We gave it an A
The time: 1992, the height of the late-night talk-show wars. Johnny Carson has retired. Arsenio Hall and Jay Leno are in a cutthroat battle for A-list guests. Conan O”Brien is a writer for ”The Simpsons.” And David Letterman is contemplating a jump from NBC to CBS.
Into this fray stepped HBO”s ”The Larry Sanders Show,” the funniest and most poisonously accurate TV show about a TV show in history, and possibly the medium’s greatest exploration of fear and loathing in the workplace. Larry (played by Garry Shandling, master of showbiz paranoia) is a late-night host beset by competition, an interfering network, and his own anxieties. His on-air sidekick, Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor), is a sad huckster who can’t even succeed at being the consummate Hollywood phony. And his producer, Artie (Rip Torn), runs the set like a cross between ”Tonight Show” producer Fred de Cordova and General Patton.
The 13 episodes on The Larry Sanders Show: The Entire First Season swiftly establish the template: near-flawless writing and performances and pitch-perfect guest shots by everyone from Carol Burnett to Robin Williams. Ten years later — the rare Ross Perot or Jerry Brown one-liner aside — Sanders remains fresher, funnier, and smarter than just about anything on TV.