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Series / The Larry Sanders Show

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Hank, Artie, and Larry.

"You folks see that flashing sign up there? Now, that sign says: "Applesauce." No, no, I'm kidding. It says "applause." Ray, do me a favor. Could you flick that once? [crowd applauds] All right. Now remember. You're all a big part of the show, so the better you are, the better Larry is. You see this gentleman? He's giving me this sign and it says, "We're on in ten seconds." So get ready to have a good time. All right, here we go. This is exciting, isn't it?"
Hank's monolog, which opens most episodes

The Larry Sanders Show is an American sitcom that is a late-night talk show satire that aired on HBO 1992-1998, written by and starring Garry Shandling as the titular Larry Sanders, a self-centred and neurotic late-night talk show host à la David Letterman or Jay Leno. Adopting a curious Art Shift format, the show was split between Larry's talk-show (recorded on videotape) and the back-stage exploits (recorded on film). This effortlessly presented the contrast between the professional showbiz world of the show and the petty, snide backstabbing environment behind the scenes, along with Larry's effortlessly smooth, constantly grinning and in-control stage persona and his insecure, paranoid off-camera personality. The contrast was helped by numerous real-life stars who agreed to play as 'guests' on Larry's show, including Robin Williams, Ellen DeGeneres, Roseanne Barr and David Duchovny, whose man-crush on Larry became a running gag.

Present to help (or hinder) Larry was his ultra-aggressive and tough-as-boots, but loyal, bulldog of a producer, Artie (Rip Torn), and Larry's pompous and egotistical sidekick, "Hey Now!" Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor), who despite his genial and bumbling stage presence was if anything even more paranoid, insecure and pathetic than Larry himself.

"Live on tape from your internet connection, it's The Larry Sanders Tropes!"

  • Actually Pretty Funny: In the final episode, as Larry is saying goodbye to his staff, he comes across Jerry, who was fired several seasons ago. Larry is all charm, but eventually broaches the question of Jerry being fired, at which point Jerry admits that he only showed up to see if Larry would bullshit him like they were old friends despite having fired him. Larry's response is to simply chuckle and good-humouredly retort "Well, guess now you know."
  • Adolf Hitlarious: Jon Stewart attempts this trope when he's Larry's guest host. A skit features Hank as "Adolf Hankler", host of a German version of Jeopardy! in which the answer to every question is "the Jews". Guest Jason Alexander is so offended that he leaves before Stewart can interview him, and the network (which had warned Stewart about the sketch) immediately stops production on the episode and airs a rerun instead.
  • Adored by the Network: In-Universe, the unnamed network grooms Jon Stewart to replace Larry, believing he can get the same or better ratings at a fraction of Larry's salary. It doesn't work due to the aforementioned Adolf Hitlarious sketch.
  • All Men Are Perverts: All three of the main characters, and numerous male guests.
  • All There Is To Know About The Crying Game: Hilariously averted in-universe. Hank's dialogue with Gene Siskel in "Off Camera" reveals that while he saw The Crying Game, he either wasn't paying attention or the Plot Twist completely went over his head, and he is incredulous when Siskel reminds him that the "dark-skinned cutie" was a man.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: In the episode "Head Writer", Phil becomes obsessed with being promoted to the position of Head Writer. Larry wearily promotes him, mainly because he doesn't really care, giving Phil a new job title won't actually change anything, and he's sick of Phil asking. Phil soon finds his colleagues abusing his new status by holding him responsible for a lot more problems, and putting him under more stress than he can really cope with:
    Paula: Has Larry even approved this? He hates doing sketches.
    Phil: Yes Paula, it's been approved.
    Paula: By whom?
    Phil: By me. The head writer.
    Paula: Is that truth?
    Phil: Yes.
    Paula: Oh goodie! That means you'll be gone in a month.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Artie is fiercely proud, and fiercely protective, of the plants on the show's set, having grown them all himself. He frequently rearranges them, lovingly mists them, and moves them when he thinks they may get damaged. When Bobcat Goldthwait is due to appear on the show shortly after trashing the set of a rival talk show, Artie sternly warns him not to damage their set, but especially not the plants. Goldthwait ignores this warning and begins picking up and throwing parts of the set. When he reaches for a plant, Artie picks up and throws Goldthwait himself:
    "Those plants are my babies!"
    • Artie also has something of a short fuse with talent agents. He harbours a particular loathing for Stevie Grant, distrusting him from their very first meeting, and throwing him against a wall in their last. His raging contempt extends to agents in general: when Hank considers hiring a new agent and invites some candidates to the office, Artie practically bristles with disgust and likens them to vermin:
    "Get them out of here before they build a nest in the wall."
