by Roger Ebert
The various incarnations of Siskel & Ebert & Roeper represent more than 1,000 TV programs, on which the three of us, and various guest critics, reviewed more than 5,000 movies. And now at last an online archive exists with all of those reviews.
Starting Thursday, Aug. 2, visitors will be able to search for and watch all of those past debates, including the film clips that went along with them, plus the “ten best” and other special shows we did. The new archive will be at www.atthemoviestv.com, and will be the web’s largest collection of streaming reviews.
Gene and I knew those old shows would be worth saving, but for a long time nobody agreed with us. In the years before home video, it seemed like a waste of expensive video tape to preserve hundreds of episodes of our earlier incarnations on “Opening Soon at a Theater Near You,” “Sneak Previews” or “At the Movies.” After all, the movies we were reviewing weren’t going to be opening again, and who’d want to watch a show of old movie reviews? Right?
We began on the air in 1975. Four or five years later, home video first began to attract attention, but in the early years there were format wars, buying a tape could cost $79, and most big recent movies weren’t available. Then all of that changed, and the current era of DVDs and Blockbuster and Netflix and streaming online content began to unfold. Today, there would be an audience for the original Siskel & Ebert reviews of, say, “Batman” or “Jurassic Park,” or Ebert & Roeper trading opinions on “Crash” or “Brokeback Mountain,” or Martin Scorsese and I picking the best film of he 1990s.
As nearly as I’ve been able to tell, very few of our programs taped between 1975 and 1985 were preserved. The tapes were erased and re-used, or just thrown away to make room. Television lived for today’s program, not yesterday’s. I remember when Janet LaMonica, an assistant producer for “Siskel & Ebert,” climbed into a dumpster and rescued most of the work Gene Siskel did locally for WBBM-CBS.
At first we were produced by PBS. Then Tribune Broadcasting. When we went to work for Buena Vista, they started saving the shows. And in a daunting effort over recent months, Buena Vista (now the Disney-ABC Television Group) has digitized hours and hours of those old analog tapes, amounting to more than more than 5,000 reviews.
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