Siskel and Ebert were the best known movie critics in the nation when their Chicago TV show "Sneak Previews" moved to PBS in 1978. Their thumbs-up, thumbs-down format was as simple as Raisinets during a matinee. When Sneak Previews began, the idea of two guys in a fake theatre wasn't just a novel setup. It was a way to get a peek at the latest films and helped decide what we wanted to see. We needed Siskel and Ebert. We still do... we just don't know it.
They sparred with each other from the balcony of a movie theater and passed judgment on each week's new movies. Sometimes they agreed with each other. Sometimes they were at each other's throats. But they were almost always insightful... and funny too.
There will never be another pair of dueling movie critics like them. The world has moved on for better or worse. In 1978, there were only 6 or so television channels. We all knew who Siskel and Ebert were: the skinny guy and the chubby guy, the slightly bald guy and the guy with glasses. They made us want to spend time with them. Their sometimes snappy relationship made it so.
Today, there are hundreds of ways to get movie reviews but it's not with the same credibility.
About his fellow critic, Roger Ebert once mentioned that Gene Siskel was hired for his first television job under the theory, "Don't hire someone because they look good on TV; hire them because they cover a beat and are the masters of it."
That just doesn't happen today!
Gene died on February 20, 1999. Roger died on April 4, 2013. They were, without question, the nation's most prominent and influential film critics. The balcony is closed forever...