“L.A. Or N.Y.?” (season 2, episode 18, originally aired 9/29/93)
We’ve known at least since season one’s “The Party” that Larry fantasizes about giving up the show—and show business—and living like a normal retired millionaire in Montana. (That’s probably a nod to David Letterman, who has a ranch there in real life. He isn’t alone—in 1991, People ran a whole article about stars flocking to the state and used the phrase “Montana is avant-garde” with a straight face.)
Larry’s unhappiness with the show came up again earlier this season in “Larry Loses Interest,” when he briefly dallied in writing a movie, and popped up again in “Performance Artist.” In “Being There,” the show obstructed his personal life, but this time he actually minded it. Then there was the drama with his contract in “Larry’s Agent,” network shenanigans in “Life Behind Larry,” and bad press in “Off Camera.” Let’s not forget the season kicked off with a two-part episode called “The Breakdown.”
In a real sense, the second season of The Larry Sanders Show has been building to the part in “L.A. Or N.Y.?” when a network buyout puts the future of Larry’s show in danger. The new owner, Richard Germain (David Warner), is a foreign beer baron (sadly, not the beer baron) who’s interested in news, not talk shows. He wants to “blaze a new trail” with a late-night news magazine that wraps up the day’s events with a “hip MTV sensibility.” (Ewwwwww.) Larry tries to defend the format of the show—which the new owner apparently hasn’t watched—but Warner only sees the crowded marketplace: The Larry Sanders Show pretty much does the same thing as Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Arsenio Hall. Warner made his money bilking the public by periodically changing the label on his beer—dry, ice, etc.—and in Larry’s show, he sees another bottle that needs a new label. Apparently a label with a hip MTV sensibility.
Oh, to return to the days of Melanie Parrish! She wanted live commercials, but at least she liked the format of the show. This guy cares so little about Larry’s process and show he hasn’t even bothered to watch it.
Worse for Larry is that he can’t tell the staff, because the sale is still a secret. Everyone suspects that the story, which has already leaked to the CBS Evening News and Variety, is true—especially because Larry’s a bad liar. Every time he insists he doesn’t know anything, he touches his mouth. (Quick, someone organize a poker game and make sure Larry attends.)
After meeting with Warner, Larry’s first instinct is to call his agent, Stevie (Bob Odenkirk, who I really wish had been around more this season). Stevie’s an absolute shark—“I live for this shit. It gets me all hot and bothered!”—so he quickly gets ABC on the hook for the post-Nightline slot, another reference to the real world.
ABC had Ted Koppel meet with David Letterman to sell the Nightline/Letterman combo when Letterman was planning his exit from NBC, according to The Late Shift. It even went further than that at one point, with ABC hinting that Koppel wanted out of Nightline, which would have opened up the so-important-you’d-kill-a-man-for-it 11:30 slot. Letterman wanted 11:30, and losing Nightline didn’t seem likely (that suggestion was really a stratagem in a war between two ABC executives), so it never went too far. According to The War For Late Night, ABC secretly offered to kill Nightline for Letterman again in 2002. When Conan O’Brien was deciding his future after the Tonight Show debacle, ABC pursued him and Leno, in case Conan kept The Tonight Show, because everyone thinks Leno gives networks a license to print money.
In the world of The Larry Sanders Show, ABC keeps Nightline and gives the 12:30 slot to Larry, but the grass doesn’t look too much greener to Larry. First, ABC wants the show to be based in New York. Second, it only gives him a one-year deal. If you’re going to move your show across the country, it’d better be worth it. And to Larry, it’s looking less worth it by the moment: Artie can’t go to New York because he “did some work for some people” there when he was a young man. Warner reminds Larry he’s contractually obligated to the network for three more years. Francine thinks he should move—but she won’t be coming with him. In a fantastic bit of poor timing, she practically breaks up with him right after Warner reminds him about his contract.
This episode had me right up until the appearance of Howard Stern—actually, right until Stern shows up at Larry’s house for dinner. I don’t mind Stern personally; I’ve only heard his radio show a few times, but I enjoyed the movie adaptation of his first book, Private Parts, and I respect him as a… media personality (?). But the dude is a relentless self-promoter, and he couldn’t look more out of place pimping his autobiography. Whaddya know, this episode aired just a week before the book came out—but this isn’t The Tonight Show. It makes sense to have Stern on Larry’s show as a panel guest to promote the book, but when he’s standing in Larry’s entryway, helpfully holding the cover to the camera while telling Francine he’s brought his book as a gift for them, it’s distractingly forced and unnatural. For me, Stern never recovers—like trying to watch The Phantom Menace after Jar Jar Binks shows up—even when he finally puts down the book to “talk” with Larry. “Larry, what’s up with your girlfriend? I mean she’s got great tits, but its like she has something shoved up her ass all the time. It’s like she’s on the perpetual rag.”
Larry should know telling Howard Stern anything, no matter how couched in hypotheticals—or even insinuating anything—guarantees it’ll be on the radio the next day. How could he not realize that? I’m guessing that he did, and that he used Stern to trial balloon the NYC option to his staff. But it goes poorly—grouses Artie, “Your life, your show, your problem, and I hope you’re happy with it”—and with Francine weighing on his mind, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that he bails.
But to leave so abruptly, without any warning or consulting with his agent, is crazy. Larry’s a worrier, and worriers generally aren’t impulsive—especially when it comes to their livelihood. He’s also a narcissist who has a pathological need for attention—and everyday guys in Montana don’t get much in the way of limelight. Yearning for a simpler life, in this case, is about Larry’s inability to deal with stress. He can’t lean on Artie or Francine, so removes himself from the situation completely. He’s smart enough to know that he’ll be miserable living alone—if Francine’s not moving to New York, she’s definitely not going to Montana—in the middle of nowhere, but he can’t see it at first. But by the end of the episode, it’s starting to sink in.
Considering The Larry Sanders Show went on for four more seasons, we know how this plays out.
- Hank FTW as he hugs Larry after the show: “You’re a miserable fuck. A real miserable fuck.”
- Artie knows just how to push Larry’s buttons by saying he has a big ass. “That’s why we sent for that new lens from Sony—so we can cover that huge ass.”
- Artie, consoling Larry on lying to the staff: “Larry, you did the right thing. People can’t do their best work when they’re shitting in their pants.”
- Hank’s in the black book of the “Hollywood Madam,” a reference to Heidi Fleiss, who was arrested in June 1993. She was said to have some of Hollywood’s biggest names on her client roster, though Fleiss refused to disclose any of them—though two were later confirmed, Charlie Sheen (of course) and a Texas billionaire named Robert T. Crow. Speaking of, I also didn’t like the scene where Artie and Larry denied using the Hollywood Madam while doing their “tells.” It seemed obvious to me.
- Oh Chris Farley. The man who created the Matt Foley character? Bob Odenkirk.
- That does it for season two, y’all. Thanks for reading.