|Country United States|
Publication date 1995
Publisher Bantam Books
The Top Ten List was a regular segment of the television programs Late Night with David Letterman and the Late Show with David Letterman. Each night, host David Letterman would present a list of ten items, compiled by his writing staff, that circulated around a common theme.
The lists were 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. Letterman would also occasionally give an intentionally absurd and mundane category, such as Top Ten Numbers Between One and Ten, drawing humor from the silliness of ranking such mundane items.
Letterman's top ten skit was thought of when Steve O'Donnell was head writer of the "Late Night With David Letterman" show. According to O'Donnell, the Top Ten List was an "almost simultaneous inspiration arriving from staffers Jim Downey, Randy Cohen and Robert “Morty” Morton — largely prompted by the ridiculous 'eligible bachelor' lists in a local New York paper that included the 84-year-old Bill Paley. 'Why, we can put such nonsense together ourselves!' we exclaimed. And we did."
On September 18, 1985, the very first list, "The Top Ten Things That Almost Rhyme With Peas" was broadcast.
The switch from NBC to CBS
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; Letterman rebutted that the list was not NBC's property or even his own, since he had stolen the concept from elsewhere. 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), 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. 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 used for Letterman's final show in 2015 and included entries from Alec Baldwin, Barbara Walters, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Chris Rock, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Peyton Manning, Tina Fey and Bill Murray.
Four animated characters have recited a Top Ten list on the show: 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."
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.
Cities that were the supposed source of the Top 10 lists:
Other home offices:
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. 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 picked up the feature for the rest of the TV show's run.
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.