Brian Abrams has published a book called AND NOW…An Oral History of "Late Night with David Letterman," 1982-1983, available at Amazon Kindle Singles. It’s full of stories from those who were there at the beginning, responsible for the show that became a late night institution. Part of that institution was Letterman’s Top Ten List, although there is some dispute about who came up with the idea. In a book excerpt, we get to hear from all sides.
By the summer of 1985, head writer Steve O’Donnell was no longer scouring for new personnel to come up with remote concepts and “Viewer Mail” pieces. (Monologue material stayed plentiful, as staffer Gerry Mulligan continued to oversee that part of the show.) Including co-creators Merrill Markoe and David Letterman, 13 individuals populated the writers’ room, and submissions from prospective writers continued to stack high on O’Donnell’s desk. An unassuming 23-year-old Tufts University grad named Rob Burnett wangled an internship in the talent department. And, at 30 Rock, the days of finding bored New Yorkers to fill up Studio 6A’s 200 or so seats at 5 p.m. tapings were ancient history.
But of all of Late Night’s much adored ironic obsessions that transformed comedy forever and enabled a generation of writers and comedians to flourish, there is one recurring bit that to this day has multiple writers claiming credit for its creation: The “Top Ten.”