Ladies and gentlemen, it's "Roger Ebert Week" in Chicago! OK, not really. But it sure seems like it is -- and here are some of the reasons why:
- It began with front-page stories in both the Tribune and the Sun-Times trumpeting a computer miracle that re-created Roger's voice, thanks to software developed by a Scottish company using audio tracks recorded by the Chicago treasure and iconic movie critic before he lost the ability to speak because of cancer. On his blog, Roger wrote:
"Yes, 'Roger Jr.' needs to be smoother in tone and steadier in pacing, but the little rascal is good. To hear him coming from my own computer made me ridiculously happy."
- There was Roger's eagerly anticipated appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" Tuesday in which his devoted wife, Chaz, heard her husband's voice for the first time in nearly four years via the aforementioned device. Marveling at the couple's extraordinary relationship and the selfless role Chaz has played in Roger's recovery, Oprah gushed: "I would like to say, from one woman to another, you are incredible! You make me proud to spell my name W-O-M-A-N."
- The Eberts also opened their home to Dean Richards, veteran entertainment critic for Tribune Co.-owned WGN-Channel 9, who shared an inside look at the couple's life together and traded some Academy Award prediction banter. Richards pointed out that the studio now used for Channel 9's 9 p.m. newscast was the same space occupied by Roger and the late Gene Siskel when they hosted "At the Movies" for Tribune Entertainment from 1982 to 1986.
- Roger chose this week to launch "The Ebert Club," an online membership program that provides access to special features and other rewards on his site to those who pay the $4.99 annual fee. Phil Rosenthal broke the news on his Tribune blog shortly before 2 a.m. Tuesday, quoting Roger as saying he had "no idea how much or how little income it might yield, describing it as just 'my toe in the water.' " Better hurry, though: The membership fee jumps all the way up to $5 on April 1.
- But wait, there's more: The Eberts also began talking openly this week about their idea to produce a movie-review show to be hosted by a pair of unnamed critics. ("However, with my clout as producer, I might be able to arrange the occasional guest appearance for myself," Roger wrote.) The Oprah piece showed the Eberts in a meeting with executives at WYCC-Channel 20, the public television station owned by the City Colleges of Chicago. No details have been confirmed.
- Now it's on to Hollywood, where Roger will cover the Academy Awards Sunday. (His pick for Best Picture Oscar: "The Hurt Locker.") On Friday, the Eberts will present the Chaz & Roger Ebert Truer Than Fiction Award at the 25th‚ Film Independent Spirit Awards, airing live at 10 p.m. on the Independent Film Channel. The award, which includes a $25,000 grant funded by the Eberts, encourages an emerging director of documentaries to pursue a career in the film industry.
And all of that was in addition to Roger's usual weekly output of movie reviews, essays, blog posts and‚ hundreds of tweets to his more than 92,000 followers on Twitter.