VALPARAISO | More than 400 people showed up Tuesday at Valparaiso University, eager for a glimpse of how a local TV talk show host plans to challenge two late-night heavyweights.
Michael Essany's Chicago area-based TV talk show is set to launch this fall, airing in local markets at the same time as NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman."
The invite-only stage preview of the VU graduate's latest broadcast project attracted a full-capacity crowd to Harre Student Union.
"I first happened to meet Michael back in 2003 when I was working at the mall in Merrillville, and Michael and his TV crews would sometimes come to the mall with his celebrity guests to tape footage," said Tianna Mikula, 29, who attended the preview with her husband, David.
The Hobart woman was referring to Essany's two seasons starting in 2003 as host of "The Michael Essany Show" on E! Entertainment Television, which he partly taped in the living room of his parents' Valparaiso home.
"One of those times, he had (TV and film) actor Jerry O'Connell with him in 2003, and he let me get Jerry's autograph and photo," Mikula said. "I'm here to wish him the best."
Essany, 29, a 2005 VU graduate, is unveiling what he describes as "Chicago's first original nightly late-night talk show."
Titled "Seven on Ridge," he said the series will debut Sept. 17, airing in 11 million homes at 10:30 weeknights on WJYS.
WJYS is an independent TV station headquartered in Tinley Park, Ill., with antennas situated on Willis Tower in downtown Chicago. It reaches viewers in the Chicago, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan markets.
Essany said the blending of talk and variety shows will include national celebrities and local talent.
For Tuesday's preview, the VU ballroom was transformed into a television studio, complete with Essany's "Seven on Ridge" 13-piece orchestra and an array of Chicago entertainment acts including country music, rock bands and comics, intended for adult audiences.
The focal point of his stage set Tuesday — billed as one of the TV show's highlights — was his sidekick, Kaka, a 10-foot animatronic rooster.
Essany's first guest Tuesday was Chicago radio legend Dick Biondi, who turns 80 in September and is celebrating his 52nd year in broadcasting.
Biondi, who had to broadcast his own radio show later Tuesday night on WLS-FM 94.7, gave Essany some advice.
"I also started out as a child broadcaster, doing my first radio commerical at age 8," said Biondi, sitting across from Essany's interview desk.
"Chicago is the best town for this business. In New York, they're all talk. And in LA, they chew you up and spit you out. But Chicagoland audiences are the greatest."