Sneak Previews

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Sneak Previews
Also known asOpening Soon at a Theater Near You (1975–1977)
GenreFilm review
Created byThea Flaum[1]
Presented by
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
Production locationChicago, Illinois
Running time30 minutes
Production companyWTTW
Original networkPBS
Original releaseSeptember 4, 1975 (1975-09-04) –
1996 (1996)
Related shows

Sneak Previews is an American film review show[1] that ran for over two decades on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). It was created by WTTW, a PBS affiliate in Chicago, Illinois. It premiered on September 4, 1975 as a monthly local-only show called Opening Soon at a Theater Near You and was renamed in 1977 when it became a biweekly show airing nationally on PBS. By 1979, it was a weekly series airing on over 180 stations, and it was the highest rated weekly entertainment series in the history of public broadcasting.[1] The show's final broadcast was in 1996.


The show featured two critics who would present short clips of movies in current release and then debate the merits of the films, energetically defending their remarks if the other critic disagreed. A designated "dog of the week" was also featured, with "Spot the Wonder Dog" barking on cue as an introduction.[1]

Episodes from the first seven seasons ended with one of the hosts saying "See you at the movies." Many episodes from season eight ended with the hosts' reminder to "save us the aisle seats."

Some episodes were known as Take 2 shows which replaced the review of recently released films with themed topics such as "Women in Danger", and slasher films of the 1970s and early 1980s. On one occasion, Siskel and Ebert invited the viewer into a day in their lives as they screened films.


Title card from Opening Soon at a Theater Near You.

The show first aired in 1975 on a monthly basis under the name Opening Soon at a Theater Near You and, after two successful seasons, was renamed Sneak Previews.[1] The show originally featured Roger Ebert, a film critic from the Chicago Sun-Times, and Gene Siskel, a film critic from the Chicago Tribune.

The two newspapers were competitors, and so were Siskel and Ebert. As Ebert wrote after Siskel's death in 1999:

We both thought of ourselves as full-service, one-stop film critics. We didn't see why the other one was quite necessary. We had been linked in a Faustian television format that brought us success at the price of autonomy. No sooner had I expressed a verdict on a movie, my verdict, than here came Siskel with the arrogance to say I was wrong, or, for that matter, the condescension to agree with me. It really felt like that. It was not an act. When we disagreed, there was incredulity; when we agreed, there was a kind of relief. In the television biz, they talk about "chemistry." Not a thought was given to our chemistry. We just had it, because from the day the Chicago Tribune made Gene its film critic, we were professional enemies. We never had a single meaningful conversation before we started to work on our TV program. Alone together in an elevator, we would study the numbers changing above the door.[2][3]

The tension between the two men made the show's production difficult and time-consuming at first:

Making this rivalry even worse was the tension of our early tapings. It would take eight hours to get one show in the can, with breaks for lunch, dinner and fights. I would break down, or he would break down, or one of us would do something different and throw the other off, or the accumulating angst would make our exchanges seem simply bizarre. There are many witnesses to the terror of those days. Only when we threw away our clipboards and 3×5 cards did we get anything done; we finally started ad-libbing and the show began to work. We found we could tape a show in under an hour.[2]

Over time the two men became close personal friends while remaining professional rivals, and Ebert described their relationship before Siskel's death as "no one else could possibly understand how meaningless was the hate, how deep was the love".[2]

Post-Siskel and Ebert[edit]

The success of the show led WTTW to decide to syndicate it to commercial television.[1] Siskel and Ebert left Sneak Previews in 1982, citing contractual differences with WTTW. They indicated that they were offered a contract and asked to "take it or leave it", and they chose the latter option.[1] The two critics were soon featured in At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, a similar show created with Tribune Entertainment and replaced in 1986 by a Disney-produced long-running show first known as Siskel & Ebert & the Movies (later adopting the title At the Movies in 2008).

In 1982, WTTW quickly signed Neal Gabler and Jeffrey Lyons as replacements for Siskel and Ebert on Sneak Previews. Because Siskel and Ebert had trademarked the phrase 'Two Thumbs Up', Lyons and Gabler would simply give a 'yes' or 'no' judgement to a movie they reviewed. Each post-1982 episode ended with the catch phrase "Don't forget to save us the aisle seats." Neal Gabler left Sneak Previews in 1985, citing philosophical differences with the direction of the show,[4] and was replaced by Michael Medved. Before replacing Gabler, Medved had cameo appearances on the show, presenting the "Golden Turkey Awards," based on the book, and a variation of Siskel & Ebert's "Spot the Wonder Dog/Dog of the Week."


Although Sneak Previews continued on PBS for 14 years after Ebert and Siskel left, the program did not maintain the popularity it enjoyed during their tenure.[4] The show's title was changed to Sneak Previews Goes Video in 1989, and concentrated on home video releases, but returned to its original title in 1991. PBS continued to broadcast the program until the end of the 1995–1996 season, when it was cancelled.


In the early eighties, Sesame Street had a recurring parody sketch, "Sneak Peek Previews", which illustrated differences of opinion. In a run-down movie theater, Oscar the Grouch and Telly Monster together watched a short video segment, usually from the Sesame Street archives. After the video, Oscar invariably disliked it, and Telly enjoyed it, and they each told why.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Steinberg, Joel. "SISKEL and EBERT". Museum of Broadcast Communications. Archived from the original on August 20, 2002. Retrieved 2010-11-30.
  2. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (2009-02-17). "Remembering Gene". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on February 7, 2013. Retrieved April 5, 2013.
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Remembering Gene". Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  4. ^ a b "A Siskel & Ebert & Roeper timeline". Chicago Tribune. July 22, 2008. Retrieved 2010-11-30.

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