GARY | Valparaiso's TV talk show host Michael Essany is ready for a return to the small screen and promises his latest broadcast venture will be bigger and better than his reality chat show series on cable's E! Entertainment in 2003.
The show will tape weeknights Monday through Thursday from a studio at the Genesis Convention Center in Gary.
The new one-hour show called "Seven on Ridge" begins airing at 10:30 p.m. Monday to a broadcast audience billed as 11 million homes on Chicago station WJYS.
As for Essany's first guest? It's Chicago's favorite weatherman from WGN-TV Tom Skilling, who just turned 60 in February.
Audience members at the show's first taping Saturday night at the Genesis Center said it was great to see their hometown boy hitting what could be the big time, as a 14-piece band warmed them up and waiters and waitresses served shrimp cocktail at tables.
"I'm a Johnny Carson nut," said Janice Harris. "So when they said it's similar to Johnny Carson, I said, 'All right, I'm going.'"
Harris recalled seeing broadcasts of Michael's interviews with celebrities from his parents' Valparaiso home when he was just a teen, as did Ryan and Kelly Peters.
"Michael has such a quick wit," Ryan said. "He just throws stuff out of nowhere and it's funny. I think he can play to a wider audience with that."
Head writer Ian Ross Hughes said the evocation of great late-night television and the supper clubs of the past was no accident for what will be "Chicago's first late-night show."
WJYS is an independent television station headquartered in Tinley Park, Ill., with antennae on top of the Willis Tower in downtown Chicago, serving 11 million viewers in the Chicago, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan markets.
WJYS can be found on Comcast, Dish Network and Direct TV systems. Essany said the station is powerful enough to be picked up with an old fashioned TV antennae for free.
Also, there's the option to watch episodes via the show's website at sevenonridge.com for free.
Essany said the name for his new show came as the idea of one of his team of producers, who years ago, worked on a local talk show taped in Northwest Indiana with a studio address at 7 Ridge Road in Hobart.
Last month, Essany and his TV crews made the rounds in Rosemont, Ill., at the Wizard World Chicago Comic Con filming interviews.
He describes the studio set and audience seating area designed "to pay tribute to" an elegant supper club from a bygone era, even including valet service.
For guests opting for the dinner option, there's an additional charge, since the dining includes a bottle of wine and contemporary regional cuisine, including an appetizer, salad, and main course (with choice of three entrées), plus dessert, served by Chicago's chef Steve Savoy.
The sevenonridge.com website allows audiences to make reservations.
"There is a small $1, or so, reservation fee for the general opening seating, just to assure that we don't have audience groups reserving blocks of 'free' tickets and then not attending as planned," Essany said.
The show will tape weeknights, with the 7 p.m. dinner options prior to the show taping at 8.
"Even though the broadcast show will air with a one-hour time slot, when audiences come to a taping, it will be a couple hours with our live band and featured performers, in addition to some earlier taped celebrity interviews," Essany said.