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Tuned In: Talk-show host brims with enthusiasm

Thursday, January 09, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD -- Watching "The Michael Essany Show" (March 2, E! Entertainment Television), it's easy to admire Essany's precocious nature. Not too many people begin hosting a weekly cable access talk show from their living room at age 15. Fewer actually succeed in booking celebrity guests (Ray Romano, Kevin Bacon, Katie Couric, former President Gerald Ford), particularly for a show that originates from Valparaiso, Ind.

He seems full of himself, but E!'s behind-the-scenes look at Essany's efforts to prepare each week's program has sweet touches. Essany's parents run the cameras, prepare food for the guests and unequivocally support their son and his obsession.

Now 20 and a college freshman who never got around to obtaining his driver's license, Essany's show benefits greatly from editing. There's more to it than just him, and it's not the freak circus that "The Anna Nicole Show" was from its earliest moments.

But during a press conference with Essany, the whole concept became a little peculiar. The guy lives and breathes talk-show ambition.

"I must admit, I feel 35 years old," Essany said. "When someone makes me aware of my age, I'm kind of surprised."

Essany claims not to have watched much TV as a child, but he speaks in the language of a seasoned Hollywood veteran, dodging questions about stars who have stiffed him and speaking like a talk-show sage.

"If you have an A-list celebrity or someone who is just coming up and a host who's blaming a bad show on not getting good guests, it's not the guest's fault, it's the host," Essany said. "I don't believe there's any excuse for a bad interview. If you have a bad guest, then the host should step in and do something."

It's great to have a dream, but Essany takes his "career" as a talk show host with the utmost earnestness.

"I had Ed McMahon as my first guest and he gave me a gem of advice that I have not forgotten and I think about every single interview," Essany said. "He said so many hosts make the mistake of not realizing that the next question is in the last answer. ... I like to have a conversation, not an interview with somebody."

Essany takes himself seriously, but every now and then there's a brief hint of self-deprecation. When a reporter mistakenly says the talk show originates from his basement, Essany is quick to respond.

"It's the living room," he said. "The basement would be crazy."

Maher's return

Bill Maher, who saw his "Politically Incorrect" canceled last year by ABC, returns with a new weekly HBO series. The 20-episode, hourlong "Real Time With Bill Maher" will air live at 11:30 p.m. Fridays beginning Feb. 21.

"This is an end-of-the-week kind of wrap-up show," Maher said. "We really wanted to be able to be up to the minute and the Bush administration usually releases bad information on a Friday afternoon, so when they do, I would like to be there to nail their [expletive for rear end]."

"Real Time" will have a panel element, similar to "Politically Incorrect," but only with three guests, who will be drawn from a pool of about eight regular commentators.

"I'm at the point in my life where I just want to talk to the A-team," Maher said. "Not that I don't love Carrot Top and not that you didn't all enjoy him on the subject of gun control."

HBO series news

"Six Feet Under" returns for its third season March 2 ... "The Wire" has been renewed for a second season to air this summer. This year the show will look at the decline of the working class, focusing on the Baltimore waterfront and its unions ... HBO has ordered an hourlong, 13-episode Western from producer David Milch ("NYPD Blue"). Set to air in 2004, "Deadwood" stars Timothy Olyphant as a former marshal turned merchant, Keith Carradine as Wild Bill Hickok and Ian McShane as the brutal owner of a saloon ... "Sex and the City" begins production March 31 for its 20-episode final season, set to premiere in June ... "Oz" will end with a 100-minute episode Feb. 23.

Miller back on HBO

Dennis Miller, whose "Dennis Miller Live" ended its run in August, will tape a new stand-up special in Chicago in February to debut on HBO in April.

Ellen DeGeneres will also get a new stand-up special, set to air in June.

Reeve to 'Smallville'

Christopher Reeve, star of the 1978 "Superman" movie and its sequels, will appear on a February sweeps episode of The WB's young Superman show "Smallville" as a scientist who helps Clark Kent learn more about his mysterious origins.

The new AMC

Plenty of viewers have complained to me about the new direction of AMC, which no longer stands for American Movie Classics. The network added commercials and started to air more recent movies that are anything but "classic" ("Halloween 5" is scheduled to air Friday night).

All these changes are part of AMC's attempt to draw advertiser-coveted younger viewers, the mantra of all networks.

"We're looking toward the future, we're looking to grow our audience," said AMC general manager Noreen O'Loughlin. "We are a network for movie lovers, but we're looking to expand our programming and really intrigue people with entertainment about movies and about the world of movies for movie lovers."

Now bearing the slogan "TV for movie people," the network will continue to mutate, continuing to be a basic cable movie network while building a night of television programming. That includes the documentary about reality show stars, another documentary about "Gay Hollywood" and a stop-motion series, "The Wrong Coast," that parodies movies, television and pop culture.

"Shows like these provide signature and definition immediately to a network in a way that our slate of movies cannot do on their own," said Rob Sorcher, AMC senior vice president of programming and production. "This is what's going to lead us into people coming en masse to AMC."

And lead disgruntled AMC viewers, en masse, to Turner Classic Movies.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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