackson was the only remaining judge. With the announcement that Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez would be new judges everyone suspected that this new version of "American Idol" would fail. It didn't. Once again "American Idol" was the highest rated network show of the season. By mid season the ratings were now a non issue, enough so that the big news from the series was contestant Pia Toscano who was presumed to be the front runner suddenly voted off in 9th place. There was such outrage at her departure that thousands, including celebrities, tweeted that they would no longer be watching the show. The revolt never happened.

It had been a disastrous year for Christina Aguilera. Her studio album "Bionic" tanked, as did her first movie "Burlesque" which ended up on many critics worst film of the year list. She divorced husband Jordan Bratman, got the words wrong to the National Anthem while singing it live at the Super Bowl, slipped on the stage while singing live at the Grammy awards, and put on a lot of weight. So it was an amazing turn around of luck when the show she agreed to judge on, a mid season replacement "American Idol" style show called "The Voice" turned out to be a huge surprise hit for NBC. Meanwhile "The Apprentice" continued to sink in the ratings. It had nearly been cancelled in 2007 when Trump suggested a celebrity version. This season saw a return to the normal non-celebrity version, although the ratings were so low that instead of having the usual two hour long live finale, the winner was picked in the board room in a taped sequence tagged on to the end of the 13th episode. This was the first time since the first season of Survivor that a major reality game show did not announce the winner during a live broadcast, a precaution to prevent the winner's identity leaked prior to the finale's broadcast date. Trump did returned to the Celebrity format later in the season where we got to see Meatloaf scream at Gary Busey when his paint went missing.

The reality show that got the most attention was "The Bachelorette" where Bachelorette Ashley Hebert fell head over heels for evil contestant Bentley Williams. Even after Bentley broke her heart by dropping out of the competition Ashley begged producers to bring him back. As this drama played out, coverage of it dominated media news shows like "Entertainment Tonight" giving "The Bachelorette" more publicity then it actually deserved. This was brilliant strategy from the executives at ABC. What was not so brilliant was taking the summer show "Wipeout" and turning it into a full season show with Winter and Spring mini-seasons as well as the summer mini-season. "Wipeout" is the series where a group of unintelligent contestants agree to run through an obstacle course designed to have them smashed in the head by props or fall off high platforms, usually landing in water, but often landing in mud puddles or pools of spoiled food. Each round the slowest contestants are eliminated until only three are left for the final round and a chance to win $50,000. The original format had a dozen episodes shown during the summer, leaving the air by the time the new season began. This allowed three months before new episodes aired during the next summer. Having few episodes a year and a long break kept this one joke series from wearing thin with it's viewers. ABC got lucky with high ratings for it's winter mini-season, but is risking over exposing the show into oblivion.

But perhaps the biggest strategic misfire was for CBS' "Survivor: Redemption Island". It was suppose to be a rematch between contestants Rob Mariano and Russell Hantz, both who returned among competing tribes of new contestants. It was also a third chance for Russell to win the game after making it into the final round two seasons in a row but not winning the jury vote. The new Redemption Island twist to the game put voted off contestants on a separate island where each week they competed against other voted off contestants, that weeks winner allowed to stay on the island and compete against the next voted off contestant. The contestant remaining on Redemption Island after the tribes merge would be sent back into the game. The process would repeat again until the final four, then that surviving Redemption Island contestant would also return to the game. This all seemed like a fail safe for Rob and Russell. Producers wanted them to last in the game into the merger and a rematch from when Russell got Rob voted off a year earlier during "Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains". Should either Rob or Russell manage to be voted off, they would end up as strong contestants on Redemption Island competing against novices and would have a good chance of returning to the game. Should both Rob and Russell end up on Redemption Island at the same time then their showdown would be decided there. Unfortunately the new contestants had their own ideas. While usually the weakest players are voted off prior to the merger, in the second episode Robs tribe voted off their strongest player Matt. A week later Russell's tribe deliberately threw their immunity challenge and promptly voted Russell out. This pitted Russell against Matt with Matt winning and a crying Russell being sent home. Also crying must have been the show's producers who had no choice but to watch their plans for a Rob/Russell rematch went up in flames. Matt continued to win match after match on Redemption Island and returning to the game during the merger. By that time Russell's former tribe had lost their momentum after throwing the third immunity challenge and found themselves a tribe member short during the merger. Matt now represented the wild card vote, but without Russell to manipulate him wound up returning to the tribe who voted him out. They in turn blindsided him and voted him back to Redemption Island. Rob's tribe then continued to vote off members of the competing tribe making the game way too predictable, something producers hate. Meanwhile Matt continued to beat the odds and win match after match on Redemption Island. This could have been a great story had Matt returned to the game a second time, even better if he had gone on to win the game. But he lost in the final Redemption Island challenge to contestant Andrea, who in turn failed to win immunity after returning to her tribe and ended up being voted off again. Redemption Island ended up being nothing. It was no surprise when Rob won the game. The season was a bust. And a lesson to be learned for those producers who think they can control the outcome of reality in their shows. Sometimes contestants are idiots, and that's that.



