Written by: Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons
Nobody could crack a joke better than Garry Shandling.
When he was on “The Tonight Show” either as a guest or guest hosting, you knew you were going to smile at least once.
In 1986, he finally got his own show. The show had one of those catchy TV theme songs that stayed in your head for years:
This is the theme to Garry’s Show,
The theme to Garry’s show.
Garry called me up and asked if I would right his theme song.
I’m almost halfway finished,
How do you like it so far,
How do you like the theme to Garry’s Show.
This is the theme to Garry’s Show,
The opening theme to Garry’s show.
This is the music that you hear as you watch the credits.
We’re almost to the part of where I start to whistle.
Then we’ll watch It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.
Shandling played a version of himself, reminiscent of Ozzie and Harriet or George Burns or Gracie Allen. Joining him was his neighbor Nancy (Molly Cheek), best friend Pete Schumacher (Michael Tucci), Pete’s pre-teen son Grant (Scott Nemes), his mother Ruth (Barbara Cason), Nancy’s boyfriend Ian McFyfer (Ian Buchanan), and Garry’s agent Brad Kilneck (Bruno Kirby).
Garry would set up the show, the theme song would play, then someone would come in and the scene would progress. What made it different was that Shandling often would break the fourth wall by talking directly to the camera, letting us know his inner mind.
Like any true sitcom, everything would be wrapped in a nice little bow at the end, then the theme song would come back on.
The show was created by Shandling and former Saturday Night Live writer Alan Zweibel. During the second season, Zweibel arranged for Gilda Radner to guest star. At the time Radner was having a short term remission of ovarian cancer. In his book Bunny Bunny, Zweibel worried about Radner who took long naps and was incredibly thin. Yet when Shandling opened the door and said, “Hey everybody, it’s Gilda!” the audience went wild, applauding. Several crew members started crying. After they hugged, Radner admitted, “I haven’t been on television for a while.”
“Oh that, yeah. What was wrong?”
“Oh, I had cancer. What did you have?”
Without missing a beat, he responded: “I just had a series of bad career moves.”
The rest of the episode deals with neighbor Leonard having a guilt trip about how he treated one of Radner’s caregivers Blake (Blake Lewis) in Vietnam. What I love about the episode is Shandling’s generosity. He was just as funny as Radner, but he let her steal the show with her mugging to the camera, smiling, waving and dancing around the living room. When she needed Blake she would call out, “Nurse Blake! Nurse Blake!” Sometimes he would say her name and she burst into a big grin, soaking into the audience’s love.
Not every sitcom star is that generous about letting someone else have the stage.
He was, and it was a blessing: Radner died a year after she taped the episode.
After the show ended in 1990, Shandling did something completely different: He played Larry Sanders, a guy who was hosting his own late night talk show. The title of the show? The Larry Sanders Show, which was the name of the talk show. Larry had to deal with his not-so-bright sidekick Hank (who had the catchphrase “hey now!”), Artie the producer (who when he got upset would call Larry “Sonny boy”), Beverly, his assistant (and sometimes lover) who is his voice of sanity, and Paula the talent booker who feels limited in a job where, “I can only derive a limited amount of personal satisfaction from booking the parrot lady.”
The show dealt with such issues as Larry trying to use the bathroom during the show but keeps being interrupted, Carol Burnett seeing more of Larry than she ever wanted to, dealing with a possible takeover by Dana Carvey (mirroring Carvey being discussed for taking over Late Night in 1993), not to mention storylines of ex-wives, mistresses, and the fact that Larry was too fond of Excedrin pills. The show was a critical hit, lasting six seasons.
When I heard of Shandlng’s death earlier today, I was saddened. Then I thought about his Tonight Show routines, trading lines with Gilda, and as Larry Sanders saying “No flipping.” I instantly got The Garry Shandling Show theme song in my head, and I smiled.
No better way to remember a comic with a smile.
It meant he did his job.