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UPDATED 09/25/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/25/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

>Richard Roeper

Last week, Richard Roeper officially took the aisle seat beside movie critic Roger Ebert, replacing Ebert's longtime partner, Gene Siskel, who died last year. But when it came time to rename the show, there was no debate. "Roger told me that 25 years ago he lost a coin flip to Gene on who would get top billing, and he wasn't about to flip a coin again," says Roeper, 40, the new cohost of Ebert & Roeper and the Movies. "I can dig that."

But when it comes to the matter of pointed thumbs, Roeper won't be so accommodating. "We've already had a couple of fights," he says. (He, for example, is a fan of Coyote Ugly.) A Chicago native and news columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times (where Ebert is film critic), Roeper was one of 24 guest reviewers to join Ebert on air in the past 17 months. "He just felt right," says Ebert, 58. "Natural, at ease, able to give as good as he got." Roeper, who is single, doesn't think being a noncritic will hurt him: "The show was never about discussing camera angles. It's about 'Did you like this movie and why?' " And though he won't go into specifics, he admits his new gig "pays obscenely well when you consider that what you're doing during the day is what people like to do on a Saturday night." Besides, as a critic, he is usually spared one annoyance. "It should be against the law for people to come in to a movie 15 minutes late," Roeper says. "Whichever presidential candidate enacts that legislation, I'll be for him."

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