Tuesday, June 16, 2015

(Top) 10 Things About David Letterman — Number Four: Top Ten Lists!

A Little Counting Music, Please ...
Ten ... Nine ... Eight ... Seven ... Six ... Five ... Four ... Three ... Two ... One ... and Good Night

Letterman's Top Ten lists were such a fixture of both late-night shows that almost no one remembers they were a late-comer.

Letterman read the first one on September 18, 1985.  To put that into context, imagine there's a classic bit of Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show shtick Fallon has yet to invent; on the Top Ten list timeline, that bit is still more than two years out.  There's no mention of the iconic Top Ten list in Avengers #239 because it didn't exist yet.

When Letterman left NBC after being passed up as a replacement for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show in 1993, the network claimed most of the recurring routines on Late Night were the intellectual property of NBC — including the Top Ten list.

In the months between his last broadcast on NBC and the premiere of The Late Show on CBS, commentators were nervous what an 11:30 Letterman without Top Ten lists, special suits, a never-seen home office, Stupid Pet Tricks, and throwing things off the roof would look like.  More nervous than modern audiences are about an out-of-character Stephen Colbert.

"Intellectual property" became a buzzword in an America where the combination of those two words was still inherently funny.  That's almost impossible to imagine now.

Fans needn't have worried.  Letterman replied to NBC's claim on the Top Ten by saying it couldn't belong to NBC since he had plagiarized it from somewhere else.  He threw watermelons off the roof of the Ed Sullivan Theater, joking that if NBC came after him, maybe they would also go after teenagers on overpasses.  When his mother appeared on the show, he even quipped that he might have to call her "Dorothy" since "Dave's mom" was the intellectual property of NBC.

And maybe it's just me — I've never heard anyone else say this — but isn't #4 (sometimes #3) on the Top Ten list always the funniest, usually the punchline to the whole Top Ten bit, with #s 2 and 1 serving as comedic dénouement?

— Scott

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails