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A.O. Scott And Michael Phillips Chosen As New Hosts Of ‘At the Movies’


It’s official. ABC/Disney is finally fixing their At the Movies debacle. Last year, fans of the long-running movie review program collectively groaned when the inexperienced and just plain annoying duo of Ben Mankiewicz and Ben Lyons emerged as the replacements for Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper. Both of them seemed to have gotten the gig based on family connections.

41162155Lyons’ father is the veteran film critic Jeffrey Lyons, and the other guy is a member of the legendary Mankiewicz family (his granduncle, Joseph, directed many Hollywood classics including All About Eve and Guys and Dolls). The 26 year old Lyons’ bio on the E! channel website (where he is a correspondent) traces the early beginnings of his questionable pedigree:

“He worked as an associate producer for ESPN, produced segments for the nationally syndicated Hip Hop Nation and produced music videos for various artists like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Black Moon and Tony Touch. He put a short hosting reel together on his own, and his life changed forever.”

Yeah. It led to more exposure and more people hating him. Mankiewicz, on the other hand, had been working as Robert Osbourne‘s stand-in on TCM, so he, at the very least, had some appreciation of the cinema. On screen, however, he has no presence and Lyons comes off as not so much an idiot savant as just an idiot.

The windstorm of bad press that followed the decision to have them take over At the Movies, was only heightened after the premiere of the re-tooled version in September. Within the first thirty seconds, you can see what went wrong with the show in their hands. Lyons sounds like a Stepford robot announcing, “This is your home for everything that you need to know about the movies!” And Mankiewicz sounds eerily familiar to the nauseatingly smarmy Troy Mclure from The Simpsons.

The bad press reached its climax with an LA Times article that posed the question, “Is Ben Lyons the most hated film critic in America?” The same article also highlights the fact that Lyons is notorious in media circles for describing the Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend as “one of the greatest movies ever made”. No need to worry, though. The Bens have finally been fired.

The dubious hosts are being replaced by esteemed film critics A.O. Scott, of The New York Times, and Michael Phillips, of The Chicago Tribune (the top two pics above). That means that the show will be watchable again. ABC daytime president Brian Frons is quoted as saying,

We are thrilled that A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips will be lending their well-respected and influential voices to At the Movies. They are regarded by millions of people as authorities in film criticism and will take the series back to its roots of one-on-one film debate that was established when the show first began with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.”

That’s all nice and swell, but I think it’s time to get Roeper a show, too. Next to the Bens, he was like Pauline Kael. And he actually had great chemistry with Phillips, who had been a frequent guest on the show prior to its ugly makeover. In his final sign-off, you can hear the uncertainty in Roeper’s voice. There’s no good reason why he shouldn’t still be on TV.

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