Cancelled vs. Going Out On Top

There is a difference between shows that are cancelled and shows that retire. Cancelled shows find out they will not be renewed when their season is over. Sometimes the network gives them the news early enough that they have time to shoot a final episode that wraps the series up. Sometimes the season's final episode was already shot, but there is enough time to film a new scene or at least a voice over in post that wraps story lines and cliffhangers up. More likely shows are cancelled after the final episode has aired, or even cancelled mid season with anywhere up to a dozen episodes that the network does not air. I have already discusses the cancellations from last year's batch of new shows. There were also a lot of older shows to get the boot. The oldest was "Medium" which had already been cancelled by NBC, but wound up on CBS for it's 6th and 7th season. CBS even gave the shows producers enough time to write a proper final episode. "Brothers & Sisters" was cancelled after 5 seasons with no proper finale. The reboot of "V" was cancelled after two seasons with a cliffhanger episode. The CW cancelled "Life Unexpected" after two seasons. Also cancelled were a number of FOX shows including "The Human Target" after two seasons and "The Good Guys" which began as a replacement series for the 2009-2010 season and continued its first and only season into the 2010-2011 prime time schedule. The biggest news among cancellations was "Americas Most Wanted" after 26 years, but is going to return on the Lifetime Network later this year.

Now, shows that are retiring are either shows that their producers decided to bring to an end, or that the network has decided to end, but in either case this is known by the opening of the first episode of the season so hat we are given an entire final season. This allows writers up to 24 episodes to conclude the series properly as everything leads up to the emotional final episode. This also gives producers a chance to convince actors who left the series to return for the final few episodes, or at least a cameo in the finale. This years most prominent retiring show was the CW's "Smallville", which everyone agrees, should have been retired at least four years ago. Teenager Clark Kent was now in his 30s. Everyone in "Smallville" was now either dead or had permanently left town. This included Clark who now lived in Metropolis and now worked for the Daily Planet. An edict from DC comics prevented the series from allowing Kent to fly, use the Superman costume or become a character called Superman. So instead he ran around town, really fast, as a superhero called The Blue-Red Blur. No costume, just that Clark's red jacket and blue T-shirt which he referred to wear while saving people appeared that way to the naked eye. Eventually DC even prevented the series from using these colors, so Clark began wearing black clothing and calling himself simply The Blur. As the series dragged on longer than it should have producers were given ample chance to screw up the Superman legend. Not only was there now no chance for a Superboy in this version of Clark's back story, but Jimmy Olsen, Doomsday and Lex Luthor are all killed off prior to the existence of Superman, among other major alterations to the Superman legend. The final episode gave the series writers a chance to write themselves out of this mess somewhat. Jimmy Olsen's younger brother changes his name to Jimmy and takes his brother's place, Lex Luthor is cloned back into existence, and characters who knew Clark's secret either permanently lost their memories or got killed off. DC enforced their edict even trough the final episode. Once he finally dons his Superman costume he is either in extreme closeup or blurred by the glare of the sun, and his character is only mentioned as now being called Superman in a flash forward taking place years after the events in the finale. For fans who stuck with the dragged out ten year origin of Superman, this was very frustrating.

Other series that were retired included NBC's "Friday Night Lights", ABC's "Supernanny", and moving over to cable FX's "Rescue Me" and HBO's "Entourage". Disney Channel had no choice but to retire three of their hit shows because they were too successful. "Hannah Montana" ended January 16 so that star Miley Cyrus could pursue her music career. Once the series wrapped father Billy Ray Cyrus let loose to the press accusing Disney of destroying his family. Another Disney series, "Sonny With A Chance" ended January 2 although not technically being retired. It's star Demi Lovato left both the show and a scheduled tour as back up act for the Jonas Brothers to go to rehab for "emotional issues". Coincidentally, this happened just as her own singing career took off, and when she left rehab it was to promote her new album and it's first single "Skyscraper" ( which went on to be her first hit ). A planned third season without Lavato was scrapped and instead producers are planning a spin off series called "So Random" featuring the same cast. "Wizards of Waverly Place" will leave the airwaves on October 7th, as Disney had decided to pace out the last few episodes so that the final season dragged on for an extra two months. Not only did series star Selena Gomez's singing career take off, but has branched off into a film career, has begun hosting award shows, has hooked up with Justin Bieber to form Hollywood's newest power couple Gober, and has also become a fashion designer. Way too busy to continue working for Disney. While Disney was going through the nightmare of having to end their most popular shows, ABC decided they wanted to clear out their afternoon programming and replace it with public access quality crap. Long time soap operas "One Life to Live" and "All My Children" were both told they had six months to clear out. These cancellations were not as tragic as the cancellation of "The Guiding Light" which debuted in 1937 as a radio show and moving to television in 1952 making it the all time longest running show at 72 years. Both OLTL and AMC were only a measly four decades old. But AMC was once one of televisions highest profile soap operas when star Susan Lucci was nominated 18 times for a Daytime Emmy for leading actress in a daytime series without winning. When her losing streak finally ended in 1999 so did the media's interest in her.



