Late Show Top Ten List

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Top 10 list (David Letterman))
Jump to: navigation, search

The Late Show Top Ten List is a regular segment of the television program Late Show with David Letterman. It is adapted from Letterman's NBC show Late Night. The list is compiled by the show's writing staff.


The lists are usually given humorous topics such as Top Ten Signs Your Kid Had A Bad First Day At School or Top Ten Rejected James Bond Gadgets or based on current events.[1]

The CBS website also conducts a weekly "Top Ten Contest" on a particular topic (similar to the show), where viewers can submit their jokes and the top ten responses get posted on the Web site. These Top Ten lists, however, are not read on air. The contests continued through the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike while the show was on hiatus.

Background and origin[edit]

The Top Ten List was not originally a regular segment of Late Night, but was added as a way of mocking People magazine,[citation needed] which routinely featured such lists (as well as 'Worst 10' lists). Letterman had once made an off-hand remark on the show that he found the People lists to be annoying, and began his own lists as a way of ridiculing what had by then become an increasingly recurring trend in other periodicals and magazines.

While Letterman may have been mocking People and other publications (such as The New York Post) which published these top ten lists, those lists themselves as well as the format used by Letterman may well have been inspired by The Dick Clark Show, which aired on Saturday nights from February 1958 until September 1960 on the ABC network. At the end of each show, Clark would unveil the "Top Ten" records of the coming week, in reverse order and with a great deal of fanfare, similar to that used by Letterman.[2]

Letterman's top ten skit was thought of by Steve O'Donnell while he was head writer of the Late Night Letterman show.[1][3] O'Donnell had also seen top ten lists in the magazines that looked like they had been written by comedy writers. What set him off was a list of top 10 eligible bachelors list in Cosmopolitan magazine including widower 84-year-old CBS boss William S. Paley.[4]

On September 18, 1985, the very first list, "The Top Ten Things That Almost Rhyme With Peas" was broadcast.[4]

The switch from NBC to CBS[edit]

Before Letterman's departure for CBS, NBC had insisted that the "Top Ten List" was the intellectual property of the network, and demanded that it not be used on his new show.[citation needed] A loose compromise was reached where it would be renamed the "Late Show Top Ten," although Letterman would soon simply refer to it once again as the "Top Ten List," with no repercussions.

The only significant modifications in the Late Show years have been the elimination of mentioning a "home office" (such as Wahoo, Nebraska),[citation needed] and the addition of a computer-animated introduction and closing as well as background graphics.


The entries are read by Letterman in reverse countdown order, and are accompanied by a drum roll performed by CBS Orchestra drummer Anton Fig. There are six montages: the pyramids, the athletes (usually used for a sports-themed top ten list), the taxi cabs, the water towers, the sewer covers, and, in time for the 2012 presidential campaign, the campaign trail.[citation needed] The conclusion of the list is then followed by a brief performance by the band, usually a pop song relating to the topic of the list in some way.

Occasionally, the list is given by a guest presenter (such as John Malkovich reading "Ten Things That Sound Creepy When Said by John Malkovich" or Casey Kasem reading the recurring category "Top Ten Numbers Between One and Ten"). At times, the list has also been given by a series of presenters, with each providing one entry; for example, the list for "Ten Things I've Always Wanted to Say to Dave", was presented in 2000 by a group that included Rudolph Giuliani, Cindy Crawford, and Dave's mom.[citation needed]

Four animated characters have recited a Top Ten list on the show:[citation needed] Homer Simpson (twice), Peter Griffin, Stewie Griffin and Optimus Prime.

Perhaps to break the monotony of daily list, the show will occasionally add a twist to the presentation, sometimes by altering the nature of the list itself. One notable example occurred on November 27, 2001. Introduced as "Top Ten Ways Osama bin Laden Can Improve His Image," the list consisted of only one entry: "#10. There's no way he can improve his image. He's a murdering, soul-less asshole."[5]

A common source of confusion regarding the Top Ten List is why the #1 entry is usually seen as the least funny. This even inspired the Late Show to run a pre-taped bit in 1998, humorously exploring the apparent mystery, and to mention it again on December 29, 1999, when the list "Top Ten Phrases That Were Not Spoken This Millennium," included the #1 entry of, "Why is the number one always so damn funny?" Writer Bill Scheft confirmed this in a 2007 interview on Costas on the Radio, stating that the writers use the three funniest entries on #10 (to start the list strong), #6, (which usually accompanies an on-screen slide change), and #2 (the last opportunity for a laugh before the completion of the bit).

