Siskel & Ebert…

Not Just a Movie Review Show… After the Break…

Siskel & Ebert…

For some reason, I had a minor dash of nostalgia over the television movie review show, “Siskel & Ebert,” a little while back. I can’t say that I binge watched the episodes on YouTube but I did binge watch a whole bunch of selected reviews.

For those who don’t know (or don’t want to perform a Wikipedia search), “Siskel & Ebert” was a television show that featured two movie reviewers, Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert. They sat across from one another in a television studio designed to look like a movie theater where they sat across the aisle from one another in movie seats. They would watch a trailer clip of a movie & then review the entire movie (they had already seen the movie, not just the trailer clip). The show was famous for it’s “Thumbs Up” & “Thumbs Down” rating; Thumbs Up was good & Thumbs Down was bad (I get it; In Roman times, it was the opposite but, in modern times, that’s how the hand gestures are perceived).

In my earlier years, I was huge into movies. Huge. Therefore, a television show such as “Siskel & Ebert” was “Must See TV” for me, even if the movies that they would be reviewing didn’t interest me.

Truth be told, the glory years of “Siskel & Ebert” wasn’t overly long. Although the show started in 1975 as “Sneak Previews,” it didn’t really catch on until around 1979. Siskel died in 1999 & Ebert in 2013. Even before then, Siskel had suffered a brain tumor that, according to some, mellowed out his criticism to a degree. Factor in the Internet and the true popularity of the show was roughly from 1979 to 1996.

For me, the show wasn’t necessarily a foray into movie reviews; Of course it was, that was the whole show. They reviewed movies. However, looking back upon the show, I have realized what that show truly meant to me; It was my first foray into critical thinking, into true skepticism & even a dummy’s guide to science in general.

Whenever you review anything, you must have a certain set of criteria. You have to have standards and not just in the moral or ethical sense. What “is” science-fiction? What “is” a comedy? In lengths, you need a ruler or a tape measure. With volume, you need a measuring cup. And with movies, you needed definitions, not just in genres but also with camera angles and movie procedures.

Siskel & Ebert weren’t just reviewing movies but introduced a generation of movie fans, inadvertently, to the world of critical thinking. Movies could be objectified and criticized with objective measurements. Certainly, there was some level of subjective taste involved with the reviews but without any objective criteria, there could be no review. Their reviews forced me to think of how I “reviewed” things and why I reviewed them. That path of critical thinking eventually evolved into other fields and into life itself. Everyone, of course, has a certain level of critical thinking; We all “review” things in our own way and to a degree.

However, Siskel & Ebert forced me to review things at a deeper level than I thought that I could go. Their degree & depth of knowledge forced me to constantly re-evaluate my own reviews and, in the process, force upon me a level of critical thinking that would otherwise not exist, certainly not at the age when it existed.

Siskel’s death in 1999 effectively ended “Siskel & Ebert.” Richard Roeper would eventually replace Siskel but then Ebert’s health problems curtailed any “second wind” that the show may have had. Yes, it continued on until 2010 but it more coasted than sailed during it’s final years.

At it’s heart, the show was about movie reviews. On another level for me, though, it was much more than that. In an age of Internet & YouTube where anyone with a smartphone can produce a reasonable facsimile to a review show, it is doubtful that a movie review television show could ever emerge again to rival that of “Siskel & Ebert.” To paraphrase a comedian, “They became popular, not because they knew how to become popular, but because they were good at what they did & everyone else could see that.” In the Internet era, it’s harder to find celebrities like that.


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