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Shandling’s offbeat wit takes center stage

Comedian committed, focused on hosting duties

The experience of having Garry Shandling host the 52nd annual Prime Time Emmy Awards promises to be a mutually beneficial one for both the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and the critically lauded funnyman.

The Academy will have one of the biz’s sharpest wits at the microphone — and Shandling will gain an education.

“I have to catch up on all my TV,” he explains. “I thought ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ was an episode of ‘Oz.’ ”

While much of the focus of this year’s kudocast, set for Sept. 10 on ABC, will be on the fortunes of shows such as “The West Wing” and “The Sopranos,” Shandling will employ his neurotic takes on the industry to keep the often-ponderous proceedings moving.

“I’ve been doing standup all summer,” Shandling says, “and I’m trying to convince Don (Mischer, executive producer of the show) not to give out any awards this year and to give me the whole three hours. I think I can do it.

“I think we should lock the doors. And I think that should be the real ‘Survivor.’ Just let me talk and talk and talk and just watch them waiting for the awards. I think that would be great.”

Actually, Shandling’s approach to hosting this year’s Emmy presentations has less to do with wisecracks and more to do with old-fashioned hard work and preparation. As much as he’d like people to think he’ll roll out of bed and wing it, Shandling has been focused on details of the show for much of the summer.

“I know that Garry is going to fit into this very, very gracefully,” explains Mischer, who cites Shandling’s success as host of the Grammys — an industry of which he is not considered a part — as evidence that the actor-comedian should be even more comfortable in the world of TV. “We’ve never had anyone so committed so early. Garry is really investing time and effort into making this thing work.

Comfortable together

“We’ve worked together so many times,” Mischer adds. “He’s had a lot of experience hosting. First of all, he’s very funny. And secondly, he’s extremely helpful on a show like this when you’re on the air live for three hours.

“He’s really quick on his feet and can really roll with the punches. He loves television. He’s got a great take on television. And I know directors, producers, actors, writers in our business respect Garry very much. As far as we’re concerned, he’s going to be a great host.”

Mischer says Shandling’s presence, both as a host and as a participant in planning the show, will ensure that this year’s Emmys are funnier than ever.

“We are hoping to pretape and prepackage a lot of comedy,” Mischer says. “Again, this is because Garry said, ‘Look, we can do some taping. We can do some production work in July and August.’ So we are able to do things we’ve never been able to do before, when hosts have literally come in at the last minute, like three or four days ahead of time.”

Shandling is no stranger to the awards show, having won for “The Larry Sanders Show.”

“I was nominated 40 times,” he says. “And I won once. But that voting process has been straightened out, hasn’t it?

“The particular Emmy we won was for writing in a comedy series. And since I started as a writer and consider my-self a writer, it was the most meaningful Emmy I could have gotten. When Peter Tolan and I got up there, it really was a good feeling. It was the last season, and it was for the last episode. So the irony was perfect. It was a thrill.”

That experience will enable the host to employ his special brand of comedy to entertain the audience and to express his empathy both to the winners and losers on Emmy night.

“I really approached (the Emmys) like a date,” he explains of his previous trips to the show as a nominee, “because I think there’s a similar arc in that you’re ultimately hoping there’s going to be some sort of sexual encounter. And then there’s a similarity in that there’s a shock when you hear your name mentioned.”

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