Whither the TV Critic?

March 25, 2010

As you’ve no doubt heard, At the Movies has been canceled. That means that Yesterday’s Salad favorite A. O. Scott is out of a (second) job. Good Tony Scott: there’s always room for you at the Salad!

I’m really sad to see the show go. I grew up watching Siskel and Ebert and their approaches to film no doubt shaped my own. I always liked Siskel more, but the last few years of reading Roger Ebert have shown me how great a critic he really is. Amazingly, for someone whose fame derives from TV, Roger Ebert was a terrific writer, capable of writing long, penetrating essays and perfectly crafted reviews. It’s rare to find someone as adept at writing both short and long. Yet beyond style or a set approach to film, the most important lesson the show taught me was that films were something to talk about, something we could participate in long after.

But the reason I’m sad to see At the Movies go has nothing to do with the past and everything to do with the present. A. O. Scott and Michael Phillips were doing great work. They were smart and funny and had a good rapport with each other. Sometimes they had to review too many movies in a week to make the show really compelling, while other times they got to focus on one or two films, taking the time to situate the movie within the context of an actor or filmmaker’s career.

It was incredibly smart–though it might not have been TV enough. I liked watching the show because I like to hear intelligent people discuss modern culture. Then again, this is also why I like the PBS Newshour. Both feature conversations between talking heads instead of conflicts between screaming interrupting heads. I hope A. O. and Michael can find a way to continue their dialogue. I hear people do great things on the internet these days and that someday someone will figure out a way to make it pay.

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