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Ebert empire holding up

Roeper continuing show with guest critics

Roger Ebert‘s ongoing battle with cancer has kept him off his longrunning syndie series “Ebert & Roeper at the Movies” since July, but the show has barely missed a beat, losing just 5% of its Nielsen household audience season to date.

In his absence, Richard Roeper, also a Chicago movie reviewer, has done the show with guest critics.

“Ebert & Roeper” is the most profitable, and highest-visibility, of the various parts of the Ebert empire.

Disney, the distributor of the series, says TV stations in 90% of the U.S. have renewed “Ebert & Roeper” for the upcoming season, but it will for the first time since 2003 face a movie-review competitor, “Lyons & Bailes Reel Talk,” which NBC Universal is now rolling out. It’s hosted by the movie reviewers Jeffrey Lyons and Alison Bailes.

On other fronts, Ebert will not do his annual Oscar special “An Evening at the Academy Awards” with Roeper, which Buena Vista distributes separately from the “Ebert & Roeper” series. This year, Roeper will cohost the Oscar festivities with George Pennacchio, entertainment reporter for KABC.

Andrews McMeel Publishing meanwhile has just released the latest hard-cover collection of Ebert reviews under the title “Your Movie Sucks.” Ebert still writes an occasional review for his home base, the Chicago Sun-Times.

Ebert’s physicians are planning to have him checked into a facility in Houston for what Ebert, in an eight-paragraph Jan. 12 update, called “a staged, multi-phased approach to getting me back in shape.”

In a month or so Disney execs plan to meet with Ebert to talk about the future of “Ebert & Roeper.” In his Jan. 12 comment, Ebert put it simply: “I hope to return soon.”

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