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‘At the Movies' saving its aisle seat

Richard Roeper, fresh off announcing that he was leaving the balcony of “At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper,” may have put it best.

Hours after word of his departure, he posted on his Twitter feed: “With all the old footage and the person-on-the-street interviews, it's like watching your own obit.”

Or maybe an obituary for influential, well-informed film criticism on TV.

Last week, Roeper and Roger Ebert both left the show, whose format has survived since its beginning on public television in 1975 to its latest incarnation through Disney-ABC Domestic Television, with Roeper hosting with a rotating partner in Ebert's health-related absence. (In recent years, Ebert has battled cancer and was left unable to speak – even as he continues to churn out reviews.)

Fellow “At the Movies” founder Gene Siskel died of a brain tumor in 1999 and Roeper was selected as his permanent replacement in 2000.

“On a certain level it kind of feels like the end of an era,” says Matt Atchity, editor of the movie review aggregating Web site RottenTomatoes.com. “Seeing two critics sitting and reviewing movies, they are kind of passing the torch and entering a new era of the way reviews are done.”

Roeper and Ebert's replacements – Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz – are notably younger, with arguably hipper resumes.

Lyons, 26, is the son of longtime film critic Jeffrey Lyons and has worked as a reporter and critic for MTV, E! and “Access Hollywood.” Mankiewicz, 41, is a host on Turner Classic Movies and is the grandson of Herman Mankiewicz, who won an Oscar for writing the screenplay for “Citizen Kane” with Orson Welles. Roeper is 48 and Ebert is 66.

“These guys set an incredibly high standard,” Mankiewicz said. “I don't expect to be part of anything that diminishes that.”

“We want to continue what people have come to respect for this show,” Lyons said, “which is strong movie reviews.”

The film critic community, though, has been buzzing with the news that “At the Movies” will add new segments, including a new set, music and graphics, all set to debut the weekend of Sept. 6.

“I don't think there's an expectation that they're coming in with a great deal of film knowledge, and I think with Siskel and Ebert that was there,” said Norm Schrager, a senior writer at filmcritic.com. “But I don't think it's going to be gossip reporting.”

As for Ebert and Roeper, they're not saying exactly what their future plans are.

“My intentions are to proceed with a show very much in the tradition of (ours) – two journalists reviewing movies from a balcony-style set,” Roeper wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “From what I've heard, Disney's new version of ‘At the Movies' sounds very much like the first year of a new show, not a continuation of the brand.”

One thing we won't be seeing on the new “At the Movies”: Thumbs. Ebert holds the copyright to the simple formula that, for better or for worse, will be the show's TV legacy.

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