Sometimes the list would be long if video clips are incorporated such as "Top 10 Bush Moments" and the music store featuring Jack Black, where number one simply has him reciting a verse for a minute.[citation needed]

Home offices[edit]

Cities that have been the supposed source of the Top 10 list include:

Radio usage[edit]

For nearly two decades each Top Ten list was packaged into a nationally syndicated radio feature, distributed by Westwood One for use the following morning.[6] Following shows from which the list was omitted, or if Letterman was on vacation, the feature would utilize a list from the archives. The feature was often edited for time, and occasionally edited for content which may have been appropriate for late-night TV, but not morning radio.

In late 2013 Westwood One informed "Top 10" affiliates that it was ceasing distribution of the feature. The last Top 10 list for radio aired Friday January 3, 2014. No other radio network or content provider appears to have picked up the feature.

David Letterman's Book of Top Ten Lists and Zesty Lo-Cal Chicken Recipes
Author David Letterman and the writers of the Late Show with David Letterman
Country United States
Language English
Genre Comedy
Publisher Bantam Books
Publication date
Media type Hardcover
Pages 165
ISBN 978-0-553-10222-2
OCLC 32894022
818/.540208 20
LC Class PN6162 .L377 1995


David Letterman and the Late Show writers have released four volumes of Top Ten Lists through CBS book publisher, Pocket Books. The first two volumes were originally released in hardcover and later mass-market paperback editions while the latter two editions only had hardcover releases.

  • The "Late Night with David Letterman" Book of Top Ten Lists (1990).[7]
  • Roman Numeral Two!! An Altogether New Book of Top Ten Lists from "Late Night with David Letterman" (1991).[8]
    • The 1994 mass-market paperback re-print of this volume drops the "An Altogether New Book of" from the title.
  • David Letterman's Book of Top Ten Lists and Zesty Lo-Cal Chicken Recipes. (1995).[9]
  • David Letterman's NEW Book of Top Ten Lists and Wedding Patterns for the Husky Bride (1996).[10]


  1. ^ a b Gliatto, Tom (1990-08-27), "And the No.1 Reason David Letterman Keeps Reading the Top 10 List–Well, It's Funnier Than His Monologue", People 34 (8) 
  2. ^ Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (2003). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable Shows, 1946–Present (8th, revised and updated ed.). Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-45542-0
  3. ^ Larry McShane, Associated Press (1991-11-02), "Letterman lists take country by storm", Reading Eagle 
  4. ^ a b Phil Rosenthal (2009-12-13), "No chance of a list-less columnist this time of year", Chicago Tribune 
  5. ^ McIntee, Mark (November 27, 2001). "This Week's Show Recap: Monday, December 31, 2001 Show#1717". Retrieved January 29, 2010. quote, then "End of list. One item. That's all that was needed. And the audience showed their appreciation by giving the longest sustained applause since Dave's return from his heart thing. This told me one of two things. 1. The audience either loved this Top Ten list, or 2. They hate the Top Ten in general and were glad it was only one item. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Letterman, David. The "Late Night with David Letterman" Book of Top Ten Lists. Pocket Books, 1990. ISBN 978-0-671-72671-3.
  8. ^ Letterman, David. Roman Numeral Two!! An Altogether New Book of Top Ten Lists from "Late Night with David Letterman". Pocket Books, 1991. ISBN 978-0-671-74901-9.
  9. ^ a b Letterman, David. David Letterman's Book of Top Ten Lists and Zesty Lo-Cal Chicken Recipes.. Pocket Books, 1995. ISBN 978-0-553-10222-2.
  10. ^ Letterman, David. David Letterman's NEW Book of Top Ten Lists and Wedding Patterns for the Husky Bride. Pocket Books, 1996. ISBN 978-0-553-10243-7.

External links[edit]