  • Brutal Honesty: Artie zigzags this trope. He usually pulls this trope with the rest of the staff, since his job as producer is to keep things running smoothly and kick ass when necessary to make sure it does. However, as his job is also to keep Larry on even keel so he's able to perform, he tends to blow smoke up Larry's ass so as to avoid making him worry or letting his neuroses get out of control. However, he's not just a simple Yes-Man and is capable of giving Larry the blunt truth whenever he needs to hear it.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Larry begins to have doubts after replacing his nice but ineffectual agent Leo with the "two-faced and weird" Stevie Grant. He decides to fire him, only to change his mind once he sees the new offer Stevie has managed to negotiate with the network.
  • Butt-Monkey: Hank Kingsley, both on the Show Within a Show (where his role is to be Larry's bumbling sidekick) and backstage (where his combined preening egotism and pathetic insecure desperation results in him being the butt of the joke more often than not).
  • Catchphrase: Several are associated with the Show Within a Show:
    • Larry ends each of his monologues with "No flipping!" as he mimes clicking on a remote, as a mock warning not to change the channel during the first commercial break. In the series finale, he ends his finale show by telling the audience that they may now flip.
    • Hank Kingsley uses his "Hey, now!" catch phrase during the show... and at pretty much all other times. He even gets fired from a invoked Stunt Casting gig as a plumber on Caroline in the City because he insists on repeatedly ad-libbing his catch phrase.
  • Celebrity Endorsement: In-Universe. Hank really cannot resist putting his name to a product for money, no matter how questionable the deal is.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Averted on more than one occasion:
    • Garry Shandling does have a separate existence from Larry Sanders. On Larry's final show, Sean Penn complains to Sanders about what a terrible and insecure actor Shandling (his co-star on a Real Life movie) is.
    • Likewise, Paul Mooney plays Beverly's brother in one episode and is mentioned as a potential booking on the Show Within a Show in another.
    • In Chris Farley's guest appearance he performs a segment from the "Motivational Speaker" sketch from Saturday Night Live. The sketch was written by Bob Odenkirk, who plays Larry Sanders' agent Stevie Grant in the same episode.
  • Country Matters: In "The Hankerciser 200", Larry's wife Francine writes a negative review of the titular piece of exercise equipment, which caused her a painful injury. When Hank finds out he lets slip what he really thinks of her, dropping the C-bomb. Larry does not take it well.
  • Cringe Comedy: Hank tends to provoke this through his egotism and ineptitude. Such as the time he met the Wu-Tang Clan.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Paula, though you can't really blame her for being so jaded.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Most of Hank's side projects, from the Hankerciser 200 exercise machine which keeps injuring its users, to the revolving restaurant which doesn't offer diners a stunning panaromic view due to it being located on the ground floor, to his planned musical extravaganza:
    Artie: "You don't start a show with a showstopper."
  • Does This Make Me Look Fat?: Larry frequently laments that his stage outfits "make my ass look huge".
  • Dirty Coward: Larry. He hates confrontation and, when faced with a tricky situation, inevitably tries to foist it off on someone else (usually Artie or Beverly) for them to deal with instead.
  • Door-Closes Ending: One episode combines this with Brick Joke: midway through, a character can be seen drawing something on the office door. The last thing that happens is people walk out the door, and as they close it behind them, we're treated to a drawing of a giant middle finger.
  • The Eponymous Show: The show is about the self-titled show hosted by Larry Sanders.
  • Executive Meddling: In-Universe. Apparently averted in Real Life, but a constant on the Show Within a Show.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Stevie Grant is charismatic and relentlessly cheerful, and will often ply his clients with flattery and gift baskets, but it is blindingly obvious that he is really just a ruthless, unscrupulous bastard who only cares about money.
  • Flanderization: Over several seasons, the head writer, Phil, became more obnoxious and less talented.
  • Foil: Larry's original agent Leo is old-school, a genuinely nice, gentle and honest guy, and therefore not cut out for the job of an agent. His replacement Stevie Grant is an up-and-coming young hotshot, and is brash, sleazy, obnoxious and a compulsive bullshitter but infinitely more competent as an agent. Leo is also fiercely loyal to Larry, while Stevie eventually reveals that has no problem stabbing Larry in the back the minute a better opportunity presents itself.
