Gervais glad to be part of the HBO family

Brit standup wowed by cabler's seminal series

The Larry Sanders Show’ is the most important sitcom of a generation.”

That’s the quote I gave for the DVD of the complete first season of the show. I meant every word. It wasn’t just important to the industry as a whole, it had a huge influence on me in particular.

It taught me that script and casting were everything. It probably gets the Emmy and Golden Globe for the greatest ensemble of all time. It taught me that flawed characters can be compulsive viewing — seeing them squirm and get their comeuppance, but ultimately be members of a family you want to win through redemption or at least self awareness. It taught me that being an acquired taste is the thing to be. But most of all, it made me think that HBO must be the best broadcaster in the world.

I’d never heard of them before I watched “The Larry Sanders Show.” I didn’t even know what HBO stood for. It’s Home Box Office. Yeh, I know you know. I didn’t.

It doesn’t matter anyway. What matters is what HBO really stands for. It stands for innovation. “The Sopranos” took on movies in the ’90s and won. A TV show that dabbled with the ambiguity of morality? And made you think. While getting an adrenaline rush wondering whether Tony’s therapist would tell him she’d been raped so he could go and execute her attacker? Wow.

And this wasn’t a one-off 90-minute three-act roller coaster ride with neat ribbon in a bow ending. This was episode after episode, series after series of the finest most consistently, exquisitely crafted entertainment ever to grace our screens. It was a fucking art factory. Nothing would ever move me like that again.

No, wait. I hadn’t seen “The Wire.” Forget about it! M*ther F*cking genius! (Sorry about the language. That’s the power of good TV. HBO said I can swear as much as I like).

Now listen carefully. “The Wire” is the most audacious drama of all time. It may be the greatest TV show ever. Across all genres. I’ll go further. “The Wire” is the most important fictional, social document since “A Tale of Two Cities.” (Dickens was the coolest Mother Fucker of his day I’ll have you know.)

Dickens would have loved HBO. Any artist should. They don’t interfere. There’s no greater compliment. There’s no more fertile land for creation. They support. They congratulate. They are there for you, just like any family should. A family I’m proud to be part of.

They’re not perfect. They’ve made some mistakes. There’s one or two shows I think they shouldn’t have bought. I’ve wanted to pull them aside and say “What are you thinking?” There’s one or two shows I think they should have bought. I regularly tease them about “Dexter,” but just like democracy that isn’t perfect, they’re the closest we’ve got to perfection. They’re the best we’ve got.

When they called and said they wanted to co-produce “Extras,” I was overwhelmed. The home of “Larry Sanders,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “The Wire” and “The Sopranos.” They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. It’s not TV. It’s HBO.

I should just say the offer I couldn’t refuse was nothing to do with the money. The money was great, don’t get me wrong. It just wasn’t about that. It never will be. It’s about freedom. I want to be part of this family.

Also when my agent was negotiating a recent deal, someone in HBO accounts said “That’s an awful lot for a TV series.” My agent replied, “It’s not TV, it’s HBO.”

Silence. Not everyone in a family is funny.

“The Ricky Gervais Show” will begin its second season on HBO in 2011.