Wednesday, March 28, 2018

"Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling"

HBO has premiered a documentary on the life of the late comedian, Garry Shandling. Produced by Judd Apatow.

Let’s cut to the chase (something this documentary doesn’t do). It’s 4 ½ hours long. Four and a half hours. Devoted to Garry Shandling. Documentaries on the Civil War are shorter.

Not that it isn’t well done and filled with diary entries and behind-the-scene footage – but 4 ½ hours? Really?

Let me save you some time. Garry Shandling was a very talented guy who was always miserable, always searching for happiness, could be difficult to deal with, kept journals, achieved a certain level of success in the world of comedy, and was the creative force of the sometimes brilliant cult hit HBO series, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW. In some ways it was a groundbreaking show. But for all his success, Garry Shandling remained tortured.

Does it require 4 ½ hours to tell that story? Judd Apatow, who is notorious for churning out good work that is always marred by excessive length, outdoes himself here. I suppose if you’re a huge Garry Shandling fan you could easily sit through 6 hours of footage of colleagues saying over and over he was complicated and generally unhappy. But if you’re the average person, even if you were a Garry Shandling fan (which I was), I wonder if 4 ½ hours might be a tad much (like by half).

Even the excellent PBS documentary on Walt Disney, who was one of the most influential cultural forces of the 20th Century and created an entertainment empire that was groundbreaking in many areas – from animation to television to theme parks – even with home movies never seen before and a career that spanned forty years leaving behind a legacy that may last hundreds of years – that documentary was only 4 hours. THE SORROW AND THE PITY was 4 hours and 25 minutes. Garry Shandling’s life required more time than that?

And the result is the documentary does Shandling a disservice because the length might scare off people who otherwise might tune in. And what’s more important – tracing his life in day-to-day depth, or attracting more people who might for the first time appreciate him and his contribution? I bet you could do a two hour documentary and not feel cheated.

42 comments :

Chris said...

Friday Question: how much ownership do networks retain over series they've aired after the initial run concludes? In other words, could NBC re-run Cheers or Seinfeld nowadays with at no additional cost besides the residuals or do new contracts have to be drawn up? Is that a reason why this virtually never happens? Unless it's some sort of anniversary or eulogy, networks never re-run their old shows, no matter how popular they used to be (and in some cases still are, such as Friends).

Anonymous said...

I didn't have time to make a short documentary so I made a longer one instead.

Matt said...

Ken,

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I've been saying for a long time now that Judd Apatow movies run 40 minutes too long. Always. If I brought "Bridesmaids" into Final Cut Pro X, I could trim out 40 minutes and make it a much tighter film. I laughed hard when "This is 40" came out. Yeah. "This Is 40 (minutes too long) " and it was!

I have no idea why he does this, but it's every. single. movie.

Mike McCann said...

Looks like Apatow violated the ages-old show biz tradition, "Always leave them wanting more." Clearly, at four-plus hours, the tank was empty, the warehouse cleared out.

Mr. Hollywood said...

100% in agreement Ken. Apatow and the new breed all need a strong editor. Otherwise it gets repetitive. Loved Shandling's work. Sad that so many people who brings so much joy to so many are so tortured in real life. I also get that Apatow seems to owe his entire career to Shandling ... but, once again Judd ... use a good editor.

Mike said...

Garry Shandling: "The Sorrow and the Self-Pity". "The Agony and the Ecstasy without the Ecstasy". At 4 hours 30 minutes, it's 5 minutes sorrow, 4 hours 25 minutes pity.

ITV's seminal World War 2 documentary series "The World At War" runs for 22 hours 32 minutes. Larry Sandling's pity runs from the formation of the Nazi Party to Pearl Harbour.

And you don't do too badly yourself, Ken. 23 sentences to tell us the programme's too long.

Incidentally, the BBC recently screened a comprehensive 2x1 hour documentary on Walt Disney. Where did PBS find another 2 hours?

Curious said...

No review of the Roseanne relaunch today?

Stuart Best said...

The Larry Sanders show was "sometimes" brilliant? "Somewhat" groundbreaking? No, it was always brilliant and straight-up groundbreaking. You're right about the length though. I really want to see "a" Judd Apatow doc on Garry Shandling. I just don't want to see "this" one.

By the way, what did you think of the Roseanne re-boot last night? I was hoping it would be awful given her reputation and what I think she deserves --- but I thought the one hour opener was brave and amusing (not out-loud haha, but I enjoyed it). You?

Garry said...

How's my hair?

Thomas Anderson said...

I watched the entire Shandling documentary last night, and didn't think it was too long at all, Ken. Since much of it dealt with his family, especially his mom and his brother Barry, it also helped explain his attitude about marriage and having children. Also, it was interesting how many other performers thought of him as a mentor for their careers, wasn't it?

Elden Rhoads said...

