Shandling, Garry

▪ 1999

      Although the television series "The Larry Sanders Show" was not as popular as "Seinfeld," many critics felt its end, in May 1998, was the greater loss. Like most great satire, the series—which chronicled the behind-the-scenes neuroses, vanities, and backstabbings among members and guests of a fictional television talk show—blurred the line between art and reality and between the show's cocreator and star, Garry Shandling, and his character, the shallow, insecure talk-show host, Larry Sanders.

      Shandling was born Nov. 29, 1949, in Chicago. After receiving a degree in marketing from the University of Arizona, he moved in 1978 to Los Angeles, where he wrote for the TV series "Sanford and Son" and "Welcome Back, Kotter." Frustrated by the situation comedies' formulaic writing, he began doing stand-up comedy featuring his whining self-deprecation and self-absorption. Shandling made his television stand-up debut on "The Tonight Show" in 1981, and by 1983 he was a frequent guest host and considered a possible successor to regular host Johnny Carson. "It's Garry Shandling's Show" appeared on the Showtime pay cable channel in 1986. The innovative and subversive series starred Shandling as a character named Garry Shandling who knew he was on a television sitcom and often broke the "fourth wall," addressing the audience while he strolled from one set to another. The show ran until 1990 and won the CableACE award four times, including twice for best comedy series.

      In 1992, instead of becoming the host of his own "real" talk show, Shandling became the host of "The Larry Sanders Show" for the HBO pay cable channel. Though the program itself was fictional, the series was set in the real entertainment world, offering a razor-sharp look at the siege mentality of television production, including narcissistic celebrities, greedy agents, misanthropic writers, and long-suffering staff. Shandling convinced his show-business friends to appear on the series as themselves, and over the next six seasons about 200 celebrities accepted his invitation to deflate their images with self-mockery.

      "The Larry Sanders Show" received numerous Emmy nominations but won only three awards. In early 1998 Shandling became caught up in the sort of real-life Hollywood battle of egos and lawsuits that his show often skewered when he sued his former longtime friend and manager for conflict of interest. Sanders followed suit on the fictional show by firing his agent.

      Although on the final episode of the series guest Sean Penn told Larry Sanders how awful it had been to work with the talentless actor wanna-be Garry Shandling on the real, soon-to-be-released film Hurlyburly, Shandling was reportedly considering the possibility of a genuine post-"Sanders" film career. Confessions of a Late Night Talk Show Host, Sanders's autobiography "as told to Garry Shandling," was published in November.


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Universalium. 2010.

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