Siskel & Ebert (Johnsonverse)

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Genre: Film review
Running Time: 30 minutes
Country: United States
Network(s): Syndication
Production companies: Johnson Television
Distributed by: Johnson Domestic Television
Starring: Gene Siskel
Roger Ebert
Seasons: 35
Photography: Color
Picture format: 4:3 (1986-1999)
16:9 (1999-)
Release Date: September 13, 1986 - present
Related shows: Sneak Previews
At the Movies (1982 TV program)
The Critic Roundtable
Roeper & Phillips


Siskel & Ebert (originally Siskel & Ebert & the Movies) is an American movie review television program produced by Johnson Television in which two film critics share their opinions of newly released films. Its hosts are Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, the former hosts of Sneak Previews on PBS (1975–1982) and the similarly-titled syndicated series At the Movies (1982–1986).

The series has been nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards twelve times and also for Outstanding Information Series, the most recent nomination occurring in 2017. It is widely known for the "thumbs up/thumbs down" review summaries given by Siskel and Ebert. The show airs in syndication in the United States and on CTV in Canada; the show has also aired throughout the week on the cable network ReelzChannel.

Broadcast history

Predecessors

The show's origins and format trace back to Sneak Previews (1975), a PBS series produced by WTTW that originally featured Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, and At the Movies, a follow-up show that the two critics created with Tribune Entertainment.

Series

On-screen graphic from Siskel & Ebert.

The series itself began in September 1986 as Siskel & Ebert & the Movies, when Siskel and Ebert signed with Johnson Television, the television division of Johnson Industries. The title of the show was shortened to simply Siskel & Ebert in mid-1987. The program records in the studios of KCHI-TV, Chicago's WBC (then called JTV) owned-and-operated station.

Siskel and Ebert often have notably divergent tastes, and as a result, heated arguments and spats added to the series' popularity. Many viewers consider such "fights" to be the highlight of the program. In joint appearances on the talk show circuit, especially on David Letterman's shows, the two critics indicated a mutual respect and friendship off screen. Widely circulated outtakes from promo-recording sessions show the two both bickering and joking off-air.

On the weekend of September 4–5, 1999, the title sequence, opening music, and graphics, which had been in use since the show's 1986 debut, were updated.

Siskel and Ebert appeared together in an episode of Entourage that aired on September 6, 2008, in which they played themselves using their show to lambast the fictional film Medellin.

Starting in 2011, a new opening sequence was created to replace the 1999 intro, with the accompanying graphics also replaced. The 1999 theme was retained. The following year saw them guest star in the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episode "Two Hooves Up", which aired in its third season in 2013, as the characters Hoof Down and Hoof Up, respectively, who review plays in Equestria.

In the spring of 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the series instead filmed at Siskel and Ebert's homes, under the subtitle Quarantine Edition, and the intro was shortened to just showing the beginning title card with a shortened version of the theme song. The first sign of normalcy came in June, when the show again filmed at the studio, though Siskel and Ebert sat farther apart from each other and the shortened intro was still used, without the "Quarantine Edition" subtitle.

Review style

The hosts review a number of recently released and soon-to-be-released movies per episode, taking turns providing a narrative critique interspersed with studio-supplied clips, moving into a back-and-forth debate over the merits. Siskel and Ebert are especially known for sharp criticism that veered close to personally attacking each other, although they have insisted this was largely a television act rather than a feud.

The show also recommends films coming on the home video market, including comments on DVD special features.

Reviews from the week's show are posted on the website, siskelebert.com, usually on the Tuesday following the show's airing. The site's archives feature reviews from as far back as the Sneak Previews era.

Review trademarks

Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down

Since 1981 (as a test run, used permanently since the Tribune At The Movies incarnation in 1982), Siskel and Ebert approve/disapprove the films they reviewed with a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" as a bottom-line recommendation on whether to see a reviewed movie or not. This system departed 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". In response, the phrase was trademarked in 1995 to ensure against fraudulent use that would endanger its credibility. The critics frequently qualify their recommendations (e.g., "a mild thumbs up" or "two thumbs way down") in their remarks, but the official rating remains simply positive or negative. Prior to their 1982 move to Tribune, the critics approved/disapproved the films they reviewed with a yes/no verdict.

