More than any of the talkshows, the carefully formatted, head-to-head latenight network comedy, variety and interview hours are dependent on their writers. “We really try to load up these shows with as much comedy as we can,” says Rob Burnett, head writer of “Late Show With David Letterman” on CBS.
The 12-man writing staff puts in a serious day’s work to help make Letterman funny. Burnett arrives at 10 a.m. to prepare for the 5:30 to 6:30 taping at Gotham’s Ed Sullivan Theater and leaves about midnight. He grew up across the river in New Jersey.
“I always wanted to be a comedy writer, but my attraction was more to Dave and this show than to the business. I didn’t have a dying urge to write sitcoms.”
Burnett was just out of Tufts University when he started as an intern on NBC’s “Late Night With David Letterman,” moving up to researcher, then writer. “I’ve grown up here,” he says.
Now 31, Burnett was already head writer when Letterman made the web and time switch to CBS. “There’s a lot more tension on the new show than there was on the old show,” he says. “You feel that all the time. There was a time I’d say to my parents’ friends, ‘I work for David Letterman, do you know who he is?’ Now absolutely everyone knows the show and Dave.”
For the writers, the work load has increased exponentially. “In addition to Dave’s opening remarks, his monologue, we try to prepare two full comedy pieces a night, plus the Top 10 List, and also try to sprinkle in a few little surprises and extras.”
Burnett contemplates moving into writing and directing feature films. “I’ve done some directing here on remotes. And I would enjoy developing another TV show with Dave through Dave’s company — Worldwide Pants Inc. — just because I love the name of the company.”