Ebert, Disney in symbolic thumb fight


Film critic Roger Ebert over the weekend denied reports that he had prohibited his signature thumbs-up/thumbs-down critique from being used during "At the Movies With Ebert & Roeper" amid contract negotiations between him and the show's distributor, Disney-ABC Domestic Television.

Ebert owns the thumbs-up/thumbs-down trademark with the estate of the late Gene Siskel, his original co-host. But the show's defining characteristic was absent from this weekend's episode, which marked the season premiere.

Disney issued a statement saying that Ebert had "exercised his right to withhold use of the 'thumbs' until a new contract is signed" since his current agreement recently expired. The syndicator is in the early stages of contract negotiations with Ebert.

But in a statement posted on his Web site, Ebert said he did not ask for the removal of the thumbs and claimed that Disney had "ordered the thumbs removed from the show" earlier in the week after he counteroffered the distributor's first offer.

"I had made it clear the thumbs could remain during good-faith negotiations," he said.

Health problems have kept Ebert from appearing on "At the Movies" for more than a year, but both Disney and Ebert expressed optimism that Ebert would return to the syndicated show.

"I love the show, and I love the thumbs, and I hope we will all be reunited soon," Ebert wrote.

Added Disney: "We have kept his 'seat in the balcony' open for the past 14 months and will continue to do so, utilizing guest critics who have appeared with (Ebert's co-host) Richard Roeper."

In the meantime, guest hosts will continue to fill in until Ebert's return. Dallas Observer movie critic Robert Wilonsky will join Roeper for the first few months of the season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.