Looking back at ''The Larry Sanders Show'' -- Garry Shandling says his character never meant to offend anyone

”I’m sick of you, and you can print that.” This is Garry Shandling to an Entertainment Weekly writer during the final days of his brilliant HBO talk-show sitcom, The Larry Sanders Show. Bustling around a corner of his Studio City, Calif., production offices, a trail of stubble-chinned t-shirted and blue-jeaned writers trailing behind him like exhausted ducklings, Shandling utters these words the way he says almost everything — deadpan, eyes lidded in a pained squint, his voice a monotone verging on whininess. You think, He’s kidding, right? So you smile and force a chuckle.

”No, I mean it.”

He’s still kidding, right? Spend just a few minutes around Shandling and you start feeling like Hank Kingsley, the never-gets-the-joke dufus sidekick that Jeffrey Tambor plays so astutely opposite Shandling’s Larry. When Shandling finally breaks into a small grin — as pained as his earlier grimace — and pats you on the back, you feel vastly relieved.

No one else is, though. There’s palpable tension in the hallways of Shandling’s offices, as a two-page scene between Larry and guest star David Duchovny must be punched up — Garry wants more laughs, so more laughs there shall be. It’s taping time for the last installment of The Larry Sanders Show, an hour airing May 31 whose plot is, of course, about the last installment of the fictional Larry Sanders Show. In addition to Duchovny, the A-list guests include Jim Carrey, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, Warren Beatty, and Carol Burnett.

”It’s a very dramatic episode, in that Larry doesn’t want to deal with any of the emotions of his last show,” Shandling says of his alter ego. ”He’s only dealing with the show in terms of, Will it be the greatest one ever? He wants the biggest names to pay fealty to him. And it’s not till the very end that he realizes that this show, which was his whole life, is really over, and then there’s a 10- or 15-minute roller-coaster ride of emotion.”

In the scene now in question, Sharon Stone has canceled at the last minute, and Garry as Larry must go over to Duchovny’s hotel room and personally beg him to replace her. Larry’s nervous about being alone with the wily X-Files star because, as faithful viewers know, Sanders became convinced last season that Duchovny has a crush on him.

As a mere EW reporter — a type portrayed as a nosy, wheedling creature in a hilarious 1993 episode — you’ve been asked not to speak to Shandling during this taping period, so you hang back in the hallway as the star confers with the writers. Then Duchovny walks down the hall wearing an unusual bit of clothing, and — well, gosh, you’d think you’d just accidently seen the last page of the upcoming X-Files movie. ”You may not write about what you’ve just seen!” says Shandling’s assistant, associate producer Kelly Grant. ”You were asked not to bother Garry and the writers now — we’ll have to pull the plug on this story right now!”

Oh, my. This is the second time the phrase ”pull the plug” has been used during this assignment; the first was in a warning not to ask Shandling about the lawsuit he has pending against former manager Brad Grey, a hot-potato controversy in which (as reported in EW in March) Grey is accused, among other things, of improperly releasing writers from their contractual obligations to Shandling’s show, only to hire them for Grey-produced sitcoms. Grey denies this and is countersuing. (For the record, Grey’s clients include Sanders alums Paul Simms of NewsRadio and Steve Levitan of Just Shoot Me.)

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