Ebert thumbs nose at Dis' new 'Movies'

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Roger Ebert is leaving the balcony but hinting that he's not finished with television.

The famed film critic said Monday that he is cutting ties with the nationally syndicated program he and the late Gene Siskel made famous, a day after Richard Roeper said he was quitting the show.

In an e-mail to the Associated Press, Ebert said Disney-ABC Domestic Television, which owns "At the Movies With Ebert and Roeper," has decided to take the program in a new direction.

"I will no longer be associated with it," Ebert said.

He didn't immediately elaborate, but it was clear that the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Sun-Times critic wanted the show to remain as it was when he and Siskel, a fellow Chicago newspaper film critic, first hit the airwaves in 1975 on PBS.

"Gene and I felt the formula was simplicity itself: two film critics, sitting across the aisle from each other in a movie balcony, debating the new films of the week," Ebert wrote. "We developed an entirely new concept for TV."

Ebert is a copyright holder on the signature "thumbs up/ thumbs down" judgment that he and Siskel made part of each film review. Last year, as he was negotiating a new contract with Disney-ABC Domestic Television, Ebert said he had "exercised his right to withhold use of the 'thumbs' until he had a new contract.

"The trademark still belongs to me and Marlene Iglitzen, Gene's widow, and the thumbs will return," he wrote Monday. "We are discussing possibilities and plan to continue the show's tradition.

"Disney cannot use the thumbs," he said.

Ebert didn't elaborate on future possibilities. Nor did he say what — if any — role Roeper, whose work he praised, will have. But Roeper, in his own announcement that he was leaving, hinted that perhaps his partnership with Ebert might not be over.

Roeper, a Sun-Times columnist who signed on in 2000 after Siskel's 1999 death, said he planned to "proceed elsewhere with my ninth year as the co-host of a movie review show that honors the standards established by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert more than 30 years ago." He added that he would soon disclose details about such a program.

Roeper didn't return a call for comment Monday. His statement said he was leaving after failing to agree on a contract extension and that his last appearance will air the weekend of Aug. 16-17.

A Disney spokeswoman didn't return calls for comment on the latest developments or whether the show will continue either in its current form or a new one.

Ebert said he is in the dark about any plans for the show.

"All I know for sure is, the show is not being taken in its current direction," he said in a second e-mail.
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