NBC Courting Garry Shandling for ‘Late Night’


NBC executives are negotiating with Garry Shandling to succeed David Letterman on the network, according to sources.

Shandling has been praised by TV critics for his wickedly humorous take on the TV talk-show world on “The Larry Sanders Show,” an HBO comedy series on which Shandling plays a late-night host.

Shandling is said to be the choice of NBC entertainment president Warren Littlefield to fill in the now-blank name at the end of NBC’s “Late Night With. . . ,” which is generally shown at 12:30 a.m. Letterman is going to CBS to do a late-night talk show that will compete head-to-head with “The Tonight Show” an hour earlier. Shandling, a popular stand-up comedian, was a regular guest host on “The Tonight Show” before Jay Leno took over for Johnny Carson as permanent host last year.


NBC executives have been having difficulty selecting a host to succeed Letterman in the late-night slot. With Letterman doing his last NBC show on June 25 before debuting his CBS show in August, the network is under pressure to name a successor soon. NBC executives are said to favor Shandling in part because he is a well-known name who presumably will have appeal to NBC’s affiliate stations. A lesser-known talent is considered a riskier choice because the network does not want local stations to defect to syndicated late-night talk shows rather than the NBC show.

Lorne Michaels, the “Saturday Night Live” executive producer who was asked to develop a new “Late Night” show after NBC lost Letterman to CBS, has recommended that the network hire Conan O’Brien, a 28-year-old TV writer and stand-up comic for the job. O’Brien, a producer on “The Simpsons” and a former writer and sketch actor on “Saturday Night Live,” recently taped a 40-minute mock run-through (complete with monologue and interviews) on the “Tonight Show” set in Burbank that impressed NBC executives. Michaels is said to believe that O’Brien could represent a new generation of talk-show hosts.


Sources at the network said that network executives recognized that the original cast members of “Saturday Night Live” also were not well-known when the show began under Michaels, the creator and producer of “SNL.” But, although they were impressed with O’Brien, they have been holding out hope for a better-known candidate.

NBC executives, along with Michaels and Brad Grey, Shandling’s manager, declined to comment on NBC’s search for a successor. But sources said that Shandling has not been happy recently with the level of on-air promotion and advertising by HBO for “The Larry Sanders Show,” which has received rave reviews from critics. Shandling is the co-creator of the HBO series, which has been on hiatus recently and begins its second season on the pay-cable network in June.

It is not known whether Shandling would want to satirize talk shows--or play it straight--on NBC, or what kind of show NBC executives might envision for him. But sources said that if Shandling and NBC do make a deal, the show would be produced on the West Coast and Michaels would not be executive producer.

In recent weeks, NBC executives have been auditioning a number of comedians at comedy clubs in Los Angeles. Comedians Allen Havey, Paul Provenza and Drew Carey have been among the names mentioned as possible successors. But, despite their credits from Comedy Central, MTV and other TV networks, none of these comedians is well-known outside the comedy world.

“The stakes here are huge, and NBC needs to have the host named by the NBC affiliate meeting (in late May),” said one executive from another network. The executive said that NBC had been caught off guard by Letterman’s decision to go to CBS. But, the executive added, “It’s not as easy as it looks to cast a late-night talk-show host. The person has to be able not only to do a comedy monologue but also to interview guests five nights a week. That reduces the roster of possible candidates to a pretty small number.”