Shame On the Local Stations That Killed ‘At the Movies’

If syndication can’t support a low-cost movie review show, then local TV may really be dead

It’s a bad day for childhood TV memories.

First, awesome TV tough guy Robert Culp passes. Now comes word that "At the Movies" is being shelved.

My colleague Dan Frankel has details on Disney’s decision to close the balcony. My first thought, though: How sad that the TV syndication marketplace has sunk so far that it can’t even manage to support a low-cost, 30-minute series devoted to hyping big movies.

I don’t know the finances of "At the Movies." It’s quite possible that a number of legacy issues related to its 35-year roots somehow made it oddly expensive to produce.

Yet I doubt it.

What seems more likely is that "Movies" died from simple neglect from local stations across the country, most of whom probably couldn’t be bothered to give the show a decent time slot, let alone any promotion.

Heck, why support a half-hour of interesting film debate when you could be making more money airing an infomercial. And in case you haven’t watched local TV in the last couple of years, that’s a big part of what passes for weekend programming these days.

Stations which once hid informercials in the middle of the night now unashamedly schedule them in prime weekend locations– even the half-hour before primetime isn’t immune to the info-virus.

Disney did "At the Movies" no favors a couple years ago with its foolish remake of the show. Filling the seats once held by Siskel and Ebert by two dudes so unremarkable I won’t even repeat their names was just plain dumb.

But at least the company was wise enough (and brave enough) to admit it had screwed up. Its latest reboot of the franchise, with A.O. Scott and Michael Philips, wasn’t perfect — but the two men were believable successors to the Siskel-Ebert legacy. They had interesting conversations about movies, and used words with more than one syllable.

At least if "At the Movies" is going to die, it will die with some dignity.

It’s still depressing to think, however, that Disney couldn’t find a way to turn even a tiny profit off "At the Movies" anymore. For all the talk of how modern moviegoers don’t need critics, I’d argue that with so many choices in entertainment today — and so much passion for TV and film — there’s even more of a hunger for a show that cuts through the clutter with sharp critical voices.

Here’s hoping somebody out there in TV land will try to find those voices and put together a show that can continue the legacy of Gene and Roger.