  • Hiding Behind Religion: In "My Name Is Asher Kingsley" Hank suddenly decides to embrace his Jewish faith. He reverts to his birth name of Lepstein, and makes faux pas such as installing a mezuzah on the frame of his office door and wearing his yarmulke inside out. When he invites his rabbi to visit the set it becomes apparent that he is only putting on a show of devout faith because his rabbi is an attractive woman and he wants to get in her pants.
  • Ho Yay: Invoked, between Larry and David Duchovny. No, really. Even better, it was based on Truth in Television, as Duchovny and Garry Shandling were reportedly pretty much Heterosexual Life-Partners.
  • Horrible Hollywood: The smooth, witty nature of the Show Within a Show effectively contrasts with the ego-ridden, neurotic and backbiting world behind the scenes. Although it is nevertheless rather affectionate towards the main characters, who are typically portrayed as weak and neurotic but not necessarily malevolent.
  • I Never Said It Was Denny's: A Montana woman claims Larry has gotten her pregnant, and when Larry's lawyer arrives to let him know it's all been cleared up but that she now claims that she gave him a hand job in a parking lot, Larry's amused reaction gives just a little bit too much away.
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: Hank. For all his egotism and bluster, deep down he knows that he's neither particularly talented nor intelligent and that his fame and success is built on the very shaky foundation of being a sidekick to Larry, and consequently is riddled with insecurities, bitterness and self-loathing.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: The Show Within a Show has one, but technically, the actual show does not (though it used that of the Show Within a Show to represent it in Real Life, such as at awards shows).
  • Kitschy Local Commercial: Not exactly a local commercial since it's broadcast on a major television show, but the in-show advert for the Garden Weasel that Larry is forced to do by the network in the first episode is otherwise one of these. After trying to wriggle out of it and then making snarky comments about the product on air as a way of making it bearable, Larry eventually gets out of it by just outright pointing out that not only is the commercial and product not very good, he just plain sucks at doing it so shouldn't be advertising the damn thing anyway.
  • The Lad-ette: Chain-smoking, tattooed, sexually liberated Paula.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Artie, to Larry.
  • Must Have Nicotine: Several characters make disapproving comments about Paula's smoking habit. She isn't too proud of it herself:
    Stevie Grant: "Hey sweetie, do you have to smoke the second you get up?"''
    Paula: "Yes sweetie, I do. I'm an addict."
  • Nice to the Waiter: Played with; for all his flaws, ego, neuroses and insecurities, Larry generally treats his assistant and the rest of the staff well (albeit mainly out of a desire to be liked rather than fundamental niceness), and while he frequently can be condescending, thoughtless and dismissive he's not really cruel or malicious either. Hank's a bit worse in this regard, and more prone to throwing his weight around, but generally gets away with it due to the fact that he's more pathetic than malevolent and so is easily ignored.
  • No Full Name Given: Most of the show's staff are only known by their given name, up to and including Artie.
  • Noodle Incident: The time Hank somehow managed to chip a back tooth on a urinal. This is both lampshaded, as the other characters are mystified as to how he did it, and a case of Once Done, Never Forgotten, since they make fun of him every time it comes up.
  • No Social Skills: Downplayed (since he's a successful comedian and talk-show host after all) but Larry's smooth and witty stage persona is used to contrast his socially awkward, uncomfortable and neurotic nature when the cameras are away from him.
  • Product Placement:
    • The Garden Weasel was used in an episode where the in-universe network insisted that Larry perform live commercials on stage in order to promote the company's sponsors. Larry got back at the network by joking that he could see Jimmy Hoffa's remains after using the product during the sketch.
    • Hank is driven in large part by this; outside of his role as sidekick, his main source of income (and self-respect) is his role as pitchman to a large variety of products, and he'll frequently try and find some way of squeezing more commercial plugs onto the show.
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: Hank's usual method of trying to increase his role and public profile on the show is to shamelessly suck up to whoever he thinks will best help him accomplish his goals.
  • Promoted to Scapegoat: Phil in the episode "Head Writer". He becomes obsessed with being named as the head of the writing team, even though the new job title will effectively change nothing, except encouraging people to abuse his new status by heaping more problems and more work onto him.
  • Restaurant-Owning Episode: "The Grand Opening", featuring the launch night of "Hank's Look-Around Cafe", a floor-level revolving restaurant.
