Garry Shandling has made it official: The upcoming season of his critically acclaimed HBO series, The Larry Sanders Show, will be the last. He says he’s got a terrific idea for a finale, although it will be hard to top this real-life scenario: Garry becomes convinced that his high-powered manager has been robbing him blind and sues him for millions. Said manager questions the sanity of his longtime client, as does much of Hollywood.
It’s a plot so suited to Larry Sanders — a show that brilliantly spoofs a tortured, paranoid late-night host — that much of the industry was waiting for the punchline. But in the end, it was no laughing matter. In a feud that could make the Jeffrey Katzenberg-Michael Eisner contretemps look like a love tap, Shandling filed a $100 million lawsuit against his manager, Brad Grey, as well as Grey’s management and production company, Brillstein-Grey Enterprises.
Shandling, 48, is claiming that Grey abused his trust and reaped millions from their association. Specifically, the comic wants a cut of what Brillstein-Grey made from a $100 million development deal with ABC and the firm’s $90 million sale of half its production arm to Universal Studios. Those deals, Shandling’s suit alleges, would not have happened “without assurance of [his] exclusive involvement in Grey’s ventures.”
Ted Harbert would beg to differ. The former ABC Entertainment chairman insists that the Alphabet deal had almost nothing to do with Shandling; he is just one in a “very extensive and appealing list of clients,” says Harbert. “The network made the deal to be in business with Brillstein-Grey Enterprises.”
Still, if nothing else, the suit sheds light on a growing industry concern: managers who do double duty as producers — as Grey does as an executive producer on Larry Sanders. It’s a confusing and fine line to walk, given the attendant job descriptions: Managers must determine what’s best for their clients; a producer’s priorities should be the show and the studio producing it. Shandling is accusing Grey of stepping over that line by putting his own interests ahead of Shandling’s. “Other Brillstein-Grey clients recognize that Brad negotiates with them, not for them. That is what our case is about,” says Shandling’s attorney, Jonathan D. Schiller.
Making the situation even stickier, Shandling and Grey were close friends for 18 years — that is, until Grey dumped Shandling as a client last November. To hear Grey’s camp tell it, Shandling’s neurotic behavior — both on and off the set — finally went too far. “Garry became Larry Sanders,” says a longtime colleague of Shandling. “He’s been abusive toward Brad and others on the show.” Case in point: In January, Shandling’s latest producer, Craig Zisk, quit in frustration, only to be persuaded by Grey to return to the show.