Disney essentially broke down and admitted that it had made a mistake with its “go younger” mandate on “At the Movies,” announcing that it would replace Ben Mankiewicz and Ben Lyons with the New York Times’ A.O. Scott and Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips as hosts of the syndicated movie-review program.
Mankiewicz — a regular presence on Turner Classic Movies — was tolerable as one of the reviewers, but Lyons simply wasn’t, and the show’s credibility suffered along with its watchability.
Although I was never much of a Richard Roeper fan, after a year with Lyons in the seat he once occupied opposite Roger Ebert, all is forgiven.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Ebert — who originated the format with the late Gene Siskel under a different name in 1975 — endorsed the new duo, telling the paper via email, “I have the highest regard for both Michael Phillips and Tony Scott.”
By contrast, Ebert had done little to hide his disdain for Lyons, assembling a “rule book” for critics where several of the guidelines were not very subtly aimed at him. These included warnings to “Keep track of your praise,” “Accept no favors” and to shun commercial endorsements.
It was left to Brian Frons, president of daytime for the Disney-ABC Television Group, to deliver a very Hollywood-style kiss-off to the outgoing hosts, saying, “We tried something new last season and we think the world of Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz. They did everything we asked of them and they have been complete professionals. However, we’ve decided to return the show to its original essence – two traditional film critics discussing current motion picture and DVD releases. We thank them for their hard work and dedication this past year and wish them nothing but the best on all of their future endeavors.”
Translation: “And don’t let those thumbs hit you on the way out!”