Mr. Shandling’s Larry Sanders was the host of a fictional show within the show, interviewing real celebrities playing themselves in segments that were virtually indistinguishable from real talk shows like “The Tonight Show.” (Mr. Shandling had frequently substituted for Johnny Carson as the “Tonight Show” host.)
But the show was mostly concerned with what happened when the cameras were off, especially the interplay among Larry, his bumbling announcer and sidekick (Jeffrey Tambor) and his mercurial producer (Rip Torn).
“The Larry Sanders Show,” often cited as a groundbreaking precursor of shows like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “30 Rock,” was the second show by Mr. Shandling to take an unorthodox approach. The first, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” seen on Showtime from 1986 to 1990, freely admitted that it was a show, with Mr. Shandling often breaking the fourth wall by speaking directly to the audience. . . .
Playing a talk-show host who was, as Jacques Steinberg wrote in The New York Times, “a too-close-for-comfort amalgam of Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno and Jack Paar,” Mr. Shandling offered a jaundiced insider view of the television business. . . .
Mr. Shandling’s profile was never again as high as it was during the “Larry Sanders” years, but the show’s influence has been lasting. “30 Rock” borrowed its unblinking warts-and-all look at how television is made; “Curb Your Enthusiasm” embraced its use of real celebrities to play versions of themselves that were perhaps only slight exaggerations.
Its influence was also felt in less obvious ways. David Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos,” once said that “The Larry Sanders Show” “inspired me to want to do something really good for television.” . . .
Just a few months ago Mr. Shandling was a guest on Jerry Seinfeld’s popular web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” in an episode eerily titled “It’s Great That Garry Shandling Is Still Alive.” Eighteen years earlier, Mr. Seinfeld had praised Mr. Shandling’s comedic instincts.
“Comedians all wait around to hear things that they can use,” Mr. Seinfeld said in 1998. “With Garry, it’s like being in a boat with a guy who’s constantly reeling in fish.”
In 2007, nine years after “The Larry Sanders Show” went off the air, Mr. Shandling spoke to The Times about his post-“Sanders” life.
“It’s very similar to — what is it? — the seven stages of grieving,” he said. “First there’s the shock. Now I’m going to head for something funny here. Then there’s denial, acceptance and” — he paused — “masturbation.”
Here's Shandling and Seinfeld talking on that recent episode of Seinfeld's show:
Shandling: I was sitting there watching CNN anyway, and they broke in and said Robin Williams had killed himself. And I sat there and I was frozen. . . . Then Wolf Blitzer says: "63 is so young!" And then I looked up with a little hope, because I'm about the same age as Robin. And then I realized: "63 is so young" is a phrase you never hear relative to anything but death. "63 is so young to be playing in the NFL"? There's nothing!
Seinfeld: You have to die in your 60s for them to say: "Boy, he was young!"