It's difficult to drum up sympathy for a man who would fire his fiancee from her show after breaking up with her, then, lacking any level of self-awareness, feel betrayed by his business manager after the guy built his career. While Apatow sides with Linda Doucett: "It seemed like Garry didn't understand that when you guys broke up that you're not allowed to fire your ex-fiancee from her show," he and the rest of men give him a pass because of his childhood trauma. Maybe the guy had talent, and maybe he had reason to be unhappy. But, after watching a portion of this saga, I can't respect a man who could be such an asshole or think too much of the men who idolize him.

Alan Christensen said...

I'm imagining "Garry Shandling: A Ken Burns Film." Lots of sepia and journal entries about The Larry Sanders Show.

Gary Benz said...

Yea, it was probably too long, just like most of Judd's work. But let's be careful about making false equivalences by comparing it with other works. It's a fools errand as you can make that same case for nearly anything. On its merits, the documentary provided a very in depth view of a complicated person, a person responsible for truly being a lasting influence. It was a reminder that artists can be tortured souls and not all of them turn to drugs as the release. Shandling repeatedly explored his truth, and in turn helped train stables of great writers to essentially do likewise, and that kind of life long journey is always going to take its toll. More than anything, that's what really came through.

Rod said...


Peter Bogdanvich did 4 hours on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 2007. "Runnin' Down A Dream" is currently on Netflix. I didn't think it was too long at all. Very well done.
By the way-- Shandling and Petty were great friends. Petty made a great cameo on Shandlings last "Larry Sanders" episode.

Sean Savage said...

Friday question(s) - Might you pull back the curtain a bit on your podcast, specifically the retro theme and bumper music? Where do you find those angelic radio jingle voices? Is there stock library music involved? (Somehow I doubt you hired an orchestra.) And is it matter of cashing in some favors on the production of it? In short, it's very slick and impressive.

Doug McIntyre said...

Amen, Ken.

Jeff Scott said...

The first time I interviewed Roger Ebert, "Dances with Wolves" was a big hit in theaters. Much was made about the fact that it was a three hour movie. Ebert was annoyed when I asked him about it. Essentially he said if it's a good movie, I want it to be longer. If that's how long it takes to tell a good story and make a good movie, we should be grateful it's that long, not anxious for it to end. I haven't watched this documentary yet, but I'm not scared off by the length if the time is used wisely...

CRL said...

It probably would have been shorter if he didn't have to find a part for Leslie Mann......

Jon B. said...

The potential audience interest in documentaries is small, so one about Garry Shandling is very tiny. So why not cater to those who really care about him?

I have not seen it yet, so I have no opinion about its quality or length. I do know that I get frustrated with bio-documentaries that seem superficial and only regurgitate what I already know, with just a few nuggets to keep my interest. Maybe this one will be different.

ODJennings said...

I watched both parts last night and for some reason I wanted even more, so I rewatched Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee episode with Shandling. To his credit Seinfeld did as much in 15 minutes to capture both Garry's genius and his demons as Apatow did in 4 hours. If you haven't seen it go take a look (Netflix), especially Garry's comments about Robin William's suicide.

Todd Everett said...

As another one who actually watched the whole thing == and I'm not particularly a Shandling fan; his stand-up less than the two TV Series*-- I enjoyed it a lot, and never glanced at my watch.

I'm with you on the movies, though.


*how could Apatow spend that much time on "It's Garry Shandling's Show" without mentioning George Burns?

Dr Loser said...

From memory, Ken, you held a discussion a few years back about the ideal length of a comedy film. (An actual comedy film, not a film about a comic.) I seem to recall that the consensus was 80 minutes, or we flip the popcorn bucket and we're outahere.

Reading your post and the comments, I suspect that the same deal applies to a film about a comic. Because, after all, unless we have a morbid interest in rape and milk-bottles and the 1920s, we're actually watching for the comic, not for the morbid interest. Make us laugh, if only occasionally and occasionally nostalgically, or again, it's popcorn-flipping time.

It's odd how I can sit through 3 1/2 hours of Kagemusha without complaining, though. Maybe it's the scenery, maybe not; I don't know.

All I know is, even then, there are certain physical limits. Back then, it was a curious numbing of each buttock in turn. Nowadays, at the age of 56, it's probably the prostate gland playing up again.

But, 4 1/2 hours of "Shandling and Friends?" You could watch practically every episode of Basil Fawlty in that time.

Without the friends.

Pallas said...

I also object to the "sometimes brilliant" description of the Larry Sanders Show.

Melanie Parrish said...

"The Larry Sanders Show" was okay, but it was no "Big Wave Dave's."

Aaron Sheckley said...

I definitely agree with Ebert's position that a good movie can be very long and still be a good movie. I also agree that the scope of the subject of a biography doesn't directly correlate to how long a biography should be. But more than anything, I agree that every movie Apatow has made has dragged in spots, primarily because there hasn't actually been enough story to fill up a two and a half hour comedy. It isn't that the comedies aren't funny; only that all of them could have benefited from a decent editor. If all 4.5 hours of his Shandling biography are absolutely essential, then that'll be a first for Apatow.

