HBO picks up ‘Sanders’ for two more seasons

Garry Shandling may not be a real talkshow host, but he’ll play one on TV for at least two more seasons.

HBO’s renewal of art-imitates-latenight series “The Larry Sanders Show” brings its four-year total to 65 episodes, enough to get the Brillstein/Grey Entertainment project into syndication.

In an interview, Shandling said extending the arrangement wouldn’t preclude his future involvement in an actual latenight network talkshow but acknowledged that it would be difficult to do both a network show and his HBO series. “I am committed to doing two more seasons of ‘The Larry Sanders Show,’ ” he said.

Brad Grey, Shandling’s man-ager and fellow exec producer on the series, also stressed that there are “absolutely no plans” for a talkshow at this time.

Shandling’s flirtation with latenight is longstanding. CBS reportedly courted the comic — and onetime “Tonight Show” guest host — to head a latenight series to follow “The Late Show With David Letterman,” after Shandling turned down an NBC offer to fill Letterman’s chair on “Late Night.”

There was also talk of Shandling hosting a syndicated series through Tribune Entertainment, with Tribune later launching “The Dennis Miller Show” in its place. Miller is also repped by Grey, who’s become a key player in the politics of latenight.

“Larry Sanders” is riding the crest of a major wave, with strong ratings for HBO and eight Primetime Emmy nominations — including the first for a cable program as best series, plus performer nods to Shandling, Rip Torn and Jeffrey Tambor.

Shandling noted that the extension and Emmy recognition were coincidental, with the nominations announced near the show’s pickup date. Thirty episodes have completed production, including 17 for the in-progress second season.

Columbia will distribute the series under Sony’s overall deal with Brillstein/Grey, and Grey said discussions are ongoing as to when to launch the show in syndication. Shandling’s last series, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” aired on Showtime, followed by month-later runs on Fox Broadcasting Co.

Unlike HBO’s “Dream On,” which shoots a second version for syndication, “Sanders” rarely has time to do so and will simply loop over the harsher language for broadcast TV, Shandling said.

Though some have questioned whether the show’s humor is too inside to appeal to a broader audience, Shandling maintained that comics have to know “what the line is between being indulgent and selling out.”

The comic added that there’s no shortage of public interest inlatenight. Referring to the much-publicized NBC offer, he said, “I had elevator operators asking me, ‘Are you going to take that thing?’ “

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