Saturday, July 20

UCLA alumnus tunes in on TV industry

UCLA alumnus tunes in on TV industry

Co-creator of ‘Larry Sanders Show’ to talk with Extension

By Rodney Tanaka

Daily Bruin Staff

Dennis Klein, co-creator of the "Larry Sanders Show," advises
aspiring writers to use a shotgun rather than a rifle.

"You’re in charge of your own weapon, the ability to write
scripts, so your success is partially based on how many bullets you
use because it’s hard to hit the target," Klein says. "If you have
a rifle that only shoots one bullet then if you miss that’s a big
deal, but if you have a shotgun that fires 50 pellets at once,
something is going to land somewhere.

"You’re not in control of the quality of material or the
reception the material gets, but one thing you are in control of is
generating it," Klein adds. "My biggest advice to writers is not to
spend too much time on self-criticism. There are plenty of people
waiting to give you opinions of your work."

Klein, a UCLA alumnus, will share his insight and advise about
the entertainment industry in UCLA Extension’s "Tune in Tonight."
The series, created by producer Ed Scharlach, offers an open
discussion with writers from popular television shows.

"In television it’s usually the writer who is the guiding voice
behind the project," Scharlach says. "Usually no matter how
successful the show is, the writer is still behind the scenes and
rarely gets his moment in the spotlight."

Scharlach, a writer for shows including "Mork and Mindy" and an
new version of "The Jetsons," wanted to give credit to his fellow
writers and to give his students the writer’s point of view.

"We’re trying to cover the most well-respected shows on
television," Scharlach says. "’The Larry Sanders Show’ is highly
regarded right now as one of the smartest comedy shows."

"The Larry Sanders Show," starring Garry Shandling, offers a
backstage view of a television talk show.

"Garry Shandling thought there might be some way to meld what is
intriguing about a talk show with what’s funny in a situation
comedy," Klein says. "At the same time you can make fun of the
elements that go into a talk show and the kind of boiler room
aspect, the fraudulence of it."

The show captured these moments with the pilot episode.

"Larry and Jeffrey Tambor (sidekick Hank), disrupt their
friendship and they have to go on with the show even though they
hate each other for the duration of it," Klein says. "That seemed
to me to capture the falseness of things that go on on television
and the pettiness that goes on in real life."

However, the show offers more than inside jokes from the talk
show realm.

"My sense of Garry’s character was a homeowner who somehow is
very picky and dissatisfied and can never find the right place to
shop and the right gardener," Klein says. "I thought that would be
funny to watch a guy that seemingly has a lot of power get thwarted
by the people around him."

Klein believes Shandling is well-suited for that role.

"Even though he’s not playing himself, he’s willing to let
people see who he really is," Klein says. "There is a softness to
him that makes people be on his side, even people who don’t like
his personality don’t feel threatened by him.

"On this show he takes some very harsh stances and can be a bit
of a bastard," Klein adds. "Through it all he (becomes) something
that seems very much like a wounded or haunted animal of a small

Shandling’s softness should not be mistaken for weakness.

"People were not going to screw around with the show while he
was around," Klein says. "He really fought against even the most
minor changes in the show if it seemed to be political rather than
a creatively good change."

Garry Shandling is not the first stand-up comedian to benefit
from Klein’s input. As a teenager Klein gave unsolicited jokes to
nightclub comedians such as Bob Newhart and Carol Channing. He
enrolled in UCLA’s graduate program in motion pictures in 1967.

"I felt there were some small-minded, stupid teachers and
administrators who were more interested in piques as opposed to
helping students," Klein says. "That seemed to be duplicated out in
the world and certainly in the world of show business."

"There there were some great teachers who were thoughtful and
generous and selfless," Klein continues. "It seemed analogous."

The haphazard structure of the department prepared Klein for the
unpredictability of the entertainment industry.

"It helped me to realize that when you’re dealing with elements
like storytelling, actors and directors, it’s impossible to keep
things structured in an organized way," Klein says. "Everything is
subjective in terms of standards: who did a bad job on a project,
who uses the editing machines. All those things helped me
understand the fendingfor-myself aspect of the world I was going

Klein aids fellow Bruins fending for themselves when possible.
In the 1970s he taught screenwriting at UCLA, and he returns
tonight for the Extension class. However, Bruin loyalty has certain

"I consider UCLA as my home school and someplace I’m rooting for
and have affection for," Klein says, adding with a laugh, "But that
does not extend so far as to put UCLA students up for the weekend
just because they show up at my front door."

CLASS: "Tune In Tonight," featuring Dennis Klein, Monday, Feb. 5
at 7 p.m. Runs every Monday through March 11. FEE: $145 for the
series. For more info, call (310) 206-1542. Comments to
[email protected]

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