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The little show that could – ‘The Nite Show’ turns 20

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The NESCom production crew working the set of "The Nite Show," which has called Gracie Theatre its home since 2014. The NESCom production crew working the set of "The Nite Show," which has called Gracie Theatre its home since 2014. (Photo courtesy of Whittling Fog Photography)

BANGOR - Maine’s only statewide late-night TV talk show celebrates a milestone this year, as “The Nite Show” turns 20; an achievement being recognized with a series of five anniversary shows scheduled to air each Saturday through April 15. 

For host Dan Cashman and the program’s cast and crew, it’s an anniversary worth celebrating, not only as an opportunity to reintroduce early guests but to also demonstrate how far the program has come since its modest beginnings.

In the spring of 1997, Cashman and a group of friends, armed with a camcorder and the most minimal of props and backdrops, shot the program’s first episodes in the building formerly known as the Old Town Community Center. Other episodes were filmed just down the street at the Old Town Knights of Columbus hall. In between, a series of road shows were shot in Bar Harbor, the Oronoka restaurant and at the Sea Dog Brewing Company. 

The results were whittled down to weekly half-hour installments, initially airing on WBGR. In total, 90 episodes were produced from 1997 to 1999, before Cashman turned the camera off to focus on college studies. 45 episodes of a second incarnation of the show aired on a different station in 2001.

Cashman, an Old Town native, relied on the willingness of friends, family and sometimes strangers, to help create content for the show. I was one of those early guests and fondly remember being referred to as Dan’s Tony Randall, a reference to one of the guests that David Letterman would call upon when a previously booked guest would cancel at the last minute. 

What the show lacked in production value in those early years was made up for by Dan’s commitment to coming up with fresh ideas, interesting local guests and musical talent.

In 2010, Cashman began having meetings with both WABI-TV 5 and the New England School of Communications about the possibility of resurrecting The Nite Show.

Seeing an opportunity to offer students hands-on input in the creation of a professionally-produced weekly show, NESCom agreed to handle the production while WABI found a home for the show Saturdays at 11:30 pm, opposite NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”

The new and improved “Nite Show” began shooting new episodes before a capacity audience of 100 at the Next Generation Theatre in Brewer. In 2014, the show transitioned to the 500-seat capacity Gracie Theatre at Husson University.

Since the show’s return, Cashman has hosted hundreds of Maine-centric guests but has also been successful in luring a number of notable personalities to the show, including “Weird Al” Yankovic, former MTV VeeJay Nina Blackwood, Marc Summers of Nickelodeon and Food Network, Sesame Street’s The Count and jazz trombonist Tom “Bones” Malone of David Letterman’s CBS Orchestra. 

Last week, I was invited to return to “The Nite Show” as a guest, along with Ric Tyler of WVOM, for an anniversary show set to air on April 1. Ric was also a frequent guest during the show’s formative years, and we appeared together to reminisce with Dan and the show’s announcer, Joe Kennedy. The musical guest on the April 1 show is a favorite band of mine (and Cashman’s) – Alter Igor.

I arrived early to watch the taping of an episode, featuring Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, and took a seat near the front to be closer to the Nite Show Band (also known as Jump City Jazz Band).

It was an amazing experience to watch and listen to these stellar musicians, helmed by bandleader Brian Nadeau. As good as they sound on TV, seeing and hearing them in person is a whole other level of musical appreciation.

The backstage area was a whirlwind of activity, with myriad cables, speakers, lights, students, instructors and assorted moving parts, all coming together to create the seamless production that you see on TV (special shout out to one of the show’s writers (and cue-card guy) Austin Hodgens).

Most impressive was the professionalism and courtesy demonstrated by the students, supervised by NESCom instructors, including Ken Stack (overseeing the Entertainment Production crew) and Rodney Verrill (organizing the video crew). Other faculty were present and in charge of managing audio, video and IT. 

Ric and I were escorted by a student to the Gracie Theatre’s dressing room, where we batted around ideas and pretended to be celebrities while awaiting our call.  We were summoned by another member of the crew and soon heard Dan announcing our names, followed by the band playing our walk-on music: a spot-on jazzy take of “A Hard Day’s Night” by The Beatles.

Our segment seemed to go by in a flash. A few stories, some laughs … and then it was over. Backstage, we handed our wireless microphones to a crew member and were on our way.

As I walked out of the theatre, I couldn’t help but think back to the first incarnation of “The Nite Show,” and marvel at the progress the show has made since those fledgling days.

“Realizing just how inexperienced and green we were in those early days, I never would have believed that we would be doing the show at this level 20 years later,” Cashman told me. 

“Today, looking around the Gracie Theatre, with the custom-built set, the seven cameras, the know-how of the NESCom faculty and the eagerness of the students to learn and do well, the amazing band, Joe Kennedy and members of our own crew, who still love producing local late-night TV … it’s overwhelming and surreal.”

“The Nite Show” airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. on WABI TV 5, 10:30 p.m. on Fox 23, 7:30 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. on WGME 13 in Portland and midnight on WAGM 8 in Presque-Isle.  Get free tickets to an upcoming taping by visiting www.TheNiteShowMaine.com.

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 March 2017 13:23

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