  • Retraux: Larry's show, for the most part, mimics the style of Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show, even as contemporaneous late night shows moved away from Johnny's template in various ways (with the sole exception of the Theme Tune, which practically screams early nineties). Lampshaded in one episode which ends with David Letterman watching a show and muttering about how Larry is making them all look bad. And made a plot point in the final seasons, when Larry's ratings gradually begin to decline and the network try to manipulate him out in favour of the younger, hipper Jon Stewart.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: "Larry's on Vacation" is clearly inspired by the then-recent controversy surrounding the circumstances which led to Jay Leno succeeding Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, including a character who is a very obvious No Celebrities Were Harmed stand-in for Leno's then-agent, Helen Kushnick.
  • Running Gag:
    • Every time Bruno Kirby showed up, he got bumped from the show, and was increasingly angry about it. This particular example even extends to the DVD boxset, where Kirby shows up at the end of the making-of retrospective featurette eager to provide the narration, only to have to be informed by a sheepish Garry Shandling that he's been bumped so that Greg Kinnear can do it instead.
    • The show also frequently had Jeff Cesarionote  on as a guest, but he was hardly ever seen.
    • Whenever Hank wanted to talk to Larry in his office, he had a really passive-aggressive/cowardly way of doing so whereby he'd send his assistant in first to ask whether Larry was available, and then would saunter in as if Larry had summoned him or as if he was just casually dropping by.
    • In the first two series Larry repeatedly threatens to quit the show, move to Montana, and live a quiet life of blissful anonymity. The payoff comes in the season 2 finale when he makes good on that threat, only to discover that his desperately boring new life in the middle of nowhere isn't the blissful existence he had pictured.
    • Larry's paranoia about his "huge ass". Other characters will make cruel remarks about it when they're angry with him, but rather than being a Berserk Button he just seems to wearily accept this abuse as if it's an unpalatable truth.
    • Larry often enters his office to find Stevie Grant sitting in his chair.
  • Screwed by the Network: In-Universe. The network sabotages Larry's show as they maneuver Jon Stewart to replace him.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Duchovny's interest in Larry.
  • Show Within a Show: Also named The Larry Sanders Show.
  • Sidekick: "Hey Now!" Hank Kingsley!
  • Sleeping Their Way to the Top: Zig-zagged in "Conflict of Interest". Artie and Larry assume Stevie Grant is doing this when it emerges that he and Paula are sleeping together, and they notice she is booking a suspiciously large number of his clients. Meanwhile Paula's colleagues mockingly ask her what she sees in him, implying that she's the one using Stevie. When she then breaks up with him he is devastated- and then hurt when she takes him back and he later realises it was only because she wanted him to get Jennifer Aniston on the show.
  • Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: The set of the show is shiny, the backstage area is gritty, and the contrast between those two worlds is stark.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Wildly cynical from beginning to end. At least, about show business; the show is nevertheless rather affectionate towards its characters, who are typically portrayed as weak and insecure but never really malevolent.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Hank. What fame and success he has is based around basically being a sidekick to a far more talented and charismatic entertainer and what commercial endorsements he can find, and yet he throws his weight around constantly. Deconstructed, however, since it's heavily implied more than once that deep down he's aware of all this and is full of self-loathing and insecurity as a result.
  • Smooth-Talking Talent Agent: Stevie Grant, Larry's obnoxious, fast-talking, and utterly ruthless agent.
  • Spiritual Successor: Like It's Garry Shandling's Show, Shandling used a familiar TV format to parody that format. The more obvious predecessor for Larry Sanders, though, was the 1985 Showtime special The Garry Shandling Show: 25th Anniversary Special, where Shandling starred As Himself, but as a neurotic veteran late night host with a pathetic sidekick.
  • Stalker with a Crush:
    • Jon Lovitz becomes obsessed with Darlene and creeps her out by sending her expensive unwanted gifts. When he is a guest on the show he aggressively pursues a date with her and will not take no for an answer, even after Paula starts a rumour that Darlene is a lesbian.
    • Not entirely villainous, but Duchovny's interest in Larry made Larry more than a little uncomfortable.
  • Studio Audience
  • Stunt Casting: The producers got an awful lot of big names to appear on the show playing themselves. In-Universe, this is pretty much the only reason Hank Kingsley ever gets offered outside acting gigs - e.g., a guest spot as the janitor on Caroline in the City and a voice role in Disney's Hercules movie.
