'At the Movies' Drops Hosts Lyons, Mankiewicz

A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips will be the new wielders of the thumb.

August 5, 2009, 1:27 AM

Aug. 5, 2009 -- The reviews are in, and it's a thumbs down for "At the Movies" hosts Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz.

After barely a year helming the iconic TV show, founded in 1986 by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, the two Bens are out.

They will be replaced by film critics A.O. Scott of the New York Times and Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune when the new season premieres Sept. 5, 2009.

"I loved working on this show, every moment of it," Ben Mankiewicz is quoted as saying in a press release. "It was an honor to continue a broadcast legacy not merely started by Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, but created by them. No doubt the show is in good hands, with a great production staff, and two really knowledgeable and perceptive film critics in A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips."

Neither is a stranger to "At the Movies," as both critics have sat in Roger Ebert's chair alongside Richard Roeper multiple times when Ebert was ill.

The move to Scott and Phillips comes in an effort to return the show to its roots.

"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," said Brian Frons, president, Daytime, Disney-ABC Television Group, who oversees ABC Media Productions, which produces "At the Movies," in the press release.

The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of both Disney-ABC Television and ABC News.

Scott, a 43-year-old Harvard and Johns Hopkins alumnus, sat across from Roeper in 2006 and 2007 while Ebert was ill. He has become a renowned film critic after nearly a decade of reviews for the Times, making guest appearances on "Charlie Rose" and National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation." Scott also hosts a weekly movie review podcast for the Times.

Prior to the Times, Scott served as the book critic for Newsday and freelanced for numerous publications, including The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal.

Phillips comes a a varied background of arts reporting. The Chicago Tribune film critic since 2006, he has a plethora of arts section staff writer positions under his belt, including the The Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and The Dallas Times-Herald. Phillips has reported from film festivals across the globe, notably Cannes, and teaches at the University of Chicago's Graham School.

Like Scott, Phillips has appeared on "At the Movies" previously as a replacement for an ailing Ebert, even becoming a semipermanent co-host just prior the the Lyons and Mankiewicz era.

Ben Lyons, Ben Mankiewicz Out of 'At the Movies'

Lyons' appointment to the prestigious post of "At the Movies" co-host received a fair amount of criticism, as many viewers thought he had limited experience outside of being the son of well-known film critic Jeffrey Lyons. His reviews even sparked one film fan to create a blog entitled: Stop Ben Lyons, which consists of a chronological log entries tearing apart the reviewer and his film reviews.

While Mankiewicz received less drubbing since he hosted a show on Turner Movie Classics, he has a Hollywood pedigree as well, being directly related to Herman Mankiewicz, the Academy Award winning-screenwriter of "Citizen Kane," and Joseph Mankiewicz, the producer of "The Philadelphia Story" and other classic Hollywood films.

The move to replace Lyons and Mankiewicz comes after a sharp downturn in ratings.

After just two months of hosting the program, ratings slipped from 2.1 million to 1.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

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