Roger Ebert Says His Movie-Review Show Will End If He Can't Find Financial Backing

 Jeff Ruymen/NewsCom

Roger Ebert says his movie-review show is in danger of ending unless he can raise enough money to keep it going beyond the current season.

His show, Ebert Presents At the Movies, features the same format that made Ebert a household name when he reviewed movies alongside the late Gene Siskel: two film critics giving their thumbs-up or thumbs-down opinions on upcoming releases.

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This version, hosted by Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, debuted Jan. 21. on public television stations. Ebert, who was left unable to speak after losing his lower jaw to thyroid and salivary gland cancer. also has appeared on multiple episodes. He and his wife, Chaz, produce the show.

It seems they also have been footing the bill -- alongside a $25,000 contribution from the Kanbar Charitable Trust -- and now Ebert is making a plea for help because the couple can no longer "afford to support the show."

"Unless we find an angel, our television program will go off the air at the end of its current season," he writes on his Chicago Sun-Times blog. "There. I've said it. Usually in television, people use evasive language. Not me. We'll be gone. I want to be honest about why this is. We can't afford to finance it any longer."

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Ebert writes that they paid for the screen test, pilot, titles, set, lighting, office space, design and maintenance of the website and salaries of all those who work on the show, though he and his wife do not take a salary. He writes that he wasn't quite clear that would be the case when he first sold the show.

"In trying to get the show back on TV, we approached WTTW, the Chicago public station where Gene and I began on Sneak Previews in 1976," he writes. "In the dusty corner, they still had the balcony chairs we used. We went in for meetings. WTTW said it would love to have the show back again, and spoke of ideal time slots. They couldn't have been friendlier."

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"There was a problem, which I didn't catch on to right away," he continues. "They were not going to finance the show. I was living in dreamland. We were expected to finance the show ourselves. We would give the show free to those public stations that wanted it, using something called American Public Television to distribute it. APT is a different entity than PBS, but we would receive no funding from either one."

He and his wife are talking to various corporations, private foundations and public charitable organizations. He says American Public Television executives are asking the Eberts whether to tell their member stations that they show will be back next year, and they have until the end of this month to give their answer.

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For his part, Ebert thinks it's important to have such a program on TV.

"On Ebert Presents, a new Johnny Depp movie can get two thumbs down (or up, or a split decision) from two intelligent people who will tell you why they voted that way and challenge one another," he argues. "Movie coverage on TV is otherwise so intensely driven by marketing that some programs actually cover the marketing itself." 

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