The Larry Sanders Show {1992-1998}

The portrait Sanders painted of Hollywood wasn't a pretty one, unless you consider superficiality, pandering, backstabbing, and megalomania pretty. ''We were diving deep into that psychological morass because Garry had lived it,'' says Wallace Langham, 47, who played the bitter head writer, Phil. ''Hollywood is high school with money, and Garry wanted to implode these inflated egos. It was just mind-bogglingly close to the bone.'' But the more brutally cutting the show's satire became, the more the entertainment industry fell in love with it, and as the series went on, a parade of well over 100 celebrities (Ben Stiller, Jim Carrey, Sally Field, Jennifer Aniston, Robin Williams...) came on to play less-than-flattering versions of themselves. ''The people who did it couldn't talk enough about how liberating it was,'' Langham says. ''By the end, there was a line around the corner.''

Ask the show's cast about their favorite episodes and their answers tell you a lot about just how edgy and button-pushing Sanders could be. Tambor cites the one in which Hank has a religious epiphany and insists on wearing a yarmulke on the air: ''When he gets the first anti-Semitic letter, he immediately takes it off like a coward. As a Jew, I just loved it.'' Langham chooses ''Putting the 'Gay' Back in Litigation,'' in which Hank's gay assistant, played by Scott Thompson, sues the show for sexual harassment as a result of Phil's relentlessly homophobic jokes. ''I look at Phil [in that episode] and it's like, 'Just shut the f--- up already!''' Langham says. ''But we've all been around those people who just can't stop what they're saying and it gets worse and worse.''

For the Sanders cast, the series hasn't always been an easy act to follow. ''It set the bar so high for writing that oftentimes I've been disappointed,'' says Penny Johnson Jerald, 51, who played Sanders' straight-shooting assistant, Beverly. ''Not everybody is coming from that place of honesty and truth.'' And for a generation of comedy writers who were inspired by the show, it didn't prove to be the easiest model to emulate. ''Everyone wanted to be the next Larry Sanders, and in the beginning people stole all the wrong things from it,'' says Sarah Silverman, 41, who played writer Wendy in the final seasons of the show. ''Everything was a behind-the-scenes look at a sports thing or a TV show or the news. But that's not the thing to steal. The thing to steal is brilliant writing and well-drawn characters. But that stuff takes work.''

And what about Shandling? How does he follow up a landmark series like The Larry Sanders Show? ''What do you suggest?'' he asks, laughing. Shandling continues to perform stand-up and played a politician in 2010's Iron Man 2, but he hasn't done another television show since Sanders (the last major thing he wrote was the 2000 big-screen comedy What Planet Are You From?), and many now see him as a kind of semirecluse. The problem, he says, is that unlike his TV alter ego, ''I have to sit down and write something. Larry just has to go and do some jokes. I have to do something that matters to me.'' Asked whether he would ever consider bringing Sanders and the other characters back for another go-round on television or in a movie, Shandling thinks for a while before answering. ''My only thought,'' he says finally, ''is that when Larry dies maybe we'll do something on Access Hollywood. We can get a bunch of stars to go on and on about Larry and what it was like to be on his talk show.'' He pauses again, then adds with a quiet laugh, ''I think we could probably fool a number of people.''


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