In his latest blog post, Roger Ebert was plainspoken when remarking: “Unless we find an angel, our television program will go off the air at the end of its current season.” The reason, despite the show’s measured success? They can’t afford to make it anymore.
It’s a simple (yet intractable) problem with an equally simple (yet harrowing) solution. Now, more than ever, Ebert Presents: At the Movies needs to do what public television and radio have been doing for decades ‐ hold a fundraising drive.
However, instead of setting up phone banks and interrupting our regularly scheduled programming to promise us a tote bag with our $100 donation, Ebert and the show need to step into the modern world of fundraising with Kickstarter.
The reasons are fairly obvious. A younger generation of movie fans is well aware of Ebert and the show with its hosts Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky. They know and revere the name Ebert as an icon of film thought and criticism, and what’s more, their parents are using social media more and more, meaning that it isn’t just up to the youth to save the rec center this time around.
Plus, this would be a marriage of a popular icon and a website platform that raises funds for creativity directly from those who might benefit from it. Indie filmmakers use it; why not indie filmmaking critics? If Ebert is accurate about the show’s success ‐ that its “ratings place [it] among the top shows on public television, and compare to the ratings of cable news. And [it has] loyal and vocal followers,” then it’s time to call upon those loyal and vocal followers to chip in their two cents. That angel Ebert speaks of might actually be thousands of angels, and Kickstarter might give them their wings.
With all the respect and admiration in the world, I also offer this bit of criticism. Why has the zero hour come so quickly? Ebert notes that they’ll need to answer affiliates as to whether the show will continue this month, yet they don’t have the dollars to back up a positive answer. If they self-financed the show through December, either they didn’t plan long term or they very recently decided they didn’t/couldn’t self-finance beyond the year and failed to have a safety net in place. I don’t pretend to know the inner workings of the show (or of any show that airs on public stations), but if you can only budget for a certain time, you’d better damn sure be making phone calls to foundations and underwriting corporations months before you’re looking at the axe. If the procuders choose to use Kickstarter (which seems like the best possible route barring any massive money drops they may get from making phone calls in their last days), they should use it as a golden parachute that gives them the freedom to plan accordingly for the next few seasons and beyond.
I firmly agree that a show like this needs to exist. You can always rely on fans for support, but that doesn’t mean you should always rely on fans for support. Mr. Ebert, start a Kickstarter campaign for your show, and prepare to be amazed at what those who love your work are really capable of.
It just might save the show.