The Larry Sanders Show is a comedy set behind the scenes of a fictional late night talk show, also called The Larry Sanders Show. The show was shot in two distinct styles, a traditional talk show style when the fictional show is taping and a looser, documentary style the rest of the time. The plot focussed on how the characters produced the show while facing difficulties in their personal lives, from the network, from the guests and from their own flaws. To begin with, much of the focus was on Larry. However, as the show went on, other characters received more attention, especially Arthur and Hank.
Almost every episode features celebrities playing themselves as guests on the show, usually as brief cameos, but sometimes becoming part of the main plot. The first series opened with Hank Kingsley warming up the audience over the credits before launching into the fictional show's opening credits. This occurred less frequently in later seasons.
Larry is the star of his own talk show. Before hosting the show, he was a stand up comedian and many of the real life comedians, including Jeff Cesario, who guest star were friends with Larry in his stand up days. Before his stand up career took off, he was part of a double act with comedian, Stan Paxton (played by Eric Bogosian). Off camera, Larry is neurotic and deeply self absorbed, rarely noticing other people's problems. He relies heavily on Arthur and Beverly to deal with his problems, personal and professional. He is obsessed with the size of his ass, a frequent joke between him and Arthur. In the first season he is married to Jeanie, who leaves between the first and second seasons. During season two, he dates his ex-wife Francine who also leaves at the end of the season. After dating a number of famous women, Larry proposes to Roseanne when she helps him with his addiction to prescription drugs. Larry has a difficult relationship with the network executives, whom he dislikes but who have the power to cancel his show.
Arthur is the producer of The Larry Sanders Show. He has been married four times and served in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War. Before producing for Larry he was a producer on The Jackie Gleason Show. Most decisions about the show are taken by Arthur unless Larry takes an interest, in which case Arthur tries to accommodate his choices. As a result, it usually falls to Arthur to help people deal with their problems, although how diplomatic he is will depend on who they are. Larry, the show's guests and the Network are usually treated gently, while Hank and the show's staff will often get less tactful advice. Despite his rough demeanor, Arthur does care about those he works with, helping Hank with his marriage and subsequent divorce and Darlene with her decision on whether or not to appear in Playboy. However, like Larry, he dislikes many of the people at the Network but has to be more diplomatic with them. The plants on the set behind Larry are Arthur's personal project and he resents any effort by others to alter them.
Hank is Larry's sidekick as well as the show's announcer and responsible for warming up the audience. His catchphrase is "Hey now!" While Larry does not do any endorsements, except the Garden Weasel under duress from the Network, Hank is willing to put his name to anything regardless of quality. Like Larry, Hank has a huge ego and sees everyone except Larry and Arthur, who he desperately wants attention from, as unimportant. However, most of the staff see Hank as talentless, which complicates things as he craves their praise and respect wanting everyone to celebrate his leaving. Hank is supported in the first three series by his assistant Darlene who is probably the only person who actually admires Hank. When she leaves unexpectedly, she is replaced by Brian, a fan of Hank and friend of Paula.
Paula is the show's talent booker, which involves booking guests and pre-interviewing them for Larry. She is sarcastic, especially towards Phil and as Arthur and Larry note, she is "incapable of putting a performer at ease because she has a basic contempt for the business?". She is more friendly towards Darlene, Beverly and Brian. She wants to produce, even getting the chance when Arthur is held up by bad weather. While Larry is in Montana, she is offered the opportunity to produce on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, though discouraged when Larry suggests that Conan's show will not last. While she wants to produce the show under Arthur, she eventually leaves to produce a daytime show called Caryl and Marilyn: Real Friends.
Jerry Capen and Phil
While there are a number of writers on the show, Jerry and Phil are the ones the show focuses on. The writers are immature and often amuse themselves by making jokes about the other staff, but especially Hank. Jerry is the head writer, however Arthur fires him for his unprofessional behavior such as taking naps and having sex with interns, at least once on the stage behind Larry's desk. Phil is eventually promoted to head writer by Arthur, despite Arthur's reservations when it is revealed that no one else has stayed for more than a month and Phil asks for the job. Phil is sarcastic and antagonistic, which is why Arthur had reservations, particularly with Paula and Hank but also towards Larry when he feels good material has been rejected.
Beverly is Larry's personal assistant. She is usually unappreciated by Larry, even though she manages his entire life. She often works with Arthur in keeping Larry's focus on the show. While most of the staff frequently use profanity, Beverly rarely does so and she occasionally chastises them if they go to far in her presence. Paula does tease her for this. Beverly gets on well with most of the staff, though she does sometimes have to remind Phil and Hank that she works for Larry, not them. She has slept with both Arthur and Larry, though she never became romantically involved with either.
Darlene is Hank's personal assistant. She genuinely believes Hank is talented and a good person, even when Hank is celebrating Larry breaking up with Jeannie so that he can spend more time with him. When she dates Larry, we find out that she has also dated Phil for a month but that she did not consider them exclusive. After Hugh Hefner appears on the show, Hank tries to get himself featured in a Playboy article with Darlene, however the magazine's editor is not interested in Hank. After speaking with Arthur, she eventually decides to appear because she wants too. Darlene leaves suddenly when she decides to follow an Indian holy man.
Brian is a friend of Paula's who is hired to temp while Darlene is away. When she quits, Hank asks him to stay on as his assistant. When Hank realizes he is gay, he tries to find a reason to fire him. However, when Hank uses Brian's insight into how Larry is feeling to get invited to Larry's poker game, he decides to keep him.
Notable Guest Stars
There were a number of celebrities who played themselves on the show. While many were brief cameos, some played a deeper part in the show's stories, making numerous appearances.
Duchovny's first appearance was to promote the X-Files on the show, fearing Larry would bump him like Leno and Letterman. In later appearances, his wanting to spend time with Larry makes Larry uncomfortably wonder about his intentions.
Rogers appears on the show twice, both times she has a romantic interest in Larry. In her first appearance, they flirt during the interview and Larry invites her back on the show, causing trouble with his wife, Jeanie. Larry is single the next time they meet, but their date is interrupted by a woman claiming she is having Larry's baby.
Stewart fills in as a regular guest host during Larry's vacations. Arthur tries to prevent him from getting too many good guests so that his ratings do not overtake Larry's. Despite Arthur's efforts, Jon's ratings are good enough for some at the Network to want to have him replace Larry permanently. This means that neither Larry or Arthur like Jon, but are forced to be friendly towards him.