David Letterman’s last show will be in May of next year. Ben Blatt of Slate has performed an amazing analysis of Top Ten Lists going back to their inception in 1985:
But why does Regis hold the top spot in this list? How is it possible that the unremarkable talk show host is the most mocked man in Letterman’s long career? Sure, he’s a frequent guest on the show, but he’s not an A-list celebrity. He’s never been involved in a major scandal. He’s not someone who gets name-checked abundantly on other comedy shows. How did Regis become one of the longest running inside jokes in the history of late-night comedy?
I remember the first night of the Top Ten Lists. Back then I recorded the show every night and watched it before going to school the next morning. When it started it was just another recurring comedy bit, appearing in the place of some other bit that had worn thin. And while we can argue about whether or not the Top Ten bit has itself worn thin—it’s been almost 30 years!—it has become a delivery mechanism for an absurd number of jokes.
[Via my college pal Randy Dotinga, with whom I went to the Late Night 8th anniversary special in 1990.]