The Destiny of Michael Essany
Young host pursues late night talk show dream.
by Mark D. Johnson
April 11, 2003
Sundays, 10:30/9:30c on E!
I never thought I would advocate watching anything on the E! Network, but for those who are sick and tired of TV’s barrage of adult situations and censor bleeps, you might find something to admire in “The Michael Essany Show.” It follows Essany, a twenty-year-old freshman at Indiana’s Valparaiso University, as he puts together and hosts a weekly traditional late-night talk show on the local cable access channel. The show is taped in the living room of his parents’ house, where he still lives. Dad runs the camera and picks up guests, Mom directs and does makeup, his childhood friend does sidekick duty, and actual celebrities show up to chat with the self-proclaimed future “King of Late Night.”
Many of you are already thinking “Not another reality show!” Well, yes, this is more unscripted fare, aside from the monologue, and it follows one of TV’s more mindless offerings (in more ways than one), “The Anna Nicole Smith Show.” But at least it isn’t a dating show, a talent search, or a “Survivor” clone. It’s about an affable young man who has dreamed about being a talk show host since puberty and has set out to fulfill that dream with the whole-hearted support of his parents. He’s been so busy in pursuit of this goal that he never found the time to learn how to drive.
Essany, a political science major, has closely studied the delivery, mannerisms, and comic timing of his hero, Johnny Carson. It’s easily identifiable in his opening monologue. His old-school approach to late night comedy is refreshingly absent of cheap sex jokes, obnoxious arrogance, and general edginess that pervades today’s mainstream talk shows. Despite his non-paying gig and low-budget production, he is a hard-working professional.
“The Michael Essany Show” airs only about five minutes total of the host’s local cable show. The bulk of the show is the whirlwind of activity that surrounds prepping for the show, making sure the big-name guest’s limo finds the house, and hanging out with that guest before and after the taping. It can be hard to book a recognizable name in small-town Valparaiso, 55 miles southeast of Chicago, but even before E! put him on national television, he was able to lure the likes of Jewel, Carrot Top, and Kevin Bacon. With E! now tagging along, some of the antics are staged, but that doesn't lessen the enjoyment. In recent outings, Essany has gone clothes shopping with supermodel Frederique Van der Wahl, go-cart riding with the unpredictable Tom Green, and bowling with Michael Ian Black (Phil Stubbs on “Ed”).
This Sunday’s show, with guest David Brenner, is the last of the original order of six episodes, but E! has ordered more to take the series into the May sweeps. Future guests include Jimmy Carter and Jared of Subway fame.
Essany displays a quick wit as well as a barely-controlled excitement about what he is accomplishing. His enthusiasm is infectious. Michael Ian Black summed up his experience on the show with this: “These are good people. Good people, and their strange son.” (That's "strange" in a good way.)
Thanks to the E! Network for giving the kid a national audience, but here’s hoping his next show finds a more respectable home. You can’t help but root for the guy.
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