THOUGH I NEVER KNEW HIM, SHANDLING NEVERTHELESS FIGURED REPEATEDLY IN MY CAREER
By ADAM BUCKMAN
NEW YORK, March 28, 2016 — I did not know Garry Shandling at all, but he figured into a couple of personal stories.
One was an interview I conducted with him over the phone some time in the 1990s when he was about to host the annual CableACE Awards. “ACE” meant “Award for Cable Excellence.” This was the cable industry’s answer to the Emmys back in the era when the Emmys used to shun TV shows made for cable.
My interview with Shandling does not survive – neither the audiotape nor the published story. For me, what was noteworthy about the story was that it enabled my long-deceased grandfather to earn a byline in TV Guide. The reason for this was because I had taken on this assignment as some sort of a writing test for a job at TV Guide at a time when I was working as the TV editor for the New York Post and didn’t want The Post to know I was applying for a job elsewhere.
So the TV Guide editor allowed me to pick a pseudonym for the byline and I chose the name of my maternal grandfather, Daniel Cooperman, who had been a lifelong pharmacist and, to my knowledge, never read TV Guide. He was a great guy and I was glad to get him a byline in what was at that time one of the highest-circulating magazines on Earth.
As for the interview with Shandling, I cannot re-create any of our conversation, but I remember that it was a terrible interview. On the phone from L.A., he was dour and combative, and gave the impression that he would have preferred to be doing just about anything else at that moment except be interviewed.
For me, it was the first of several such interviews with comedians in those days that eventually made me swear off interviewing comedians altogether – a self-imposed ban that I honored for nearly 10 years. I concluded from this handful of interviews that comedians – the people who make us laugh – are, generally speaking, unhappy people. Either they see interviews as opportunities to exercise their uncontrollable compulsion for spouting wisecracks, or if they are not in the mood for that, they just give answers that reveal they couldn’t care less about being interviewed. P.S. I didn’t get the TV Guide job.
I was nevertheless an admirer of Garry Shandling’s work, and I was well-aware of the attention that was being paid to “The Larry Sanders Show,” his HBO series about late-night TV. So some time in 1993, one of our TV reporters at The Post, Michele Greppi, interviewed Shandling about the show, and I put the story on the day’s list of stories we planned on publishing in the TV section the next day. And off I went to the morning editorial meeting in the editor-in-chief’s office.
On this particular day, we had a visitor who I had never encountered before at a morning news meeting – The Post’s proprietor, Rupert Murdoch. This was back in the days when HBO was not nearly the juggernaut it eventually became, and its audience (i.e. subscribership) paled in comparison to the major broadcast networks. Moreover, cable TV itself was still relatively new to vast swaths of the New York metropolitan area. Indeed, in the Queens neighborhood where I then lived, we didn’t get cable TV until something like 1989.
Mr. Murdoch said little or nothing while other editors recited their news lists. But perhaps because he was interested generally in TV, he decided to weigh in on mine. In his Australian accent, he questioned the value of slotting a story about this HBO series into the next day’s paper because, in his view, the show’s audience, and HBO’s distribution, was too miniscule to justify taking up space with it.
Somehow I came up with an answer. Recovering from the initial shock of being addressed by Rupert Murdoch, I told him that I understood his concerns. But I assured him that stories about HBO were relatively rare in the Post TV section – in proportion, I surmised, to the channel’s relatively small audience at the time.
I also added that as TV editor, I liked to pay particular attention to TV shows that were about television, and “The Larry Sanders Show” — which was about a fictional late-night show — was certainly a stellar example of this, and on that basis alone, would hopefully be of interest to readers of our TV section. Mr. Murdoch seemed OK with this explanation and the story stayed.
In the early summer of 1992, I attended a taping of the then-new “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” at NBC Studios in Burbank. Shandling was one of the guests that day. In those days, Leno was still trying to find his footing on the show and in a conversation he and I had backstage after the show, he fretted that he hadn’t been funny. Incredibly, I found myself in the unexpected position of having to assure Jay Leno that he had been funny, and that he shouldn’t worry about it.
As far as I can remember, I did not meet Shandling, but my impression after the show was that he got the best of Leno during their segments together, and I even formed the impression that Shandling was working hard to do so. I don’t truthfully recall if Leno was funny or not, but Shandling was.
On a Friday afternoon in May 1998, a Post photographer was trolling for celebrities on Madison Avenue when he ran into Garry Shandling at an outdoor café having lunch with Jeff Bewkes, then the chairman and CEO of HBO. Shandling was in the midst of reading the Post’s TV section, which that day ran a five-star review by Michele Greppi of the final-season premiere of “The Larry Sanders Show.”
The photographer, Lawrence Schwartzwald, asked Shandling to hold up the TV page, which featured a banner headline that read, “One last ‘Hey, now!’ for ‘Larry Sanders’.”
Garry, who was apparently more cooperative that day than he had been when I interviewed him some years before, gladly complied. This photo of Garry Shandling, smiling and apparently self-satisfied by the coverage that day, appeared in the next day’s TV section, Saturday, May 30, 1998. In fact, I put it there.
Shandling, who died last Thursday at age 66, left a very long and valuable legacy on TV as a “Carson” show guest and frequent guest host, as the star of “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” in the early years of the Fox network. and then as the star and creative force behind “The Larry Sanders Show” on HBO.
For a time, Garry Shandling was omnipresent on TV, which explains why he recurs in these unrelated and, truth be told, beside-the-point stories from my own career on the TV beat. Hey, now.
Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com