Siskel & Ebert and Working Dynamics

Arguing with some strangers about movies online, I realized something.

Youngsters still know who Siskel & Ebert were.

It was crazy enough that I, throughout childhood, sat down and watched two middle aged men both be wrong about the week’s new releases. But go to any movie forum and you’ll see people citing Ebert to this day, 10 years after his death.

Clearly there was something about them that people connected with, especially as a duo.

Here’s my LinkedIn-friendly take:

They represented two polar opposite working styles and the viewers picked up on the underlying tension. This is something we all experience from elementary school group projects to office jobs. People are just wired different and have trouble understanding each other.

Here’s how their styles differed so greatly:

Ebert, trained as a newspaper reporter, would go to 5 or 6 screenings a week and churn out longform reviews very quickly.

He didn’t outline anything. He spilled his thoughts through his keyboard and moved on to the next review.

He must’ve made his copy editors crazy. Typos would get past them a lot of the times. He probably never picked up an AP style guidebook.

He got plot points wrong and misquoted dialogue often.

But still, his reviews were addictive reading and he earned his spot as the world’s top film tastemaker, despite the sloppiness. He’s the only film critic who’s earned a Pulitzer Prize.

To this day, his writing is generating revenue. I haven’t checked his website’s Google Analytics, but I’d bet a lot that Ebert’s legacy reviews generate more traffic than any of the pieces by reviewers who joined the site after his death.

Siskel, on the other hand, was a perfectionist. He’d spend hours and hours meticulously crafting movie review blurbs.

Unlike Ebert, he was all or nothing when it came to movies. Ebert was easily swayed if elements of a film charmed him or it evoked something emotionally.

Siskel was tougher: If it’s not all good, then it’s all bad.

His reviews haven’t endured like Ebert’s have, but I’d argue that Siskel was the more respected one, by normies at least, during the height of their fame.

But I also think his intent differed from Ebert’s.

While Ebert spoke to film geeks, Siskel saw himself more as a service provider to the general public. When he panned a movie, he viewed it as saving his audience money. Ebert just wrote what he felt.

A multimillion dollar TV syndication contract helps, but they managed to make the disparity in their styles work to their advantage.

Whether they could keep it together enough to excel working together on a content team is another question.