World & Nation

Archive: ‘Larry Sanders,’ a show starring a talk show host

Garry Shandling: Life in pictures

David Duchovny, left, and Garry Shandling talk in a scene from "The Larry Sanders Show.”

(Larry Watson / HBO)
Chicago Tribune

What goes on behind the scenes of a late-night talk show? For instance, what does a talk show host whisper in the ear of a guest when the show breaks for a commerical?

That and other behind-the-scenes glimpes will be offered by Garry Shandling with “The Larry Sanders Show,” a new HBO comedy on the trials and tribulations of the titled late-night talk show host. The 13-week show, which begins Saturday (Aug. 15) at 9:30 p.m., uses real-life celebrities, and also mentions the “competition” -Jay Leno and Arsenio Hall.

“It actually is just holding to light the talk show world, and certainly, the psyche of a talk show host who is consumed by his ratings and his likability and what guests he can get and that sort of thing,” said co-creator Shandling, in his first regular series since his critically-acclaimed “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” left the air in 1990.

Shandling, who was born in Chicago and raised in Tucson, Ariz., was very frank in talking about the goings-on in the hotly-contested world of late-night talk shows, which will see Whoopi Goldberg entering the race this fall.


“The show is not a slap towards any of (the other talk show hosts). The show is a slap at the hypocrisy of the talk show genre,” explained Shandling, 42.

“Because the guests are treated as product. There`s a lie that goes on in the sense that on camera, there’s a certain manner that is affected by most of the hosts, and backstage they are different people. And that`s what we take a look at.

“It’s very bizarre, because you realize they’re both doing their jobs,” Shandling continued. “People, I think, feel they’re just on there to talk. And also you see that the second the show is over, the host leaves and there`s no further contact with the guests, sometimes. And it’s all a presentation, and the host puts on a certain persona.”

An example of this is the chit-chat that goes on. Sometimes the host will say something like, “It was great having you, come back soon.” It may sound sincere, but that’s not always the case, according to Shandling.


Shandling noted that Sanders sometimes says that on his show, “but meanwhile, the second he’s behind the curtain talking to his producer, he says, ‘Don’t ever have that person back again.’”

That’s pretty cold, but Shandling insisted his alter ego, who has battled Johnny Carson, Arsenio Hall and Jay Leno for eight years, isn’t the jerk he sounds.

“Larry realizes some of the hypocrisy of that world,” Shandling explained. “He catches himself going, `Is this what my life is all about?’

He’s living in this kind of world and trying to figure it out.”

In this instance, Larry Sanders is far removed from smary talk show host Barth Gimble (Martin Mull) of the late 1970s “Fernwood 2-Night.” While Gimble was a schemer out to make himself look good at the expense of his guests, Sanders is just “a very nice guy with some jerk tendencies he wishes he didn’t have,” Shandling said.

Shandling certainly can draw on his experiences on both sides of the talk show desk. A standup comedian since 1978 who has logged numerous appearances on both “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night with David Letterman,”

Shandling also served as a guest host for Johnny Carson in 1984 and 1985.

With all that expertise, one has to wonder: Who is Larry Sanders?


Sanders is patterned after actual talk show hosts, Shandling admitted, as well as someone who is unique to himself, but didn`t want to go into specifics. Shandling did admit Sanders is a person who wants to be on television in the worst way.

“The expression I like to use is, the only thing worse than being on TV every night, is wanting to be on TV every night,” said Shandling. “He needs the rush of that one hour a day, the lights, the guests, the audience.”

After five years on the ACE cable award-winning “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” what was it that lured Shandling back into situation comedy? It was a chance to do something that wasn’t like anything else on the air, like Shandling`s previous show, in which he routinely talked to the home audience. “I don`t think in terms of what would be successful on television. I think of an idea that I think I know how to do and make funny, and go with it. . . . It`s not constructed to be successful in a broad sense.”

Shandling reveals that during the winter he was offered the chance to helm a late-night talk show, but declined because he didn’t see anything new fresh he could bring to the format. Instead, he came up with “The Larry Sanders Show,” an idea born in part from an episode he did on the subject on “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.”

“I thought it would be really interesting to do a series about a talk show, but very reality-based and about real people,” he said.

And that included celebrities playing themselves. Among those slated to appear in upcoming weeks include Dana Carvey of “Saturday Night Live,” Bob Saget of ABC`s “Full House,” and actors Mimi Rogers, Dana Delany, Carol Burnett and William Shatner.

Only about five minutes of actual, videotaped talk show is seen, with the rest of the show filmed with a single camera. Sanders comes complete with a protective producer (by Rip Torn), a cowering announcer/sidekick (Jeffrey Tambor), and a supportive wife (Megan Gallagher).

Shandling is hoping that audiences will warm up to “The Larry Sanders Show.” He’ll do his part by not making it something only show business insiders will appreciate.


“The trick is to not be indulgent so that the audience can`t understand it,” Shandling said, “because otherwise, you’re wasting everybody’s time. And I think this show is going to be easily understood by the viewer.”

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