Remember Michael Essany? He’s the teen who hosted a nighttime public access talk show in his parents’ Valparaiso living room from 1997 to 2007. In 2003 and 2004, he starred on an eponymous reality show on E! and was poised to take over late-night television.
Instead, the husband and father of one has been living in Valpo and working as vice-president of the Indiana Grain Company.
This fall, he returns on a locally produced show called “Seven On Ridge.”
“On one of the last episodes of the E! series, Jerry O’Connell said to me, ‘What do you plan to do when the series runs its course?'” recalls Essany. “I was in college at the time. I said, in the future I would like to host a late-night show from Chicago, because it’s the one major market that’s been overlooked. There’s [David] Letterman on the East Cost and [Jay] Leno on the West Coast. We’re going to make this show as Chicago as it can be.”
The hour-long program will be shot downtown and air weeknights on WJYS-TV. The centerpiece is the charismatic Essany, whose ability to attract A-list celebrities to his parents’ home led to appearances on everything from “Oprah” to “The Tonight Show.” The format will include the usual monologue, sketch material, and celebrity and musical guests. “Because it’s of and for Chicago, Chicago is going to play heavily into the material we present,” says Essany, who is the show’s co-executive producer.
“I have continuously attempted to build a show like this, but I’ve failed to do so for the past 10 years,” he continues. “I have had meetings with local channels and national platforms. They’ve always been interested in doing something, but at the last minute there was usually a major concern for the station or producer, from adequately funding an enterprise like this or ‘Can you really get celebrities in Chicago every night to compete with other shows?’ I don’t know why it has changed, but it seems like now it’s finally going to work. It will be interesting to see what the impact will be. I imagine that if it goes well, Chicago will become a new destination on the map for other late-night shows, whether it’s local or national.”
The house band is a 21-piece swing orchestra featuring six vocalists, and headed by local saxophone legend Terry “Sonny Lee” Tritt. Audience members will be seated at tables and booths (and can elect to have dinner during the show). ” It will look different from what you’re used to seeing in late night,” says Essany. “It will have an elegant, sophisticated air to it.”
Except perhaps for his sidekick: a 10-foot tall animatronic rooster named Kaka. “In late-night TV, the sidekick is usually an obsequious, fawning character – a yesman who laughs at every joke,” says Essany. “The rooster and I have an antagonistic relationship towards each other, and we’re hoping that will parlay into comedy.
“We had a media conference with the rooster, and we got great feedback with the live audience and press who were in attendance. I think we have a good formula. If nothing else, there will be substantial buzz so we’ll have a good initial turnout. And if the show is good, people will stay.”
The biggest obstacle for the show, which hits the airwaves September 17th, will be luring the audience to obscure, Oxford Media Group-owned WJYS – which usually airs religious and brokered programs or infomercials and is carried by all major cable outlets.
“We want first and foremost focus on the content and quality of the show,” says Essany. “Then we’re hoping that if it’s good enough to grow, it will. We’ll worry about the business side as it develops. With all of the grunt work that goes into putting entertainment like this together, all hands on deck are focused on the content, look, and presentation of the show.”
There will be 300 to 450 free tickets available for each taping. For more info, visit sevenonridge.com.
ODDS: Chicago-based “Great Lake Warriors” follows the dangers boat captains face in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ontario, and airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on The History Channel . . . We’re far more interested in Billy Corgan’s local pro-wrestling reality show – which at press time was still lacking a title and a network . . . Jill Egan joined The Mix on Sunday mornings. She continues doing traffic on WBEZ-FM (91.5) and the “Brooke And Jill Show” podcast . . . Plans are in the works for WPWR-Channel 50 to simulcast Mancow Muller’s syndicated morning radio show, weekdays from 6 to 8 . . . The vibrant mix of new, classic, and vintage rock and metal on south suburban The Kat (KAT 105.5) is the handiwork of PD, afternoon host, and former Mancow sidekick Wally “Freak” Kozielski – who got his start at The Mix. Listen online at kat1055.com. . . . Chicago Public Media will purchase bilingual, youth-driven WRTE-FM (90.5) from the National Museum Of Mexican Art for cash and services totaling $450,000, pending FCC approval.
— Cara Jepsen