TV tribute to film critic Gene Siskel planned
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CHICAGO (CNN) -- As film enthusiasts mourned the death of critic Gene Siskel, the company that distributes his show, Buena Vista Television, announced Monday that a special tribute to Siskel will air in place of "Siskel & Ebert at the Movies" this weekend.
Funeral services were held for the influential Chicago Tribune film critic -- known for his thumbs-up, thumbs-down reviews with fellow critic Roger Ebert on their popular TV show -- in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park on Monday. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley was among the attendees.
Siskel, 53, died Saturday at Evanston Hospital near Chicago, surrounded by his family.
Siskel had surgery in May to remove a growth from his brain but returned to the syndicated show "Siskel & Ebert" soon afterward. He announced earlier this month he was taking time off from that show to recuperate from the surgery.
When he announced on February 3 that he was taking a leave, Siskel said he expected to return to work this fall.
"I'm in a hurry to get well, because I don't want Roger to get more screen time than I," he said then.
Tom Shales, a syndicated critic for the Washington Post, was recently announced as one of a series of co-hosts for Ebert during Siskel's convalescence. The Walt Disney Co. has not yet announced its long-term plans for the show or a possible replacement.
'Took film criticism into mainstream'
Siskel's career began at the Chicago Tribune in 1969; he also reviewed movies for "CBS This Morning" and WBBM-TV in Chicago. But it was his partnership with Chicago Sun-Times critic Ebert on TV, starting in 1975, that made him famous.
Paul Dergarabedian, spokesman for Exhibitor Relations Co., which compiles box office receipts, called Siskel's death a great loss.
"He, along with his partner Roger Ebert, took film criticism into the mainstream," he said. "The average person would look toward them about whether to take their hard-earned dollars to the box office."
Siskel and Ebert are perhaps the most recognizable movie critics in the nation. Their trademark "thumbs-up" and "thumbs-down" reviews became a benchmark for the movie industry. "Siskel & Ebert" garnered five national Emmy Award nominations.
And the duo was recognized in the book "The Film 100," which ranked them 74th on the list of the movie industry's most influential people.
"When you think about it, 'Siskel and Ebert' is reachable by 95 percent of televisions in U.S.," author Scott Smith said when his book was released last summer. "Before they came along, we didn't have the critical vocabulary to talk about films."Smith also noted that Siskel and Ebert wielded the power to save a film -- make it millions, really -- by simply turning up their thumbs.
Chemistry lent to success
Their show's continuing success was largely attributed to the chemistry between the tall, balding Siskel and the heavyset Ebert. They appeared to practice a one-upmanship that was in the tradition of the rivalry of their newspapers.
Their conflicting opinions often prompted the other to respond with biting sarcasm.
"The early years were pretty rocky. There were a lot of fights, a lot of disagreements, some edginess," Ebert told WBBM on Sunday. After all, he noted, for six days of the week the two were competitors on two daily newspapers and two different television stations. "Gradually, I think, we came to really enjoy doing this show and really respect the other guy. In recent years there was a great deal of affection and friendship."
"Gene was a lifelong friend, and our professional competition only strengthened that bond," Ebert said. "He showed great bravery in the months after his surgery, continuing to work as long as he could."
Objecting to Oscars
With Siskel's death, the show's future is uncertain. "The show will continue with revolving guest critics," Ebert said. "In the future, we will see."
Siskel was known for his outspoken opinions of not only movies, but of the people who made them.
He voiced objections to the Oscar awards, presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He once told Playboy magazine the awards were overrated and the system of selection meant the nominations can be bought with advertising.
Siskel said critics have more right than the Academy to pick the Oscars, saying critics have given their lives to film and have an advantage over the people who vote -- the critics have seen all the movies.
Siskel graduated from Yale University in 1967 and joined the Tribune in 1969. He and Ebert began their partnership in 1975 with the public television program "Sneak Previews." He also authored "Siskel's Flicks Picks," a nationally syndicated column.
Siskel was one of the first broadcasters initiated into the National Association of Television Programming Executives and won several print and broadcast awards.
Siskel is survived by his wife, Marlene, and three children.
Reuters and Correspondent Patty Davis contributed to this report.
Shales to sit in for Siskel
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