Wagging Finger of Shame

From 2005 to 2006, the show experimented with a "Wagging Finger of Shame" feature, denoting films that were not made available for a standard advance screening and therefore could not be given either a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down". Failure to prescreen a film for reviewers is generally considered an indicator of low confidence by the distributor, apparently believing that negative reviews would harm opening-weekend box office sales. Films so spotlighted included The Amityville Horror, The Fog, In the Mix, Æon Flux, Underworld: Evolution, and Date Movie. This public rebuke was discontinued when Siskel and Ebert both decided the studios were not taking it seriously. Siskel asserted that too many films (eleven in 2006 by April, compared to two by that date in 2005) were being withheld from critics.

3 to See

Introduced in 2008, "3 to See" is a segment appearing at the end of each show, in which Siskel and Ebert list their top three favorites of the movies currently in theaters.

Special programming

Occasionally, special shows were produced that focus on particular aspects of film or home video. The show gives the hosts a convenient soapbox to feature their opinions on such issues as film colorization, letterboxing, the MPAA film rating system, product placement, independent filmmaking, and social issues. For instance, one episode, called "Hail, Hail Black and White", was shot in black and white with the pair in tuxedos as part of their focus on the virtues of black and white film. Regular episodes sometimes devoted a few minutes for the hosts to give their opinions of a current issue related to the motion picture industry or to pay tribute to something.

Also, at the end of every year, the two hosts would run down their choices of the top ten best films from that year, followed the week later by their rundown of their choices of the top ten worst films from that year.

As a critic, Siskel's first top ten list was in 1969; Ebert's had debuted in 1967. Over the life of their partnership, these are the two critics' #1 selections:

Year Siskel Ebert
1969
Z
1970 My Night at Maud's Five Easy Pieces
1971 Claire's Knee The Last Picture Show
1972
The Godfather
1973 The Emigrants Cries and Whispers
1974 Day for Night Scenes from a Marriage
1975
Nashville
1976 All the President's Men Small Change
1977 Annie Hall 3 Women
1978 Straight Time An Unmarried Woman
1979 Hair Apocalypse Now
1980 Raging Bull The Black Stallion
1981 Ragtime My Dinner with Andre
1982 Moonlighting Sophie's Choice
1983
The Right Stuff
1984 Once Upon a Time in America Amadeus
1985 Shoah The Color Purple
1986 Hannah and Her Sisters Platoon
1987 The Last Emperor House of Games
1988 The Last Temptation of Christ Mississippi Burning
1989
Do the Right Thing
1990
GoodFellas
1991 Hearts of Darkness JFK
1992 One False Move Malcolm X
1993
Schindler's List
1994
Hoop Dreams
1995 Crumb Leaving Las Vegas
1996
Fargo
1997 The Ice Storm Eve's Bayou
1998 Babe: Pig in the City Dark City

Previously, Siskel and Ebert had separately agreed on Z and The Godfather before sharing the same opinion of Nashville, The Right Stuff, Do the Right Thing, GoodFellas, Schindler's List, Hoop Dreams, and Fargo.

Seven times, Siskel's #1 choice did not appear on Ebert's top ten list at all: Straight Time, Ragtime, Once Upon a Time in America, Shoah, The Last Temptation of Christ, Hearts of Darkness, and The Ice Storm. Eight times, Ebert's top selection did not appear on Siskel's; these films were Small Change, Three Women, An Unmarried Woman, Apocalypse Now, Sophie's Choice, Mississippi Burning, Eve's Bayou and Dark City. In 1985, Ebert declined to rank the Holocaust documentary Shoah as 1985's best film only because he felt it was inappropriate to compare it to the rest of the year's candidates.

While Apocalypse Now appeared as Ebert's choice for best film of 1979 but not anywhere on Siskel's list, the documentary of the making of the film, Hearts of Darkness, was Siskel's choice for best film of 1991 while not appearing on Ebert's list.

In addition, neither critic's choice for best film of 1988 (Last Temptation of Christ for Siskel and Mississippi Burning for Ebert) appeared anywhere on the other critic's list, but both starred Willem Dafoe.