Heeere's Michael

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Michael Essany left his teens behind in October when he turned 20, but his ambition remains to become a TV talk-show host. That dream, which Mr. Essany has had since age 14, has grabbed the attention of E! Entertainment Television and marketers alike.

"The Michael Essany Show," a reality series that follows the Valparaiso, Ind., young man as he juggles college and creates a weekly local cable access show from his parents' living room, premieres at 10:30 p.m. (ET) March 2 in the time slot immediately following "The Anna Nicole Show."

"It's kind of surreal to see your life as a television show," Mr. Essany says. "Anything that can appeal to an audience can appeal to advertisers. The core element is this inspirational element. If my story illustrates anything, it's more of failure than success."

Mr. Essany started his local cable show in September 1998, and sent out interview requests to 500 celebrities. Fellow TV talker Leeza Gibbons was among the first three who agreed to an interview; her company, Leeza Gibbons Enterprises, is now producing the reality show. "This is not your average then-15-year-old kid," Ms. Gibbons says. "He has a corn-fed confidence that doesn't cross over into arrogance but comes pretty close. That's really charming."

E!, majority owned by Comcast Corp. and Walt Disney Co., thinks that charm will rub off on advertisers as well. Only a few minutes of the 221/2-minute show is devoted to Mr. Essany's interaction with celebrities. The rest of the time chronicles his struggle as Mr. Essany tries to book guests and they try to find his house 30 miles southeast of Chicago, and as he fleshes out a monologue, writes cue cards and gets to class on time.

"I have more in common with the typical teen than most people think," Mr. Essany insists.

At E!, Gavin Harvey, senior VP-marketing and brand director, says: "This is a glimpse into the life of a young man who sacrificed his life to his passion. It is an amazing, different view into the world of celebrity and fame."

E! executives say they're in discussion with a cross-section of advertisers including automakers, entertainment marketers, telcos and fast-feeders. Media buyers say the show's quirky nature may prove a winner.

advertising in offing

"The celebrities themselves will be less the draw, and more so the earnest Michael holding onto his dreams," says John Rash, senior VP-director of broadcast negotiations at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell Mithun. Minneapolis "If viewers embrace his concept, advertisers will quickly follow."

Kathryn Thomas, associate director of Publicis Groupe's Starcom Entertainment, Chicago, has kept an eye on Mr. Essany for several years. "There are some unique [advertising] opportunities if someone would like to embrace this show."

In the final analysis, Mr. Essany's future appeal may mirror what the young talk-show host says appeals to him in advertising: "I'm always drawn to commercials that emphasize life experiences, maturity and heart."

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