Tom Wolper said...

I've only watched the first part so far but I like the length. At the end it felt like I had read a biography about Shandling except I could see footage of his standup development and TV shows instead of just seeing the words on a page. Cutting it down would make it feel like a celebration of his career highlights.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I could have watched another 4 1/2 hours. I thought it was fabulous and a great psychological study of an artist. I’m going back to journaling.

Jeff G said...

I'm about 3/4 of the way through it and I've gotta say I'm enjoying it. I'm watching it in smaller chunks so it's more digestible (it's nice that that's easy to do these days). I'm about 10 years too young to know much about Shandling so I'm learning a lot. It's interesting seeing how much the younger comics (who I'm more familiar with) admired him. It's definitely long and not for everyone but I dig it, personally.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm squarely in the "More, please!" camp. I'm always fascinated by artists/creative types talking about their craft, so the length, here, doesn't bother me a bit.

Garry said...

No. Really. How's my hair?

Anne said...

I'm in for 4 more hours, too, please. There were very good things right at the end-- including the letter reveal and Kevin Nealon's eulogy. I agree that everything lasts too long especially the Civil War but this show had me hooked wire to wire.

mdv59 said...

I'm actually not a fan of a lot of Judd's work but I really enjoyed the Shandling documentary because it's more broadly about the early comedy club scene that gave rise to comedians becoming prime time television stars. I had an office in the building next to The Comedy Store back then, so maybe I'm unusually nostalgic about the subject, but I enjoyed the whole 4 1/2 hours. Kind of reminds me of Scorsese's documentary about George Harrison, yes it was about Harrison, but it was really a great documentary about The Beatles.

Alan Light said...

I watched Part one of the Shandling documentary on HBO last night and didn't feel it was too long. It's very well done. I'm looking forward to Part two.

Patrick said...

To each his own. I enjoyed it a lot and never noticed the length.

Cat said...

I was hooked from the get-go. I don't feel it was too long at all. It seemed well-paced, actually. It didn't come off as a documentary on a famous guy, it came off very humane and loving, a well-rounded portrait of someone with many assets and flaws. Enjoyed it thoroughly.

Christopher Lowery said...

For someone who was endlessly conflicted, who had some measure of impact on some of us, perhaps an overly long documentary by a devotee is simply a reflection of that endless turmoil

Kaleberg said...

As someone who can rarely get through a 90 second Youtube video without at least two interruptions, I can't even conceive of watching a 4 and a half hour documentary. Maybe in another life.

Don K. said...

I've seen the entire thing and it had my attention the entire time. The man lived 66 years. Telling his story in four hours doesn't seem like any big stretch. Moreover, an interesting biography that typically runs 300 or so pages takes longer to read. I sense a bias more about Shandling that the length of it. He was complicated. He was conflicted. He didn't know how to be happy. He sure tried to be (you know, Zen and all that) but he died still a work in progress. That he was also funny and inventive seems to just add to that mix. Lighten up.

MikeKPa. said...

I just finished it and also thought 4 hours was fine. He was a complicated guy, who couldn't embrace the people around him who loved him. His mother did a job on him and when his manager screwed him, that was it. Fascinating to see his thoughts through the journal entries and his conflicted approach to life - Zen and boxing - always searching, but never really finding true peace. Great job by Judd Apatow, for whom I'm sure it was painful, while also a labor of love to be able to pay tribute to one of his idols and great friend.

Anonymous said...

Clips of Larry Sanders Show. Gary Shandlings Show. Stand-up. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Tonight Show. Late Show. Interviews with Sashe Barron Cohen, Conan O'Brien, Sarah Silverman, Seinfeld, Jim Carrey. There was more to enjoy than just the story of Gary Channeling. It was packed with entertainment that prevented the long running time to feel thin.

Dale Walker said...

I fall on the side of thinking it was just the right running time. Most docs like this will show 90 minutes of the brilliant subject doing all their brilliant stuff and leave about 20 minutes for the darkside and/or failures and I really felt like this covered everything in Shandling's career and I honestly don't know what you throw out. I would watch 30 minutes a day until you get through the thing because it's a very candid profile.

Mike said...

No. 60 minutes is all that's needed for a documentary. If it's a long story like a World War, multiple 60 minutes episodes. Put out the extra footage on a DVD for fans by all means, but only broadcast 60 minutes.

I watched the Tom Petty documentary at 4 hours. Far too long and deleted it.
I watched the George Harrison documentary at 3 hours 30 minutes total. Far too long and deleted it.
I watched the Eagles documentary at 3 hours 10 minutes total. Far too long and deleted it.
I watched many music documentaries at 60 minutes. Enjoyed and kept.

The long documentaries tend to be American-made and there are very real problems with American-made documentaries. They lack strong narration and there's too much reliance on talking heads. They're too hagiographic and bloated. I'm guessing you don't get sufficient practice at making them, because American network TV doesn't show them.