  • Stylistic Suck: Downplayed. We only caught glimpses of the Show Within a Show overall (usually Larry's opening monologue and the celebrity interviews), but what we did see was at least competently produced for the most part, if a bit Lowest Common Denominator. Many of the sketches that we saw glimpses of (often in rehearsal) appeared to be rather cheesy and hacky, however. However, it also shows lots of scenes of the staff working hard to try to bring it together, suggesting that even entertainment which is not that good often has a lot of effort and hard work put into it.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Brian, who replaced Darlene as Hank's PA early on in season 4, after Linda Doucett quit the show due to discord with Garry Shandling. He's more-or-less the exact same character (very loyal to Hank, possibly to his detriment), with his homosexuality being the only genuine departure.
  • Threat Backfire: Throughout the first two seasons Larry repeatedly threatens to leave the show and quit his glamorous but stressful career to live as a nobody in Montana. In the season 2 finale, in-universe Executive Meddling leads him to make good on this threat and he quits the show. Cut to Larry pacing about outside his new waterside home, evidently bored stiff, his only company a neighbour who has never watched the show and just wants Larry to keep quiet while he is fishing, plus a few hundred frogs. Craving his old life, Larry introduces himself to nobody in particular:
    "And now, because he made a big mistake... Larry Sanders. [Beat] Fuckin' frogs."
  • Tone Shift: The sixth season is notably more serious and melancholy than the previous five. This is partly because it deals with the arc of Larry's show coming to an end, but there were also behind the scenes issues (lots of writers leaving, legal issues between Shandling and his former manager) that affected the tone.
  • Troubled Production: In-universe. The behind-the-scenes shenanigans often find ways of affecting the show on numerous occasions, including:
    • "Off Camera": Taping for a show turns into a chaotic mess when a stray dog taken in by Darlene gets loose in the studio and bites both Phil and John Ritter, the first of whom is heard shouting off-screen. Ritter also has a confrontation with Gene Siskel in the green room which is later misreported as a physical fight. Ritter, exhausted by both the dog bite and the argument, falls asleep and when he misses his segment, he vows never to appear on the show again and is eager to tell-all about his bad experience to an Entertainment Weekly interviewer. Ironically, Larry thinks the broadcast went swimmingly until he reads the article.
  • 2-for-1 Show: It's both a late-night talk show and an fly-on-the-wall behind-the-scenes sitcom about the late-night talk show.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife:
    • Below average in appearance Larry is married to the gorgeous Jeannie in the first season and dates many beautiful actresses throughout (Mimi Rogers, Sharon Stone etc). Balding Hank also has a much younger and attractive wife. Of course, these guys are both wealthy and in show-business, which might explain matters.
    • Outside the show Garry Shandling dated Linda Doucett, who, in addition to playing Hank's secretary Darlene, modeled for Playboy.
  • Undying Loyalty:
    • Artie is incredibly loyal to Larry, and their dynamic tends to call to mind an NCO in the army who sticks by his commanding officer to the bitter end. While a bit more flaky and weak-willed in this respect, ultimately Larry is genuinely appreciative of and devoted to Artie in return.
    • Larry's long-time agent Leo is a genuinely Nice Guy who has been loyal to Larry for years and sees his client as a friend. Unfortunately his incompetence means that Larry can't reciprocate that loyalty forever and eventually has to fire him, though not without a great degree of guilt.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: Many of the celebrity guests (along with the projects they're plugging) ensure this. Even if they hadn't, the characters constantly engaged in discussions of current events (e.g. The L.A. Riots, O.J. Simpson, David Letterman's stalker), which is highly unusual for TV shows of any era due to the delay between a show's production and broadcast.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Larry may be charming on the Show Within a Show, but off it he is neurotic, spineless, socially awkward, and doesn't appreciate his hard-working staff.
  • Unwanted Gift Plot: Larry gives Paula an espresso machine so she no longer has to go to Starbucks to get everyone coffee. This is really more of a "gift" for himself, intended to ensure his coffee will still be hot by the time Paula delivers it to him. On top of this, Paula notes that she will now not only be expected to make the coffee herself, she will also be expected to clean the machine. She finds another unwitting recipient to palm it off onto by the end of the episode.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: While best buds might be over-stating it, Hank genuinely does seem to view Larry as a friend beyond just simple self-serving ass-kissing, while for all the disdain and mild bullying that Larry directs to Hank in return he's also clearly much fonder of him than he lets on.
  • Writers Suck: Phil, the head writer, is usually characterised as a lazy, obnoxious jerk and a bit of a bully, particularly towards Hank. He's also a bit of a hack with an inflated opinion of himself.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: When Hank was hosting lottery drawings during Larry's sabbatical, he was forced to change his catchphrase to "Say Now!" because the network claimed "Hey Now!" as its intellectual property (satirizing NBC's similar tussle with David Letterman when he moved to CBS).