April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert (1942-2013): The Balcony Is Closed

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Roger Ebert, after enduring cancer with extraordinary fortitude for over a decade, passed away today.  Ebert was one of the smartest, hardest-working and most passionate film critics of his generation, and almost certainly the most famous.  Although he was devoted to criticism expressed in writing–both in newspapers (and books) and, later in his career, online, and he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for his reviews (the first movie critic ever to do so), he’ll undoubtedly be best remembered for his work on television, and especially for the quarter-century he spent partnered with Gene Siskel in a TV studio version of a movie theater balcony, on the series first called Sneak Previews (on PBS) and then At the Movies (in syndication).  For many, those half-hours spent watching “the bald guy and the fat guy” were their seminal experiences with serious film criticism.  And one of the admirable things about Ebert is that even though the show’s reviews were presented in 3-minute bites, with easy to remember thumbs up and down as their ultimate judgments, they were genuinely serious, covering foreign and independent films with the same prominence as the latest Hollywood blockbuster.  In this increasingly fragmented media landscape, it’s not hyperbole to say that no single critic is likely to dominate the discourse on a film the way his mighty thumb did for decades; he’s an irreplaceable part of movie history.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."