Former HBO Chief Chris Albrecht on What It Was Like Working With Garry Shandling
The exec, now CEO of Starz, remembers the star of HBO's 'The Larry Sanders Show' as a "true, consummate professional."
A version of this story first appeared in the April 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
The pitch for The Larry Sanders Show came out of a conversation Garry had with Michael Fuchs, who was the chairman and CEO of HBO at the time. This was back when there was so much focus on late-night [Johnny Carson had announced his retirement in May 1991], and that's what they wanted to tap into on the show.
Garry and Brad Grey came in and pitched the idea to me, but one of our initial questions was how Garry planned to make the three different realities work. There was the standard, single-camera workplace comedy of Larry's office; the perspective from inside the studio where they filmed the talk show; and also how you saw the show from the perspective of the "audience." I didn't know how our audience would navigate all of this, because it was something I hadn't seen before. But Garry had such clear visualization in his mind. Even though he didn't direct the show, he saw what he wanted it to be. It was so clear that this was a guy who you wanted to see end up onscreen.
I remember the first time I saw the first cut of the first episode: I think it's the only time I've ever looked at a television show and done a spit take. It was that funny.
You could always say something to Garry — be it a note, a comment or a question — and he would listen so intently. He did not react, say a word or interrupt. He gave you a sense that it was the most important thing that anyone could say at that moment. He would pause, take a breath and then slowly respond in a very thoughtful and articulate way that was never dismissive.
The thing about working with Garry is that he always respected the role that everybody played. He was never a prima donna, just a true, consummate professional.
He was obsessively concerned about The Larry Sanders Show's quality. I don't want to demean the term, but he wasn't just a showrunner. This was a guy who was also onstage thinking about himself and how he could support all of these other terrific actors whom he'd put together. That cast was an aspect of Garry's vision. He took all of that extremely seriously. I think "proud" is maybe not the right word, but I think he could appreciate it when he would sit back and look at the show and think, "Not too bad."