The influential orbit of Shandling's groundbreaking series

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Posted: Mar 24, 2016 8:37 PM
The influential orbit of Shandling's groundbreaking series

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Garry Shandling was always at his best when he used himself and his own chosen profession as the joke. In just over a decade of groundbreaking television, he not only changed the sitcom forever, but also helped define some of today's greatest comic talents.

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IT'S GARRY SHANDLING'S SHOW

"It's Garry Shandling's Show" made no bones about its inherently artificial nature: the actors in this otherwise standard domestic comedy routinely broke the fourth wall to comment on what they were up to or just chat with the studio audience. Even the theme song began with the explanatory lyrics, "This is the theme to Garry's show...." The 30 minute sitcom ran on Showtime for four seasons from 1986 to 1990. Reruns on Fox helped raise Shandling's profile before he launched "The Larry Sanders Show."

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THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW

Shandling smashed expectations about what sitcoms could be again with "The Larry Sanders Show," a showbiz sendup set in the world of late night talk shows. Shandling starred as the titular host Larry Sanders, and the show took a look at the late night world from all angles. Celebrities and comedians of the moment often appeared as slightly askew versions of themselves as "guests" on the talk show, like Norm MacDonald and Henry Winkler — parodying actors, their hang-ups and the promotional culture of the late show. The show ran on HBO for six seasons between 1992 and 1998.

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THE INFLUENTIAL ORBIT

Shandling's influences on comedy stylings and sitcom structure continue to resonate in both subtle and overt ways, but those early shows also played a direct role in helping shepherd the careers of some of today's most important talents including actors, writers, and producers.

Jeffrey Tambor, who played Larry's perpetually put-upon sidekick Hank, is raking in Emmys and pushing societal boundaries as a transgender woman in the critically acclaimed series "Transparent."

"Better Call Saul" revelation and longtime comedian Bob Odenkirk had a recurring role on the show too as Larry's agent Stevie Grant. "Garry was a guiding voice of comedy. He set the standard and we're all still trying to meet it," Odenkrik said. "He gave us all opportunities to learn how to do the best work of our lives."

Jeremy Piven, who went on to win three Emmy Awards for his work on HBO's "Entourage," recalled how his first acting job was playing a writer on "The Larry Sanders Show." It was a master class in comedy, he said Thursday. "I was in awe of his insight and comedic genius. I just observed and tried to soak it up. He was like a brilliant mad scientist. Every beat counted with him. He had integrity with everything he did in his work and had a great time doing it," Piven said.

Judd Apatow, who has created a veritable comedy empire on the big and small screen, served as a producer and writer on "The Larry Sanders Show" early in his career, right before launching his seminal show "Freaks and Geeks." He often credited Shandling with teaching him about the merits of blurring fiction and reality.

"Garry would see the ridiculousness of me being asked to sum up his life five minutes after being told of his passing. It is a perfect, ridiculous Larry Sanders moment," Apatow said. "I just don't know how to sum up someone I loved so much who taught me everything I know."