CHICAGO (AP)--After several months as the co-host of the syndicated movie review show At the Movies, film critic Ben Mankiewicz stormed off the set Tuesday following a series of heated exchanges between himself, co-host Ben Lyons, and several staff members.
"Hosting At the Movies, the show previously helmed by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, has been a real honor," Mankiewicz told the Associated Press. "But let's be honest, this isn't Siskel & Ebert. I don't know if that is even possible anymore, film criticism has changed so much with the Internet. At the very least those are the standards that we should strive for. But I feel like the producers of the show have just stopped trying."
Mankiewicz declined to comment specifically about Lyons, other than to say that he is "a nice kid." As to his future with the show, he said simply of the producers that "the ball is in their court".
Lyons declined to be interviewed for this story.
Since the show parted ways with previous hosts Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper, speculation has been rampant for some time that the show was on the verge of either cancellation or the firing of Lyons or Mankiewicz. A number of highly critical articles in the mainstream press and the blogosphere since the new hosts were hired have helped to cement the opinion among many that the program was in decline along with film criticism in general.
Ironically, after a shaky first few months in which ratings dropped by 23%, the show's viewership rebounded during the period leading up to the Academy Awards. But the story behind the scenes has been far different from the rosy picture painted by the improved ratings.
"Lyons and Mankiewicz have had a very stormy relationship off-screen," says one production assistant for At the Movies who asked to remain anonymous. "Most episodes, there are at least one or two takes which have to be scrapped because Mankiewicz throws up his hands in frustration, rolls his eyes, or just lets out a long sigh. He really hasn't been a team player."
Brian Frons, the ABC/Disney executive in charge of the show, expressed disappointment with the behavior of Mankiewicz but assured the Associated Press that the show would continue with or without him. "There are literally dozens of laid off film critics who would jump at the opportunity to sit across the aisle from Ben Lyons. I am sure that we will have no trouble finding a replacement for him," Frons said in reference to Mankiewicz.
"I produce a hit show," Frons continued. "What did he ever do?"
Nothing official has been announced as to whether or not Mankiewicz will remain, but the anonymous staffer suggested that interviews may have already occurred. "Both Lou Lumenick [of the New York Post] and Roger Moore [of the Orlando Sentinel] have been in the office to talk to Frons. On the other hand, I hear that Lyons has been talking up Shawn Edwards [of WDAF-TV in Kansas City]."
Critics of the show predicted that this is the beginning of the end of At the Movies in its current form. "Hopefully this will now free my Tivo from the Sunday morning recap of At the Movies and restore our faith in the Lord," said Erik Childress, vice president of the Chicago Film Critics Association, who also writes a feature called "Ben Lyons Quote of the Week" that ridicules Lyons' critiques.
"The chickens have come home to roost," said Scott Johnson, the blogger behind the website StopBenLyons.com. "Maybe now Brian Frons can get back to his first love--ruining daytime soap operas."
Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper have both made references on their blogs about starting a new television show. Roeper declined to comment for this article and Ebert did not immediately return a phone call from the Associated Press.
On the Net:
At the Movies
Ben Lyons' Written Movie Review Archive