The risk was huge for the comic. Johnny Carson offered Garry Shandling the permanent guest host position on The Tonight Show. Carson’s days behind the desk were coming to an end. Garry would be the new King of Late Night TV. It was the keys to the kingdom. Garry turned down the gig to focus on creating a sitcom for the Showtime pay channel. How smart could that be?
In the ‘80s, Showtime’s original programming consisted of burlesque level shows made in Canada. Their most prominent special was Spice On Ice featuring topless figure skaters. What sort of series could Garry develop in such an environment where their seemed to be no boundaries? Would he keep his clothes on? Was It’s Garry Shandling’s Show worth the surrendering the greatest TV gig to Jay Leno? After watching all four seasons on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show: The Complete Series, the answer is a resounding yes. Who wants watch the first 74 episodes of Jay Leno’s Tonight Show?
Garry and original Saturday Night Live writer Alan Zweibel didn’t crank out the usual sitcom that rehashed old Honeymooners scripts. They allowed Garry to play a character that was an insecure self-loathing narcissist named Garry Shandling. They created a series that recognized it was a TV show and made everything inside the soundstage part of the script including the cameras, sets, crew and ultimately the studio audience. During one episode, the crowd sneaks out of the peanut gallery to party on Gary’s apartment set while he’s in a different scene. Nothing is ever played as reality. Garry pointed out that we hadn’t met someone’s wife in the previous episode because she hadn’t be cast. Neighbor Leonard Smith (Paul Wilson) showed up asking what the episode’s plot and how he can help. The show isn’t merely about pulling back the curtains to expose the showbiz mechanisms. It’s about Garry welcoming us into his TV world and letting us enjoy the weirdness.
“The Day Garry Moved In” has him loading his stuff into his new condo. The former owner was Vanna White from Wheel of Fortune. Garry introduces us to his friends including his platonic girlfriend Nancy (Molly Cheek), his pal Pete Schumaker (Michael Tucci) and little Grant Schumaker (Scott Nemes). He flirts with the lady installing his cable and she responds. Things go wrong when he returns to his condo to discover all his stuff has been stolen. Every one is a suspect including Vanna White who gives a hint on Wheel. Can Gary recover his furniture before he has a chance to bed the cable woman? “Grant Gets Broken” lets Garry keep an eye on Grant. However the kid gets dinged up in the strangest way. “Garry Throws a Surprise Party” does more than breaks the fourth wall – it makes the studio audience feel guilty. It’s Garry’s mom’s birthday. He asks the studio audience to be part of the surprise when mom steps through the front door. However the group surprise is too much of a shock and mom gets rushed to the hospital. “It’s Garry’s Problem, But it’s JoJo’s Show” has the winner of a contest be a part of the cast. Garry does his best to involve her in the plot. She gets left out when Garry falls for Nancy’s friend. He can’t have a third wheel around. The best show of the first season is “The Graduate.” Garry finds himself trapped in the movie when Mrs. Robertson wants to hump him. Gary has eyes for the woman’s daughter. It’s up to Norman Fell (Mr. Roper) to sort it out. Norman was in The Graduate.
The second season continues the insanity. “Who’s Poppa” has Pete nervous about the upcoming baby since he can’t remember having sex with his wife during the time she should have been knocked up. Garry turns into Maury Povich to prove it’s Pete’s baby. He even breaks out his private plane that is powered by a rubber band. “The Schumakers go to Hollywood” has Grant winning a trip to Hollywood and a chance to see It’s Garry Shandling’s Show get taped. He sits in the audience as Garry expose his love of a classmate. “It’s Garry Shandling’s Christmas Show” has Tom Petty caroling with the neighbors. “Killer Routine” has an audience member drop dead while laughing at Garry’s jokes. The comic fears he’s lethal to his fans. “Mr. Sparks” takes Garry and his friends to Shandlingland. It’s a Disneyland focused on Garry. The biggest scare is found in Garry’s Haunted Bedroom.
The third season has a few multi-part episodes. “Vegas” has Leonard getting married in Sin City. “Mr. Peck” is a three-parter with Garry raising money to save a Comedy Club. Red Buttons has issues with the place. There’s more charity in “Garry Goes Golfing” as Martin Mull wants him to swing for Boysville. That just sounds so wrong. The fourth and final season changes things up as Garry gets a real girlfriend in Phoebe (Suspiria‘s Jessica Harper). “First Show of the Fourth Season” has Garry making sure the network brass approve of his future wife. “Nathan’s Sheer Madness” gets nasty when Garry finds out the show after his is a slasher-fest aimed at homicidal teens. Phoebe protests and the network executive disapproves. “Super Grant” deals with Grant taking steroids to be a better high school football player. Who knew steroids was an issue in football back in 1989? Garry was raising a red flag before the NCAA cared. “The Wedding Show” has the network buff up the joining of Garry and Phoebe. Fans of The Andy Griffith Show will get a kick out of “The Day Howard Moved In” since it’s really Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson) of Mayberry. “The Last Show” has Garry’s funeral. Tony Danza delivers the eulogy. The funny comes when the network executive explains to the dead Garry that he needs to give them two more episodes. “Driving Miss Garry” is a spoof of Driving Miss Garry featuring Dan Aykroyd hiring Paul Winfield to chauffeur.
