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‘Dateline’ axes planned Shandling profile

HBO’s critically acclaimed “The Larry Sanders Show” makes its summer debut tonight with a special 45-minute episode (see review, page 6). The show will pick up some added press attention after “Dateline NBC” confirmed last night that it killed a profile in progress on Sanders’ real-life counterpart, Garry Shandling.

A member of Shandling’s camp told Daily Variety that NBC spiked the profile because of his red-hot courtship with CBS for a post-Letterman slot. According to NBC, however, Shandling’s people were busy Tuesday making an 11th-hour attempt to generate some heat for their premiere.

No punishment

A “Dateline NBC” spokeswoman said, “This is not a case of NBC punishing Garry Shandling for talking with another network. This is a case of a Garry Shandling profile not being right for our mix right now.”

According to NBC, executive producer Neil Shapiro scrapped the profile of the former “Tonight Show” guest host not long after taking the reigns of “Dateline” in March. Shapiro deemed Shandling less newsworthy than some of the harder-edged pieces the magazine was tackling.

Hard news emphasis

While “Dateline” will continue to chase the occasional celebrity profiles, including an upcoming Jane Pauley piece on Cher, Shapiro has stressed hard news more in line with the show’s high-rated live episode from Waco last month.

The Shandling profile got under way in April when a crew from the newsmagazine visited the set. The one-on-one interview between Stone Phillips and the actor-producer-comedian never materialized. Last week Shandling’s people received word that the profile would not be running.

Caught in middle

A source close to Shandling suggests that the decision to kill the “Dateline” segment was made by NBC brass, and Shapiro may have been caught in the middle. But one high-level NBC exec was quick to point out Tuesday that NBC chairman Robert Wright was not made aware of the “Dateline” story until late last night.