Their thumbs were almighty, but Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel were always willing to poke fun at themselves and the on-camera rivalry that was actually a deep friendship. One of their best appearances together was on The Critic, the short-lived but well-remembered animated series about cranky film reviewer Jay Sherman (voiced by Jon Lovitz). The show, which aired first on ABC and then on Fox, was in many ways a spoof of the TV thumbsmen, and it was produced by The Simpsons vets Al Jean and Mike Reiss. Late last night, Jean gave us his memory of the time Siskel and Ebert agreed to voice themselves on The Critic.
“I was very saddened to learn of the passing of Roger Ebert. When we were doing the animated series The Critic, it seemed like the perfect episode would be one guest-starring Roger and Gene, who we were essentially parodying every week. To our surprise and amazement, they said yes, and I had the pleasure of flying to Chicago to direct them. They seemed to really enjoy it, although Gene kept asking me, ‘Which of us is giving a better performance?’ When I would reply, in grandmotherly fashion, ‘You were both equally good,’ he wouldn’t buy it. I guess a terribly sad day like today is the time to say, ‘Roger, you were a little bit better.’ But they were both great sports, and it was a real thrill. Later, I heard that when Gene passed, Roger showed a bit of the episode to his film class and talked about how much he missed Gene. And now we have Roger to miss as well. They were original, and irreplaceable.”