The creator of Its Garry Shandlings Show and The Larry Sanders Show gave US comedy two of its most original series and influenced everyone from Judd Apatow to Larry David and Ricky Gervais
Garry Shandling, who died on Thursday at the age of 66, doesnt have the name recognition of superstars such as Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey or Larry David, but without him none of the landmark shows they created might have existed. Shandling was a standup, host and comedy writer, but his legacy will really be felt in the two sitcoms that he made Its Garry Shandlings Show and The Larry Sanders Show both of which pushed the envelope in terms of the tone and direction that sitcoms can take.
Its Garry Shandlings Show ran on Showtime and Fox from 1986 to 1990, when both were still nascent forces on TV. They were the only places brave enough to let Shandling experiment with a show where he plays himself, a comedian named Garry Shandling, and often spoke directly to both the studio audience and the audience at home. Though this was a trick employed by George Burns when Shandling was younger, all the characters on the show knew that they were on a sitcom. Its the sort of meta comedy that now pervades the likes of Community.
The first show about nothing was never huge with audiences but was nominated for four Emmys and was a hit both with critics and comedians who used what Shandling was doing and sanded off the edges, creating shows that might have tested very poorly with audiences but became huge mainstream hits, such as Seinfeld.
The success of Its Garry Shandlings Show and Shandlings stint as the permanent guest host of The Tonight Show while it was hosted by Johnny Carson set him up perfectly to create his masterpiece, The Larry Sanders Show. This time Shandling was playing the vain and difficult host of a late-night talk show. The HBO sitcom, which ran for six seasons from 1992 to 1998, took viewers backstage to see just how awful and bumbling the people behind the talk shows velvet curtain can be. While it was never as absurd as 30 Rock, it paved the way for the show about a show.
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