Hard to believe it's been 26 years since Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert and his Chicago Tribune counterpart, the late Gene Siskel, began thumb-wrestling on the balcony. The rival Windy City scribes bickered like an old married couple, and audiences ate it up — consistently turning the duo's half-hour of cinematic analysis into one of the highest-rated syndicated programs on television. However, after the untimely passing of Siskel in early 1999, fans wondered if the balcony would ever be the same.

Enter Richard Roeper, a Sun-Times columnist since 1987 who got the gig last year after the show's producers tried partnering Ebert with a rotating panel of critics. "I watched the show growing up and was very aware and respectful of its legacy," Roeper tells TV Guide Online, adding that any jitters he had about filling Siskel's shoes have since disappeared. "To be honest, I'm having too much fun to be nervous."

Roeper — co-author of He Rents, She Rents, a guide to "Guy Movies and Chick Flicks" — concedes that Siskel was a tough act to follow. "I knew going in that there's no way you can duplicate what Roger and Gene had done for all those years," he says. "I went into it with the attitude of, 'Wow, this is a fun opportunity.' Maybe that's what helped me to get the job."

The fact that Roeper is anything but demure certainly didn't hurt either. When asked to comment on current movie fare such as Sandra Bullock's Miss Congeniality, he says, "I like her, but she's got the worst taste in scripts of just about any actress out there." Further, he says Adam Sandler's Little Nicky "was the worst film of the year," calls Madonna "a terrible actress," wonders why people find Tom Green funny ("He's Pauly Shore with a goatee") and bristles at the thought of Battlefield Earth ("Can you believe Travolta is actually threatening to make a sequel?").

Does he ever get tired of going to the movies? "When you see six or seven films a week, you get a little fidgety sometimes," he laughs. "Especially when the third movie of the day is Double Take or The Next Best Thing. You sit there going, 'Oh my God, this thing is never going to end.'

"Still," he smiles, "It beats working for a living."