Remembering Tom Petty and Garry Shandling’s Friendship and Television Collaboration

America had a REALLY bad October 2nd, 2017. Like most of you reading this, I awoke to the news of another senseless mass shooting, this time in Las Vegas. As details trickled in, more awful news followed and the number of dead kept climbing.

As I left work, I turned off my radio and phone and thought about the day’s events. Thirty minutes later and deep in thought I arrived at Luck Bros. Coffee. As I  started my routine I turned my phone on and immediately received a CNN Alert that Tom Petty was found unresponsive in his home and was rushed to the hospital in a state of full cardiac arrest.

Could this be real? After an unsettling day (to say the least), could this be some kind of karmic joke? Could the Traveling Wilbury who was responsible for the masterpieces that are Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Damn the Torpedoes, Full Moon Fever and Into the Great Wide Open really be gone? As different reports were broadcast, the prognosis seemed grim and at midnight it was official – Tom Petty had passed away at 66.

The following day I decided to write about Tom Petty and had three thoughts:

  1. If there is a heaven, the people from Las Vegas have someone cool to wait with and maybe Petty would play them a few songs to pass the time.
  2. At least Garry Shandling didn’t have to wait long to be reunited with his neighbor, friend and collaborator. If you are unfamiliar with their relationship, we will get to their back story, which includes my back story because I am a narcissist.
  3. I wasn’t going to write about Petty’s music, as I have nothing new to offer, especially with all of the memorials in the wake of his untimely death. I certainly enjoyed his music but always enjoyed his television appearances just as much, so that is what I was going to focus on.

I grew up with cable and I can’t remember not having it. It wasn’t the mind numbing multi channel, on demand 1000 channel kind, but simple 1980s rural Northeast Indiana Cable. For Millennials who are reading this, there was no guide to scroll through and no information on the screen. In fact, the first cable box the Wetli family owned did NOT have a remote and when the remote arrived it had a number pad, volume control, channel up and down and power. Fancy.

Then when I was nine a miracle occurred  and my family ordered Showtime, which initially was a vessel for wonderful low-grade rebroadcasts of Revenge of the Nerds, Terminator, Beverly Hills Cop, Indiana Jones and low-budget/late night horror movies. It was a wonderful time to be ten years old and a wonderful time to be an American.

Then one glorious summer I came across the concept of original programming in the form of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. My world was changed and I was instantly hooked.

Innovative, groundbreaking, creative and hilarious, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show broke the conventional television mold and its success allowed The Larry Sanders Show to exist. The Larry Sanders Show begat The Sopranos and The Sopranos popularized original programming. This progeny eventually led to the success of Netflix, Hulu and all other streaming television. It is not hyperbolic to say Garry Shandling made all of this possible.

It’s Garry Shandling’s Show borrowed/imitated much of Shandling’s personal life as he played a (slightly) exaggerated version of himself – a Los Angeles based stand-up comedian who was looking for success in his professional life and validation in his personal life. The kicker was that Shandling’s character was sentient of the fact that he was a television charachter and often ‘broke the fourth wall’ and talked to the audience. In 2017, this premise sounds like every other new Network Television series, but in 1986 it was fresh, new and exciting.

One particularly enjoyable guest appearance was – you guessed it – Shandling’s television and real life neighbor Tom Petty (watch this clip of the two being reunited after not seeing each other for a few years. They definitely had love for each other ).

petty shandling

Tom played himself as only Tom could do. He would stop by to borrow a cup of sugar or to play guitar or to lend an ear. In fact, he helped deliver Garry’s Sister-In-Law’s baby. New Wave satire of the highest order.

Shandling moved to HBO in 1992 and premiered his new program – The Larry Sander’s Show. Once again, Shandling played a (slightly) exaggerated version of himself – an insecure, late night talk show host. The Larry Sander’s Show garnered critical acclaim, racked up Emmys and was a creative and comedic Tour de Force. When the show ended in 1998, it had changed the landscape of television and it’s legacy would be changing what the term ‘television’ meant and how it would be consumed.

Petty (as himself) was a guest much less often on The Larry Sanders Show, but was referenced many times as his character was repeatedly ‘bumped’ from Sandler’s talk show. However, Petty did make an appearance on the series finale to challenge Clint Black for the right to serenade Larry. Greg Kinnear intervenes, Petty ends up fighting Kinnear and as a result, Petty is once again bumped. Pretty clever stuff and a great payoff to fans who invested time into the show.


Previously I wanted to write an entry solely about the comedic genius of Garry Shandling. However, given the untimely passing of Tom Petty, their friendship and the fact that both passed away at 66 from the same ailment, it feels right to send them off together.

However, before I do, I have one more Tom Petty role I would like to discuss. The character had nothing to do with Garry Shandling, was created Mike Judge (Office Space, Idiocracy, Beavis & Butthead, Silicon Valley) and was featured regularly on the stellar animated Fox program King of the Hill .

The name of the this iconic character is Elroy ‘Lucky’ Kleinschmidt. Lucky is an unemployed, good-hearted scam artist who is smarter than he appears. Lucky is romantically involved with protagonist Hank’s niece and this romance leads to many hysterical exploits.

Petty voices this character exactly as the character should be voiced and is dry, witty and insightful. Even if you are not an animation fan, please check out an episode that features Lucky, I promise you will laugh. Here is an article with a few clips to get you started.

So there you have it…my take on the relationship between Shandling and Petty and their stellar television work. Wherever they are, I am sure they are together and making the people around them laugh.


  • Here is a great article from Rolling Stone detailing Mike Judge’s thoughts on working with Tom Petty.
  • How has the Petty tune Zombie Zoo not been featured in an action sequence in a zombie movie? It would be perfect in the Zombieland 2.
  • Comedic Icon Gilda Radner made her last public appearance on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. She’s stops by to see Garry and gives him a good ribbing. Thanks for everything, Gilda.
  • I declined to see Tom Petty in Columbus this past June because it was an indoor show and I was only going to see Petty if the show was outdoors. Amphitheater or Bust was my Petty mantra for years. I wanted to spend an afternoon outside among the Wildflowers and watch the man perform his craft. This was a tactical error – sorry about that, Chris.
  • I would be re-missed if I didn’t mention two iconic comedic roles that were created as a result of The Larry Sanders show: Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor) is Larry’s self-absorbed, narcissistic co-host and Arthur (Rip Torn) is Larry’s hard-drinking, producer who is constantly tasked with the job of coddling Larry. If you aren’t familiar, make yourself a Salty Dog (Arthur’s drink of choice) and give The Larry Sanders Show a chance. It truly did change television.larry sanders


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