After a year of getting slammed for their performance as film critics, “At the Movies” co-hosts Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz are getting their tickets punched.
Replacing them next month on the long-running syndicated series will be film critics A.O. (Tony) Scott of The New York Times and Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune, ABC Media Productions announced Wednesday.
The abrupt change reflects a move back to the show’s quarter-century-old roots after a year its detractors dismissed as lightweight and too fast-paced.
Lyons, a Hollywood reporter and film critic for the E! network and ABC’s “Good Morning America,” took particular heat for hobnobbing with Hollywood insiders and allegedly seeking blurb glory in movie ads.
“We tried something new last season,” said Brian Frons, who heads up the Disney unit that oversees ABC Media Productions. The departing co-hosts “did everything we asked of them, and they have been complete professionals.
“However, we’ve decided to return the show to its original essence — two traditional film critics discussing current motion picture and DVD releases.”
Scott and Phillips seem to follow in a tradition of critic co-hosts that reaches all the way back to the show’s first incarnation in 1975, a local effort called “Sneak Previews,” which paired rival Chicago newspaper film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.
The incoming Scott has spent nearly a decade as a film critic at The New York Times. He was the Sunday book critic at Newsday and a freelance contributor to publications including The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Review of Books.
Phillips is the film critic of The Chicago Tribune. He has written about entertainment and the arts as a staff writer and critic for the Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune, among other publications.
The pair, who in the past have both appeared on the Chicago-based “At the Movies” as guest critics, will take over when the new season begins the weekend of Sept. 5 (check local listings for day and time).
In an interview Wednesday, the departing Lyons said he looks back on his year with the show with satisfaction and no regrets.
“I’m extremely proud of the work Mank (Mankiewicz) and I did on the show,” Lyons said. He has been able to put complaints about him into perspective, though he did take exception to “malicious” attacks leveled by those who “hide behind a computer screen.”
In a separate interview, Mankiewicz said his soon-to-be-former co-host “took most of the heat” directed at the show, “and I think it was unfair and mean-spirited.
“But we’re film critics — and we can’t really go ballistic when people criticize us,” he reasoned. “I loved working on the show, all of it. It will sound hokey, but it really was an honor to continue that broadcast legacy that Roger and Gene created.
“I have worked on TV a long time,” he added, “and I know nothing is permanent in television.”