September 18, 2010

The first Letterman “Top Ten” list debuted 25 years ago today…

If you were watching David Letterman’s show on September 18, 1985, back when it was still on NBC and called Late Night with David Letterman, you saw a bit of TV history being made.

On that night, Letterman introduced his first “Top Ten” list.

Early in the show, he commented on that fact that “top ten” lists seemed to be popping up everywhere in the media.

He showed an example in the latest issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, then said, in his trademark deadpan style:

“Because these things are so popular and such solid network television programming material, we’ve decided tonight...we’re gonna start our own top ten list. And, tonight, I think we got a pretty good one. Tonight, will be Late Night’s ‘Top Ten Words That Almost Rhyme with ‘Peas.’”

After that, Letterman’s “Top Ten” segment became a regular and hugely popular feature of the show.

He took it with him when he moved from NBC to CBS in 1993, where it’s officially called the “Late Show Top Ten List.”

And, although Letterman’s first Top Ten list did not create a specific quote or catchphrase, it did create a famous, familiar and oft-copied format.

Letterman introduces the list with some funny comments. He reads the title of the list. Then he reads the list backwards starting with ten and counting down to number one, frequently with the help of a guest who is on the show or who pops in just to read the list. (Some of my favorites were Homer Simpson, Bruno and Britney Spears.)

Of course, it’s usually a lot funnier to watch the Top Ten segment than to read it. You never know what quips Letterman or bandleader Paul Shaffer will throw in or what celebrity might show up to read the list. 

And, it all started exactly 25 years ago today, with the very first Letterman Top Ten List, the “Top Ten Things That Almost Rhyme With Peas.”

Here they are, in descending order:

10. Heats
9. Rice
8. Moss
7. Ties
6. Needs
5. Lens
4. Ice
3. Nurse
2. Leaks

And, the number one word that almost rhymes with peas is (drumroll):

1) Meats!


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Further reading…

September 01, 2010

“We must love one another or die.”

September 1, 1939 is now called the day when World War II started.

It was the day when German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler ordered his Nazi troops to invade neighboring Poland. He claimed it was an act of self defense, necessary to protect German citizens and the territorial rights of Germany.

“Germans in Poland are persecuted with a bloody terror and are driven from their homes,” Hitler said, in a proclamation he issued that day. “The series of border violations, which are unbearable to a great power, prove that the Poles no longer are willing to respect the German frontier. In order to put an end to this frantic activity no other means is left to me now than to meet force with force.”

Nobody could know at the time that this was the beginning of what would be a horrific worldwide conflict in which 60 million people would die.

But many people who heard the ominous news recognized it as the start of something bad.

British author and poet W.H. Auden (1907-1973) was in New York when he heard about it. It led him to write a famous poem about his thoughts that day.

The poem was initially titled “September: 1939,” but changed to “September 1, 1939” when it was first published in New Republic magazine on October 18, 1939.

One line in this poem became a familiar and oft-used quotation: “We must love one another or die.”

It comes at the end of the next to last verse:

       “All I have is a voice
        To undo the folded lie,
        The romantic lie in the brain
        Of the sensual man-in-the-street
        And the lie of Authority
        Whose buildings grope the sky:
        There is no such thing as the State
        And no one exists alone;
        Hunger allows no choice
        To the citizen or the police;
        We must love one another or die.”

“September 1, 1939” is an eloquent condemnation of totalitarian governments and war; a plea for human empathy and peace.

Soon after being published, it became famous. But Auden himself soon decided it was sappy and self-indulgent, calling it “the most dishonest poem I have ever written.”

By the 1950s, he began refusing to allow it to be reprinted in poetry anthologies.

The poem — especially the line “We must love one another or die” — remain famous nonetheless.

NOTE: A version of Auden’s famed line was infamously used in Lyndon Johnson’s “Daisy” ad.

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