Celebrities Forced Into Retirement

Also retiring was "The Oprah Winfrey Show" after 25 years. This season saw many high profile television personalities either retiring or announcing their retirement, including Larry King from his CNN show, Mary Hart from "Entertainment Tonight", Regis Philbin from "Live", Glen Beck from FOX News, Katie Couric from the "CBS Evening News" and Meredith Viera from "The Today Show". Every one of them gave the usual excuse of wanting to spend more time with the family and/or work on other projects, but the more likely story is that they were all forced out. Each one of them had contracts that expired at the end of 2010 or somewhere in 2011. It is very likely that when renegotiating for a new contract their respective broadcasters gave them the choice of either announcing retirement with dignity, or publicly being fired. It is not just the embarrassment of being publicly fired that they fear, but what follows. The broadcasters who fired them go on to give statements to the press about what a bad job they had been doing in the past few years, or how low their ratings had sank. Look what happened to poor Jerry Lewis this year. Last May the Muscular Dystrophy Association announced that Jerry Lewis would be retiring as the host of their annual Labor Day telethon after this year's broadcast, but would continue to serve as their national chairman. Lewis immediately released a statement that he was not retiring as the telethon's host. Two months later the MDA announced that Lewis would not be hosting that year, and that he had "retired" as their national chairman. After 57 years drawing attention to a disease that would have otherwise gone unnoticed by most of America, Jerry Lewis was unceremoniously forced out, and an attempt to stay only resorted in MDA forcing him out as chairman as well. Lewis finally accepted the forced resignation rather than face any further humiliation.

One celebrity who cared little about humiliation this year was Charlie Sheen. He drew a lot of attention last year with several drug induced incidents including the trashing of a posh hotel room with a porn star hiding in the closet and his ex-wife and children in the next room, and two separate times his car was "stolen" and later found parked vertically at the bottom of a cliff. The producer of "Two and a Half Men" ordered Sheen into rehab, but Sheen settled for his own stay at home version of rehab. The producer then cancelled the rest of the season and Sheen retaliated by publicly insulting him. A big mistake as the show's producer, Chuck Lorre, was reportedly far more nuts than Sheen was. Sheen ended up fired, retaliating via a series of insane rants on Youtube. There was also demands for a 50% raise if he was to return, the supposed ingestion of tiger blood, and finally a stage tour that was a bigger disaster than "Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark". When it was all over CBS announced that Sheen would be replaced with Ashton Kutcher, followed by the worst kept secret in Hollywood, that Sheen's character would be killed off. Of course all of this could have been avoided had Lorre done the decent thing and retired the series two years ago. The premise of the show was two bachelors raising a kid ( aka The Half Man ). That kid is now grown up and legally an adult. The only reason why the series continued was because of the popularity of Charlie Sheen's character. The kid's character had been marginalized by this time, basically filling the background of some scenes. Instead of firing Sheen, Lorre should have sucked it up, brought him back for the scheduled last four episodes, and then ended the series. The last episode would have the "Half Man" moving out of the house while Sheen and Cryer congratulate each other on what a fine job they did raising him. End of series and end of conflict between Sheen and Lorre. Instead we have the insanity of a series that does not have any reason to exist. It's original concept of two grown men and a child has long since concluded, and the show's star attraction is now gone.

