The last picture show: Final ‘At the Movies’ taping today

The last picture show: Final ‘At the Movies’ taping today

Michael Phillips and Tony ScottMichael Phillips and Tony Scott

The longest running and most respected movie-review show in television history will tape its final broadcast today for airing this weekend. And when it’s over, the imaginary balcony that Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert first opened in 1975 will be closed forever.

Michael Phillips and Tony Scott, co-hosts of the show most recently known as “At the Movies,” still have their day jobs as movie critics of the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times, respectively. But for the staff of the Chicago-based syndicated program, including executive producer David Plummer, the future is anything but certain.

“I haven’t made that decision yet,” Plummer said when asked what’s next. “I have some options — some in TV, some outside of the entertainment industry. My family and I would love to stay in Chicago, but we’ll see where life leads us.”

It’s been a remarkable run for the Columbia College graduate, who started as a production intern on “Siskel & Ebert” in 1998 and moved up through the ranks to become executive producer of “At the Movies” in 2008. Along the way, he produced more than 600 episodes and worked closely with more than 200 station affiliates nationwide. Said Plummer:

“If you had asked me 12 years ago, I would never have guessed that the internship I accepted in 1998 would have turned into this 12-year odyssey. I have been so fortunate, and I am proud of my work on the show. I’m also really proud to have worked with a lot of very talented people. Of course, I’m sad that it is ending, but I’m happy that we’re sending it out in top form.”

Perhaps Plummer’s greatest achievement was bringing the show back from the disaster of its 2008-09 season co-hosts, Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz, and restoring its respectability under Phillips and Scott. Unfortunately, what neither Plummer nor anyone else could restore was the ratings success it had enjoyed for decades under Siskel, Ebert and Richard Roeper.

By the time Roeper walked away over changes in the show’s format and direction ordered by misguided bosses at Disney-ABC Domestic Television — and Ebert formally withdrew his association with the series — its demise was a foregone conclusion. Viewers fled in droves and never returned.

At least “At the Movies” will get a decent sendoff this weekend. In addition to reviewing new releases (including “Eat, Pray, Love” and “The Expendables”), Plummer said the final episode will “celebrate the 35 years of the show and what it has meant to Michael and Tony and our viewers over the years.” It will air for the last time at 10:35 p.m. Saturday (and 10:30 a.m. Sunday) on ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7, which also has been its production home since 2001.

Taking over its Saturday night timeslot the following week will be “On the Red Carpet,” a syndicated celebrity news show, co-hosted by a former Miss USA and a former correspondent for “Extra,” offering viewers “front row access to premieres, award shows and special events, movie star interviews and more.” You can have your front row access. I miss that old balcony already.