Not even Danny Cashman himself was convinced that, 10 years ago, “The Nite Show with Danny Cashman” was going to last more than 12 episodes. For all he knew, those 12 episodes would make for a fun collaboration with the New England School of Communications at Husson University, they would air on a local TV affiliate and then that would be the end of it.
But 10 years and 500 episodes later, “The Nite Show” is among the longest-running regional television shows still on air. It is one of just two late-night talk shows in the country produced regionally (the other, “The Mystery Hour with Jeff Houghton,” broadcasts out of Missouri).
“I honestly never could have predicted it would have gone on all this time and sustained itself and grown, year over year,” said Cashman, who by day works at Sutherland Weston Marketing Communications in Bangor. “It’s succeeded beyond anything I could have hoped for.”
The show films its 500th episode Wednesday evening, which broadcasts Saturday night on local TV affiliates in Bangor, Presque Isle and Portland.
An ultra-low-budget first iteration of “The Nite Show” ran for three years in the late 1990s and early 2000s on the Bangor-area WB and UPN affiliates. Then in 2010, eight years after the last episode ran, Cashman, an Old Town native, University of Maine graduate and lifelong lover of late-night television, found himself interested in getting back behind the desk — this time, with a much higher production value.
“When we did it the first time, we were just kids having fun. Today, people wouldn’t watch that. You have to be in high definition, you have to be lit well, it has to sound good, all that stuff,” said Cashman, now 41, but with the same boyish face he had as a 20-year-old first-time host. “And that’s where Husson came in.”
Rodney Verrill, a broadcasting and video production instructor at NESCOM, signed on to coordinate the student production effort for the show, which early on was filmed at the Next Generation Theatre in Brewer.
“It’s proven to be one of the best mechanisms we have for experiential learning,” Verrill said. “And it’s not just the curriculum. Students use this for resume reels. They use it to pursue careers. It goes way beyond just being a learning tool.”
After four years in Brewer, the show had outgrown that theater’s small stage, and in 2014, it moved to the Gracie Theatre at Husson University, the school’s 500-seat theater that doubles as a performing arts venue and training facility. There, students working on “The Nite Show” do nearly everything — sound and lights, running the camera, stage management. Just about the only people involved in the show who are not NESCOM students are Cashman, Verrill and fellow instructor Ken Stack; a handful of writers; show announcer Joe Kennedy; and the now six-piece Nite Show Band, led by trumpeter Brian Nadeau.
“I think what sets us apart is that there really aren’t any other programs like this. Lots of schools have their own campus-only TV stations, but who gets to work on a show that is then broadcast on network TV?” Cashman said. “When your mom and dad get to watch the show that you work on, that’s pretty special.”
“The Nite Show” is just the latest in a long history of local late-night TV in Bangor. In the 1960s, legendary Bangor broadcaster Eddie Driscoll hosted the horror and sci-fi movie show “The Weird Show.” In the 1970s and early 1980s, “Dick Stacey’s Country Jamboree” showcased the best (and worst) of local music. Unlike either of those shows, however, “The Nite Show” is independently produced and then syndicated to local TV affiliates, including longtime partner WABI, Bangor’s CBS affiliate, which has broadcast the show for all of its 10 years.
In addition to local broadcasters, politicians, authors and comedians, higher-profile guests on the show have included “Weird” Al Yankovic; actors Patrick Dempsey, Ed Asner and Stephen Tobolowsky; Jon Fishman of “Phish”; and Cashman’s friend and regular guest, Marc Summers, former host of the Nickelodeon game show “Double Dare.”
Cashman’s favorite guests, however, are the hundreds of bands and artists who have performed on the show — nearly all from Maine, and ranging from hip-hop artist Spose, to country-rock group the Mallett Brothers Band, to classical pianists, to local musical theater artists from the Penobscot Theatre Co. and Some Theatre Co.
“Before we ever started, I remember sitting in a bar in Hallowell and watching a band, and thinking ‘I wish we could do something to highlight these kinds of things,’” Cashman said. “That’s the thing I think I’m most proud of — the fact that we can let people know about the amazing artists and musicians we have in this state.”
Cashman’s big goal for the next few years is to fulfill his longtime dream of being on at the same time on Saturdays on all four networks that currently broadcast the show. Right now, “The Nite Show” airs on Saturday at 11:30 p.m. Saturday on WABI in Bangor, at 10:30 p.m. on Fox 23 in Portland, at midnight on WAGM Fox 8 in Presque Isle and at 1 a.m. Sunday on WGME in Portland.
“A consistent time slot would go a long way toward further solidifying our statewide audience,” he said. “We already had a big victory a few years ago when we beat ‘Saturday Night Live’ in the local ratings. I think we can grow even more.”
Still, for Cashman, the real joy in doing the show is the chance to entertain everyone — from viewers at home, to people in the audience at live tapings, to the NESCOM students backstage.
“We’ll tell a joke, and I’ll look at the students. They are the toughest crowd in the world,” Cashman said. “If you can make them laugh, you’re doing it right. And that’s incredibly gratifying.”