Once upon a time, the sitcom ruled television. In the 1970s, the genre reached its heights with a little help from two guys: Garry Marshall and Norman Lear. Fast forward a decade, and the sitcom was quickly winding down; save for a few standouts, the majority were filled with rehashed plots, two-dimensional characters and hackneyed jokes. But there was one sitcom way ahead of the curve. It’s Garry Shandling’s Show premiered, 25 years ago this fall, airing on Showtime and foreseeing a trend where boundary-pushing programming would dominate cable television.
Created by Garry Shandling and original Saturday Night Live writer Alan Zweibel, Shandling’s Show was for those of us who grew up watching television and had not only seen it all, but had seen it all several times. Perhaps the first truly post-modern television show, Shandling’s Show broke new ground by completely obliterating the fourth wall, not only letting the audience in on the jokes, but making it a strong supporting character. The show consistently toed the line between sitcom fiction and the reality of television production.
We here at the Lobby have decided to honor the show as it celebrates its 25th anniversary, reminding everyone of its outrageous brilliance and alerting new viewers to the show’s place in television history. Shandling’s Show centered around Garry, his platonic friend Nancy, and neighbors Pete and Jackie Schumacher and their son Grant. Even when the plot became cliche, the characters were the first to admit it, even before the audience could groan. This self-awareness made the show so much more appealing, inviting us to laugh with the characters instead of at them.
Shandling, with his regular asides to the camera, made us feel that we were a part of the show. As events became more ridiculous, Garry constantly nudged the audience so we felt only Garry and us were in on the joke. The show’s self-aware theme song (“This is the theme to Garry’s show, this is the theme to Garry’s show…”) is still one of television’s all-time greatest. When Garry drives around in his golf cart car, with every character considering it a completely normal mode of transportation, the show urged us to laugh even when the actors didn’t (or couldn’t). This consistently interactive approach to television has been repeated and expanded over the last 25 years, but it’s good to remember where it started.
Filled with guest stars from Florence Henderson to Jeff Goldblum and Father Guido Sarducci, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show is still a brilliantly funny bit of programming at a time when television was absolutely begging for something new. It’s time to give credit where credit is due. Check out the DVDs on Netflix, or buy the four-season show from Amazon. Discs include outtakes, as well as commentary from Shandling and Zweibel. For fans of the sitcom genre it is not to be missed. From those of us here at the Lobby, Garry Shandling, we salute you. And your golf cart car.