Tina insists that all these talk-show trappings are no big deal. ''The kids used to play ball in the living room,'' she says. ''So giving it up wasn't really a sacrifice.''
''This could establish my national presence, let everyone know there's a young Rocky Balboa of late night out there.'' -- MICHAEL ESSANY
For all his zealous ambition, Essany is endearing. And the kid is somewhat reasonable about his Hollywood timetable: He says he plans to finish college, create an interview show for a larger market like nearby Chicago, and hope the networks notice. But since that's a long way off, he'll stick to what he says are smaller goals -- like bagging a coveted on-set interview with Oprah Winfrey. (His tenacity has paid off -- somewhat; she asked him to appear on her show Feb. 24.) ''I still think I've got a lot of work to do,'' he says, now pacing the living-room floor. It all comes down to how he does behind the desk. ''You've got to know how to make other people look good on the show. It doesn't matter who gets the biggest laugh because either way, the next day around the watercooler, you want people to say, 'Hey, did you see The Michael Essany Show?'''