Jerry Davich: Essany tries to reach his dream with ‘Seven on Ridge’
Jerry Davich firstname.lastname@example.org September 18, 2012 9:32PM
Michael Essany performs his monologue during a taping of his new show Seven on Ridge at the Genesis Center in Gary Tuesday evening. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 20, 2012 6:22AM
Michael Essany anxiously tapped a pencil against his desk on the set of his new late-night TV talk show, “Seven on Ridge.”
On Monday night, the second-show recording of Essany’s dream gig would soon begin inside the Genesis Convention Center in downtown Gary. Or so he thought, as did a couple dozen audience members, including me, who sat patiently at dinner tables on the main floor.
The 7 p.m. taping, however, was bumped back almost two hours due to a prolonged sound check with a guest band, technical difficulties, and a few bugs to be worked out.
“We want to make sure it’s perfect for television,” Ian Ross Hughes, the show’s head writer, apologetically explained to the audience at 7:40 p.m.
“Seven on Ridge” has been in the works for months (if not longer in Essany’s head), a traditional mixed-entertainment show with an opening monologue, a variety of musical acts, and two or three guests chatting with Essany next to his Johnny Carson-like desk and old-school microphone.
When I first heard about this show, several months ago, it was to be taped at a Chicago area theater or upscale music venue. In fact, the show introduction still says, “from Chicago ...”
The show’s website, www.sevenonridge.com, boasts several glossy photos of the set, designed to be an “elegant supper club from a bygone era.”
It also offers an impressive YouTube marketing video, stating, “Seven on Ridge delivers all the national celebrities we know and everything about the Chicago we love,” while showing images of international stars such as Ray Romano, Gary Sinise and John Landis.
“Live audiences will be treated to an entertainment experience like no other,” a narrator promises.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the flashy website, sultry design layout and promising video were misleading from what I experienced Monday night.
Why the show got switched to the Genesis Center, I don’t know but, on the upside, it’s certainly an easier drive for region residents. And the center’s employees were polite and professional. A food vendor near the makeshift studio offered chicken wings, salad, chips and other snacks, along with a cash bar.
Working out some kinks
I sat at table 18 with my girlfriend as several workers, technicians, and producers hustled around us to prepare for the live taping. On that night’s show, Essany would welcome guests “Amazon John” with Silly Safaris, the musician “SJ,” comedian Marci DeLoney, and The Giving Tree Band.
At 8:10 p.m., Felicia Johnson, who would later belt out the show’s infectious theme song, took center stage to perform a sound check with the house band, the impressive big band sounds of the Seven on Ridge Orchestra. If Essany has an ace in the hole for his show, it’s the band. Those guys can play. Period.
“We are waiting for the rooster to crow,” Johnson sang in gospel style during her sound check, “time for dinner and a show.”
To her left, behind a couch near Essany’s desk on the set, a 10-foot tall mechanical rooster called “Kaka” finally crowed a few minutes later. The humorous animatronic sidekick is used to introduce the night’s guests and its host, among other cocky quips.
“And now ladies and gentlemen,” Kaka crowed. “Michael Essany!”
But Essany wouldn’t emerge from backstage for another half hour, after a couple of dry-runs with the band and his introduction.
“This one’s for real,” a producer said from the shadows.
Sure enough, a drum roll led to Essany hitting the stage and opening the show with several jokes about pop culture, news events, and even a Northwest Indiana event (the recent graffiti threat at Valparaiso University).
In his monologue, Essany said his show was initially designed as a weekly endeavor, to air each Friday. Then it got expanded to a daily show, Monday through Thursday evenings.
“When Chicago gets a Daley, it’s there forever,” he joked, playing on the words “daily” and “Daley” as in the city’s former mayors.
Impressively, he didn’t use cue cards or a Teleprompter. But a few of his (purposely?) corny jokes fell flat to the live audience. Or maybe it was just me.
After the show, Essany told me he is hosting the one-hour show full-time, meaning, I presume, that he no longer is vice president of the Indiana Grain Co. in Valparaiso, his former day job.
“A group of producers, staff, and talent all came together to get this show on the air,” he told me regarding the funding for the show. “We are courting sponsors for commercials and have just finalized a few.”
He was excited to just land former Chicago Bears player Steve “Mongo” McMichael for Wednesday night’s show, which airs Thursday night at 10:30 p.m. on Chicago TV station WJYS (channel 62 on my DirecTV receiver).
“As a perfectionist, I’m never going to be completely happy with everything,” he said.
“I am incredibly proud of our crew and we are working to get into a rhythm with this new show. By the end of this month, we should be firing on all cylinders in terms of production, content, and music.”
If you plan to attend a future taping of the show, tickets cost only $1 but bring cash for food, snacks, and drinks. Also, bring a sweater if you get cold easily, as a few chilled guests failed to do. (Parking, by the way, is in the main lot — not in the parking garage — and it’s just a few feet away from the main doors.)
As most region residents know, this is Essany’s latest shot to be a late-night talk show host, his dream job since childhood, when he hosted a similar show from his parent’s living room. Now that he’s 29, married with a young child, maybe this is his last shot, I don’t know.
I hope he makes it. I really do. Local talent realizes his lifelong dream and all that. But the odds are stacked against him. Critics know this. Essany surely knows this.
He will have to constantly keep in mind one of his favorite quotes, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
Hopefully, Essany will be able to chat with me on my “Casual Fridays” radio show this Friday at noon on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.thelakeshorefm.com.