Film critic Roger Ebert said he never gave a "thumbs down" to the use of thumbs in reviews for "At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper" during contract negotiations.

In a statement released Friday to The Associated Press, the TV show's distributor, Disney-ABC Domestic Television, said Ebert had "exercised his right to withhold use of the 'thumbs' until a new contract is signed." Ebert is a copyright holder on the signature "thumbs up-thumbs down" judgment that's part of each film review.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning critic responded in a statement Saturday on his web site, saying he "had made it clear the Thumbs could remain during good-faith negotiations," contrary to Disney's press release.

"They made a first offer on Friday which I considered offensively low," he wrote. "I responded with a counteroffer. They did not reply to this, and on Monday ordered the Thumbs removed from the show. This is not something I expected after an association of over 22 years."

Health problems have kept Ebert from appearing on the show for more than a year, with guest hosts filling in, although he has continued to write reviews and books. In the new season starting this weekend, co-host Richard Roeper is being joined for the first few months by movie critic Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Observer.

Two episodes have been filmed so far without the thumb assessment, which has become a staple of movie marketing and, in turn, a big part of the show's influence.

Ebert, 65, holds the copyright to the critique with the estate of Gene Siskel, his original co-host. Ebert, a film critic at the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, and Siskel, who was at the rival Chicago Tribune, launched the show in 1975. Siskel died in 1999. Roeper also is a Sun-Times columnist.