Roger Ebert is returning to the small screen.
The famous film critic stopped appearing on television movie review shows in 2006 when cancer surgery left him unable to speak.
But now he has his own segment on a new public television program, “Ebert Presents at the Movies.”
The show is necessary in today’s entertainment world, Ebert says.
“Can you think of another TV show that deals with the movies as movies instead of as celebrity showcases?” he said, his laptop computer speaking his typed answers.
“We don’t praise everything,” he added.
The show will feature two fellow critics as co-hosts, Christy Lemire of the Associated Press and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of Mubi.com.
Ebert will use his computer voice for the segment “Roger’s Office,” which he says will focus on “reviews and rants.”
The new show will be produced at Chicago’s WTTW, where Ebert and Gene Siskel started taping “Sneak Previews” 35 years ago. The pair’s iconic “two thumbs” (up or down) reviews became one of the most recognizable judgments in film criticism – and they’ll be featured on the new show.
Ebert, 68, appeared with a series of co-hosts after Siskel died in 1999. He had to leave television in 2006 when he had a cancerous growth removed from his salivary gland, and later had emergency surgery after a blood vessel burst near the site of the operation.
He also had cancer surgery three times before the June operation – once in 2002 to remove a malignant tumor on his thyroid gland and twice on his salivary gland the next year.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Sun-Times film critic says planning for the new show started in 2006 when he “was flat on my back. We had business meetings in the hospital.”
Wife and co-producer Chaz Ebert says it “did give him something to look forward to, something to get out of that bed for and truth be told, there were some days when I could not have foreseen a day like this happening.”
She says her husband is as passionate about the show now as he was when he started sitting in the balcony with Siskel 35 years ago.
“I think that’s a real accomplishment because when you’ve been doing something for 35 years sometimes people become jaded or they become bored with it,” she says. “But this show means as much to him today as it did when he first did it.”
Ebert says he selected Lemire and Vishnevetsky because he was looking for reviewers who were intelligent, funny and articulate. The pair of young reviewers will sit in red movie theater seats as they debate films.
The show’s opening montage runs through pictures of Siskel and Ebert throughout the years before cutting to Lemire, 38, who tells viewers, “Welcome to ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies’ and welcome back to the balcony.”
Vishnevetsky, 24, said he hopes to expose moviegoers to unfamiliar films, but also prompt discussion.
“What we can do and what we really should strive to do is engage in a discourse with what’s going on in movies,” Vishnevetsky said. “The show itself should almost form a conversation.”