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Should he stay or go? Shandling deliberates

Like his HBO character, Garry Shandling is racked with ambivalence about his next career move.

In his last season under contract for The Larry Sanders Show, Shandling says he's "struggling with the decision right now" about whether to return for a fifth go-round of his scathing parody of late-night TV. Sanders' fourth season launches July 19 at 10:30 p.m.

"I have to decide pretty soon," says Shandling, Sanders' executive producer and star. "I really don't know. I love the show, and it would be very difficult for me to give it up. But I've always been one to move on to other projects after I accomplish one."

The litmus test for Sanders will be whether it has more creative potential, Shandling says. "If it does, it will continue. It's like a relationship. When you move from enthusiasm to something else, you have to decide to work on the relationship or bail."

Speaking of bailing, Shandling insists that his recent breakup with Linda Doucett had nothing to do with her leaving the show. She played Hank's (Jeffrey Tambor's) ditsy assistant, Darlene.

Doucett's departure "has no connection to us breaking up," Shandling says. "She was ready to move on to other things. We're friends."

In the second episode, debuting July 26, the vacationing Darlene informs Hank by letter that she has moved to India with her new flame. Her replacement, played by Kids in the Hall alum Scott Thompson, debuts in the segment.

The big joke is that Hank is the only one who doesn't realize the new guy is gay. The ensuing conflict "creates a funny kind of chemistry for Hank to play off of," Shandling says. "Once Hank understands, he's uncomfortable with it."

The idea of a gay assistant and Thompson's casting "just came together pretty magically," Shandling says. "We were all Scott Thompson fans. He didn't even read for the part."

Larry ended last season by proposing to Roseanne, who dumped him for her limo driver. Don't look for Larry's luck with women to get much better during this 17-episode season.

"I think Larry will continue his struggle deciding if he wants to be with someone in show business," Shandling says. "He goes out with a couple of models, but it's a pretty shallow experience." Shandling's love life "doesn't have a script. I wish it did. It would be easier."

As for the real world of late-night TV, Shandling has "no interest at the moment."

"I'm sort of bored with it. I think it's become more of a ratings competition than an artistic competition. That probably speaks to what's going on in our society _ a certain loss of spirit and soul and concern for quality. I guess that's always the conflict of TV."