Because the show was originally presented on Showtime, the episodes run various length in the half hour format. A few episodes are nearly 30 minutes long, but “Mr. Sparks” clocks in at 19 minutes. It wasn’t edited for the DVD release. Garry had the luxury of not having to fluff up a script to make a set running time. The episodes ran as long as they needed to run.
It’s Garry Shandling’s Show: The Complete Series revives a sit-com that has not been properly celebrated in syndication. Why isn’t this on TVLand or Comedy Central? The show wasn’t too smart to only be entertaining by the high brow intelligencia. Garry kept the humor smart without it being smarmy. Who wouldn’t laugh when the audience wanders onto the set to see what’s really in the fridge? The series paved the way for Seinfeld. Why isn’t it lionized? Perhaps what hurt the legacy of It’s Garry Shandling Show is that Garry’s next project was the equally genius Larry Sanders Show on HBO. These shows ought to be considered equals. If you have the complete set of Seinfeld and the sporadic Larry Sanders Show DVD sets, you should feel compelled to nab It’s Garry Shandling’s Show: The Complete Series. This was a very special sitcom that took advantage of the freedoms of being on Showtime. Garry might not have become the King of Late Night, but he was the Prince of Pay Channels.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The show was recorded to videotape, The video master tapes are high quality transfers. You’ll be able to know if Garry’s hair looks good. The audio is 2.0 stereo track. There’s not much mixing since it’s a multi-camera sitcom. It does sound clean without any nasty issues.
Booklet contains essays from Judd Apatow and Larry Gelbart. There’s an episode guide.
Commentary Tracks are on 18 episodes. Garry Shandling, Alan Zweibel, Ed Solomon, Max Pross, Tom Gammill and Al Jean are among the contributors in various line ups. Garry and Alan give more details on how it started with “The Day Garry Moved In”
It Only Looks Easy are deleted moments from 16 different shows.
Getting There – The Road to the Show (19:09) has Garry talk about how he went from an Engineering Major at the University of Arizona to writing for Sanford and Son. Alan Zweibel got his start selling jokes to Catskills comics for $7 a pop. The intercut the two guys talk of their road to Sherman Oaks.
Television Parts has two sketches Garry did for a sketch show hosted by Mike Nesmith (The Monkees). “Garry Dates Miss Maryland” (4:18) has Garry talk us through his night of passion. The beauty queen wears her crown and sash on their night out. “Garry Shandling’s Car” (5:26) is a painful visit to the mechanic.
Still There The Writers And Crew Remember (26:16) has Garry discuss how it’s a writer’s show. Zweibel was used to writing sketches instead of full sitcom script. It was up to Garry to take the stories to sitcom levels. Various screenwriters talk about how much they liked to work on the series. There were a lot of Harvard Lampoon alumni on the staff.
Show & Tell With Tom & Max (7:45) gets Max Pross and Tom Gammill to reunite since they haven’t seen each other since the previous day while working on The Simpsons. They bring in weird souvenirs from the show including a wristwatch, early reviews and the series newsletters.
The Shandlines Backstage Newsletters are reproductions of the pre-internet photocopy magazine. It’s a fun club thing.
Being There The Cast Remembers (26:02) gives us an update on all the friends of Garry along with their memories.
Original Promos (5:32) are from when Garry took the show to the fledgling Fox network.
Try To Remember A Conversation with Garry and Alan (19:47) brings the creators together. Garry explores what made their collaboration so magical.
Bruce Grayson: The Man Behind the Brush (3:19) is a make up artist. He joined the crew in the middle of the run. He knew Garry from the gym. Garry talks about the horror of how the writers would pitch him jokes while he was getting made up. Garry talks about how Grayson didn’t have an agenda while working on his face.
It’s Garry Shandling’s Show: The Complete Series is the must buy TV DVD set of the season. Over two decades later, Garry’s show is still a wonder to behold and revolutionary. He made everything fair game for humor inside that soundstage. While things might get a little bit heady, they never get too confusing that you can’t laugh at the weirdness. It’s Garry Shandling’s Show was a smart choice for Garry rather than being the host of The Tonight Show since he probably would have quit the gig after five years anyway.
Shout! Factory presents It’s Garry Shandling’s Show: The Complete Series. Starring: Garry Shandling, Jessica Harper and Tony Danza. Boxset Contents: 74 Episodes on 16 DVDs. Released on DVD: October. 20. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: Seinfeld, Shout! Factory