Sometimes Shows Come Back

Last season saw the return of a few cancelled programs. New episodes of "Futurama" began airing on Comedy Central, while Conan O'Brien returned in his own TBS talk show. And just when you though "At The Movies" was finally dead, this year Roger Ebert surprised everyone by reviving it. The show began back in 1975 as "Opening Soon at a Theater Near You", a monthly program that pitted rival movie reviewers Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert against each other. The fun began whenever they disagreed on a review, each defending their own opinion and calling the opinion of the other unintelligent. Rumor was that both men hated each other. The show was produced by a Chicago PBS station WTTW and only aired once a month. It gained enough of a buzz that it was picked up nationally by PBS, becoming a weekly show called "Sneak Previews". In 1982 WTTW decided to put "Sneak Previews" into syndication, but made the mistake of thinking that any movie reviewer could host the show. Siskel & Ebert were not happy with the contract being offered to them, and WTTW told them to take it or leave it, and good luck finding anyone else interested in putting them on television. Within days they had a deal with Tribune Entertainment, their new show to be called "At The Movies". WTTW replaced them with Neal Gabler and Jeffrey Lyons, and that show continued for another 14 years, although the syndication deal fell apart soon after Siskel & Ebert left the show. "At The Movies" became a huge first run syndication success, but once again there was another contact dispute where Tribune took the position that Siskel & Ebert were replaceable. And in 1986 they were replaced with Rex Reed and Bill Harris. "At The Movies" lasted for another 8 years, but once. Before the year was over Siskel & Ebert had a new syndication deal with Disney's Buena Vista for a new show called "Siskel & Ebert and the Movies". When the Tribune show was finally cancelled in 1990 Siskel & Ebert reclaimed the show's title renaming their program "At The Movies with Siskel & Ebert"

Following me so far? Siskel & Ebert became huge media stars. Aside from hosting a special episode of "Saturday Night Live" they were also frequent guests on "The Tonight Show", radio's "Howard Stern Show" and "Late Show with David Letterman", as well as other talk shows. The producers of the American version of "Godzilla" paid them tribute by naming two characters after them ( Mayor Ebert and his aide Gene ). Siskel & Ebert promptly repaid them by giving the movie two thumbs down. Siskel & Ebert's show outlasted both "At the Movies" and "Sneak Previews", going strong well into the 90s and proving that it was Gene and Roger who made the show, not the format. In 1998 Gene Siskel announced he had Cancer, and would temporarily leave the show for brain surgery to have it removed. While Gene was away Ebert brought in a few guest critics to fill his chair. Siskel returned, but so did his cancer. So in 1999 he once again left the show for more brain surgery. He never returned. After Siskel's death Ebert decided that the show must go on an continued to have a new guest critic fill his chair each week, finally settling on Richard Roeper as Gene's permanent replacement. In 2006 Ebert announced that he had cancer and left the show for treatment. Roeper continued the show with guest critics filling Ebert's seat each week. While Ebert survived the cancer, his treatment ultimately left him unable to talk. He was still able to review movies for his newspaper, but without a voice would only act as producer on his show. His permanent replacement was Michael Phillips.

Disney was not happy. They had hired Siskel & Ebert, and now had a show with Roeper & Phillips. Roeper was only marginally a celebrity, thanks to many appearances with Ebert on the talk show circuit. Phillips was unknown outside of Chicago, and then only to readers of the Chicago Tribune. Disney decided they wanted new hosts and a revamped show. Ebert and Roeper either decided they wanted no part of it, or were more likely forced to leave. Once Ebert left as producer "At The Movies" ceased to be the series he and Siskel had begun nearly three decades early. Disney hired new critics that they felt were higher profile than Roeper & Phillips, and that was Lyons & Mankiewicz, better known as Ben & Ben. Ben Mankiewicz was well known for introducing films on Turner Classic Movies ( TCM ). Ben Lyons was the son of Jeffrey Lyons, and had hosted shows on MTV. Jeffrey Lyons, as you remember, was one of the critics who replaced Siskel & Ebert when they left WTTW. Even more ironically, after "Sneak Previews" was cancelled in 1996, Jeffrey spent the next nine years trying to get a syndication deal for a similar review show. This finally happened in 2005 with the show "Reel Talk", and now father and son found themselves competing with each other. Neither show did well in the ratings. "Reel Talk" was cancelled at the end of 2009, and at the same time the two Bens were fired as hosts of "At The Movies". Disney tried one last time with new hosts. A O Scott and Michael Phillips were vast improvements over Ben & Ben, but still had none of the charisma of Siskel & Ebert. Once again "At The Movies" failed in the ratings and Disney announced it's cancellation.

But as Yogi Berra once said "It ain't over till it's over". The day Disney announced the cancellation of "At The Movies", Ebert followed up with his own press release stating he would be returning to PBS with a new review show. Now that the title "At The Movies" was once again up for grabs, Ebert appropriated it for his new show "Ebert Presents: At The Movies" which premiered in January of 2011. While the show has two permanent hosts, Christy Lemire and the even more obscure Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, it also features a weekly segment with a review from Ebert, his first on screen review in nearly five years. Well, actually a few seconds of footage of Ebert behind his typewriter and some other footage of him either giving a thumbs up or thumbs down which is reused every week, while an announcer reads his printed words from a review. But it is better than nothing. And as an extra bonus, now that Ebert is back on PBS he is able to use footage from "Sneak Previews". This past summer the show went on an extended hiatus where instead of reviewing new movies old episodes of "Sneak Previews" featuring Siskel & Ebert were rebroadcast for the first time in over 30 years. Looks like everything has come full circle.



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