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Shandling as Sanders in his HBO show

Looking back: How Shandling shook the talk shows

Web posted on: Friday, August 14, 1998 5:33:41 PM

A NewsStand: CNN & Entertainment Weekly report

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Six years ago this week, Garry Shandling began taking his audiences to the bizarre and hilarious outer limits of late-night talk shows.

Was "The Larry Sanders Show" a television sitcom about a talk show, or was it a talk show about a sitcom? Whatever it was, fans and critics alike called it the best comedy on television. Cable television. Home Box Office.

It was award-winning. It was a backstage pass that let viewers feel they were along for the ride. And just as the real talk show wars were about to peak, this parody of late night had America hooked.

Talk show host Larry Sanders would announce a commercial break, but the break would not come, leaving Sanders and sidekick Jim Carrey very much on-screen for this Carrey remark:

"Let's cut the crap, Larry. You never liked my work until I got hugely famous. What are you gonna do now? Movies? I'll crush you."

Turned down Letterman gig

Shandling had been a guest host for Johnny Carson and David Letterman beginning in 1983, but reality began to seriously warp in 1992. After Leno gained Johnny Carson's vacated late-night seat on NBC and a frustrated Letterman defected to CBS for his own 11:30 p.m. slot, NBC offered Shandling $20 million to replace Letterman.

Thanks, but no thanks, the veteran comedian said. Shandling signed instead with HBO for six seasons of satire.

And that was a problem -- apparently.

"God knows I'm not friends with Dennis Miller anymore, or Arsenio. And I swear to God, Leno tried to hit me with one of his big cars the other day," Sanders complained.

Still, some old friends dropped by. A total of 187 celebrities spoofed themselves in scathing cameos on "The Larry Sanders Show."

Shandling was kissed by Ellen DeGeneres, then famously manless, and advised by David Duchovny that he felt a warm, buzzy feeling he said he normally had when he was with a woman he liked: "It's definitely a heterosexual feeling, but it's directed at you."

When Shandling's screen went to black in May, he finally gave his viewers permission to do something they hadn't been able to for six years: "You may now flip. Good night."

But Hollywood streets aren't safe. Shandling's next project is a film version of the play "Hurley Burley," starring Sean Penn and Keven Spacey. The dark comedy about the movers and shakers in show business opens in December. Expect sex, lies and videotape.

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