What Would Larry Sanders Think About Our Current Late-Night Moment?
You see that flashing sign up there? Now, that sign says: "Applesauce." No, no, I'm kidding. It says "applause." Ray, do me a favor. Could you flick that once? All right. Now remember. You're all a big part of the show, so the better you are, the better Larry is. You see this gentleman? He's giving me this sign and it says, "We're on in ten seconds." So get ready to have a good time. All right, here we go. This is exciting, isn't it?
Applesauce? Are you kidding us, Hank? That “the better you are, the better Larry is” crap doesn’t fly in Late Night 2022, unless you’re Jimmy Fallon doing some kind of ironic nostalgia play. In fact, we’re pretty certain your boss, one Larry Sanders, would be (even more of a) quivering mess if he were competing in today’s late night instead of the quaint Jay vs. Dave universe of the 1990s.
As the high-wire world of Late Night 2022 threatens to implode, let’s take a look at what Larry Sanders might make of the whole mess.
You thought Larry was insecure before? Imagine him wondering if his ass looked huge in TikTok videos created in some desperate, vain attempt to go viral. "Larry Sanders probably would be reticent about getting into” social media, Kevin Nealon told Cracked. “They would probably have to convince him to do that.” Nealon, a real-life pal of Sanders alter-ego Garry Shandling, made three appearances on The Larry Sanders Show, just enough to make “Hey Now” Hank Kingsley paranoid that Nealon would steal his gig. Maybe that would be a good idea? More on that later.
But not everyone agrees that Larry would need convincing. Comic Jeff Cesario, who also wrote for The Larry Sanders Show, told Cracked that Larry would be “obsessing on how to get his own YouTube channel to keep pace with Letterman.” It’s a good point -- even if Larry was retired from late night a la Dave, Team Letterman continues to provide the world a steady stream of content via his YouTube stream. Just because you’re no longer in the chair doesn’t mean you’d give up competing--Dave’s gang is slapping up new (old) content on the daily. Relevance forever!
“You have to forgive Hank. His heart’s in the right place but he keeps his brain in a box at home,” says Larry’s producer, Artie. (Bonus Larry trivia: In six seasons, Arthur’s last name was never revealed.)
Good heart or no, Larry would still have a Hank problem. Remember that when The Larry Sanders Show debuted, Johnny Carson was just wrapping up The Tonight Show. Johnny’s show was the template and Larry followed it, right down to hiring an Ed McMahon-esque sycophant as a sidekick. The deputy’s main duty? Laugh mindlessly at whatever the host says and offer one’s self up as an object of ridicule.
But standards have changed. Post-McMahon goofballs like Andy Richter, the robotic Geoff Peterson, and Reggie Watts have upped the ante, making the sidekick a reason to tune in, not an excuse to roll your eyes. Hank would definitely have to be replaced by someone with more pop-culture cache, like, say, Kevin Nealon? The only compelling reason to keep Hank around is that Larry would look incredibly hip in comparison.
Uh-oh, Larry. With today’s sexual politics considering non-90s intangibles like power dynamics, hosts should probably not sleep with their guests anymore. It’s not hard to imagine the Twitterstorm: Was the guest pressured into sex to get the appearance? Did the host imply hooking up would be good for their career? Were consent forms signed and notarized?
In Confessions of A Late-Night Talk Show Host: The Autobiography of Larry Sanders (written with an assist by Shandling and David Rensin), Larry has the audacity to list his celebrity dalliances, a star-studded list that includes (deep breath) Cindy Crawford, Paula Abdul, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Shania Twain, both Indigo Girls, Mariah Carey, a Mariah Carey look-a-like, Margaret Cho, Drew Barrymore, Andy Dick, the drummer for the Go-Gos, and animal trainer Joan Embery on the floor of the coyote cave at the San Diego Zoo.
We suspect Jimmy Kimmel isn’t nearly that active, but if he was, he certainly wouldn’t write a book about it given all the apologizing he’d have to do afterward.
But that’s not the worst of it. There’s his awkward flirtation with his talent coordinator Paula – as he’s firing her! In 2022, Paula would have retained an attorney before she got to the parking deck. And Larry randomly sleeping with his assistant, Beverly? It’s a bad look, Larry. If you want to succeed in Late Night 2022, you got to keep it in your pants.
Let’s get right to it: Larry wouldn’t be able to take the heat. In the 1990s, he was popping pills worrying about Letterman and Leno. Aaaaand … that was it? Conan was relegated to late late night. Jon Stewart had a brief run on an MTV talk show that nobody watched. Magic Johnson tried for a few weeks. But that left plenty of late-night audience to divide between just a few big dogs. The days of streaming what you wanted, whenever you wanted, were years away.
Today, Larry would have to compete with Jimmy F., Jimmy K., Stephen, Seth, John O., John S., James (at least for now), Trevor (at least for now), and whatever Gutfeld is doing. And that’s just on the broadcast channels that no one is watching. Late-night ratings across the board are in the tank, no doubt causing stomach distress among all the current players. Samantha Bee is gone. NBC might move Seth off the network and over to streaming. Whoever replaces Corden and Noah will no doubt be doing so at a fraction of what the current guys are getting. Can’t you feel Larry’s chest getting tight just considering where he’d fit in?
“I would think Larry Sanders might be overpaying for a place in Telluride,” imagines Cesario. With a successful show in his past, riding off into the sunset probably makes sense. And if he decided to stick around? Cesario would suggest taking an entirely new approach.
“Whoever’s creating content, it would be great to see some format busts, some intimate podcast-type alternatives, and diverse hosts - Joel Kim Booster or Camille Corbett or such,” he says. In other words, Larry and The Larry Sanders Show are much better off in the past where they belong.
Top image: Columbia Pictures Television