by David M. Fitzpatrick
of The Weekly Staff
If you’re flipping channels this Saturday night looking for some entertaining television, consider skipping the cable reruns and the debatable comedy of “Saturday Night Live” and tune in to WABI-TV Channel 5. If you’ve never seen the show before, get ready to be entertained as the locally produced “The Nite Show” airs its 100th episode.
“The Nite Show” broadcasts on CBS affiliate WABI in Bangor and on CW affiliate WPXT in Portland, bringing funny-guy host Dan Cashman, golden-voiced announcer Joe Kennedy, the New England Emmy-nominated Jump City Jazz Band and noted guests into homes across two-thirds of Maine and parts of New Hampshire.
Cashman says “funny guy” isn’t an apt moniker. He got his training in radio, went on to serve as Gov. John E. Baldacci’s assistant press secretary, and later founded his own PR firm, Cashman Communications.
“I’m definitely not a stand-up comedian,” he said. “I’m somebody who dabbles in broadcasting, who really enjoys late-night television and local television.”
Cashman was in third grade when he began staying up late on Friday, enthralled as he watched the wacky antics of David Letterman. Later, when he added Johnny Carson to his mix, he realized he loved the whole late-night format.
“I said to myself, ‘If there’s ever an opportunity to do that when I get older, that’s what I want to do,’” he said.
He’s also had a long appreciation for local television, beyond news and sports. He remembers the days of Dick Stacey’s “Country Jamboree” and the local Santa Claus show at Christmastime. Combining those two loves was something he wanted to do for a long time. And in 1997, he got the chance.
A 16-Year History
The show is actually in its third incarnation. The first, while Cashman was in college, was produced at local station WBGR after the owners gave the young host a shot. Cashman even had to sell advertising to support it, but it paid off. The first episode aired on Letterman’s birthday in 1997; 90 episodes later, the final episode ran in 1999, on the 17th anniversary of Carson’s final show, and Cashman was off to New York for an internship with radio legend Don Imus.
During that tenure, Cashman admits everybody was lost. Production was primitive by today’s standards, and often involved jury-rigging VCRs together.
“We didn’t know what we were doing,” he said. “But somehow we pulled it all together. It was the best of ‘Yankee ingenuity’ meeting ‘high school AV club’ to create what people were watching.”
Cashman revived the show in 2001 through WCKD, the local UPN affiliate at the time, for a 45-episode second run. But with a production crew out of college and working day jobs, nobody committed the required time and effort. The result was an unimpressive product, and the show was canceled.
Years later, a friend suggested another revival, but Cashman would only consider it if two things happened, neither of which he thought ever would. The first was that the show had to be on WABI. The second was that the show would have to be a professional production for WABI to even consider it.
Much to Cashman’s surprise, WABI was interested, and suggested the New England School of Communications as a possible tool for a quality production. Several meetings with NESCom resulted in a plan to create a team effort to benefit the show and the school. The show began taping in October 2010, and it’s been gangbusters ever since. Cashman is still stunned at how things worked out.
“As much as I believed in [the show]… I never could have imagined a best-case scenario playing out,” he said. “That’s what we have: a best-case scenario.”
Partners in Crime
The show wouldn’t happen without NESCom. The students do everything: setup, teardown, audio, video, wiring, lighting, production and editing — getting a comprehensive real-world experience they wouldn’t get otherwise, and on a regular basis, producing about 40 new episodes per year.
“I can’t speak highly enough about NESCom,” Cashman said. “The students there get an amazing experience, and they learn so quick. The staff is dedicated to what they’re doing. They really, really go above and beyond when it comes to educational experiences when it comes to students.”
The show frequently plugs NESCom and provides it free advertising spots, but according to John Easton, NESCom’s video production coordinator, the experience alone is invaluable.
“When Dan first approached NESCom, it was clear that this would be a student-driven production,” said Easton. “Since we are focused on preparing students for jobs in video and broadcast production, it was a perfect fit.”
Early in the semester, the instructors are very hands-on, but by the end, they step back and let the students produce the entire show.
“That’s the idea: train them and let it become Danny’s and the students’ show,” Easton said. “Ultimately, the students do all the work, pre-production, execution, post-production and distribution to WABI and WPXT. When they reach that level, that’s pay dirt.”
The show tapes at the Next Generation Theatre in Brewer. Started six years ago by two high-school students who wanted to open up theater and dance to youths of all ages, it was designed with children’s productions in mind — but not for acting as a television studio.
“The Next Generation Theater is such a valuable resource,” Cashman said. “For the show, they’ve bent over backwards. They have done everything they possibly can to accommodate what we bring to the place. And it is such a great fit for our show.”
And the NGT is a big fan, according to owner Tracey Marceron.
“It’s exciting to have all the guests that he brings on the show come through my business,” she said. “[And] I think he’s brought a lot of people to Brewer that never would have come.”
Show patrons help the theater by donating money, purchasing concessions or shopping in the store. And if you’re looking for something fun to do on a Wednesday night, you’ll likely find that attending a taping is a great night out enjoying live entertainment.
The show also fits in with NGT’s goal to involve youth in theater. The NGT works with children from grade school through high school, and having the college NESCom students using the theater just continues the NGT’s mission.
“It also has been such a great outreach to these kids at NESCom, who then get to have some real experience to put on their resumes,” said Marceron.
Key to the show’s identity is its house band, the Jump City Jazz Band. It consists of Brian Catell on keyboards and vocals, Michael Borja on drums, Brian Nadeau on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Bob Roman on bass.
“They’re some of the best musicians in the state,” Cashman said. “[It’s] an all-star band.”
That isn’t just hyperbole. The opening theme music for .The Nite Show’ earned the band a nomination for a New England Emmy Award for Outstanding Musical Composition-Arrangement in 2012. Like any night-show band, this one is skilled and knows how to improvise, and intros guests with appropriate theme music.
“They have an amazing amount of versatility, and they… just bring in an element of class to the show that probably wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have such great musicians there,” Cashman said.
The Show’s Future
With 100 episodes of the new show done, Cashman is eager for the next 100. He’s seen plenty of big names on the show: humorist Tim Sample, children’s singer Rick Charette, Sen. Angus King, Gov. Paul LePage, baseball star Matt Stairs and even famous lawyer F. Lee Bailey have graced the stage, among many others.
“Maine has so many great people… there’s still a list a mile long of people we would love to have on the show,” Cashman said.
He’d like to book some big names such as Stephen King, Noel Paul Stookey and Martha Stewart. Of course, his dream guest would be David Letterman.
“I’m sure he’ll never do it, but it’s not going to stop me from trying,” he said. “I’d even settle for Leno.”
So “The Nite Show” team will continue to produce high-quality shows, as if they’re expecting Letterman to walk on the set at any moment. And they’ll all keep having fun.
“It’s incredibly gratifying to be able to get together with so many creative people and create something that people are actually watching,” he said. “To be able to — as hokey as it sounds — live out a dream for a third time is amazing.”
“The Nite Show’s” 100th episode airs at 11:30 p.m. Saturday, April 13, on WABI. The show airs weekly in that time slot. To learn more, and to reserve free tickets to attend a taping, visit www.TheNiteShowMaine.com.