Letterman may make a new list


How's this for a title: "David Letterman's Book of Top Ten Lists and Zesty Lo-Cal Chicken Recipes." And don't forget the "special bonus" inside -- plans from master carpenter Norm ("This Old House") Abrams showing how to make an end table.

The nutty $16 hard-cover book collects more than 150 of the Top Ten Lists featured on CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman," such as "Top Ten Signs You Bought a Bad Computer" (No. 10: "Lower corner of screen has the words 'Etch A Sketch' on it") and "Top Ten Rejected Disney Movies" (No. 1: "Swiss Family Buttafuoco"). It's the latest comedy offering from Bantam Books, which today laid down an estimated 375,000 copies in stores. As the cover explains, "It's like watching TV -- with the added danger of paper cuts."

If Bantam has its way, the Letterman book will approach the super sales achieved by the house's three other comedy hits -- Jerry Seinfeld's "Seinlanguage" and Paul Reiser's "Couplehood," both of which have more than a million copies in print, and Ellen DeGeneres' new best seller, "My Point and I Do Have One," whose total has grown to more than 500,000 copies after only a few weeks.

By TV standards, these numbers are paltry. In the week ending Sept. 24, for example, NBC's top-rated "ER" drew 37.5 million viewers, and the lowest-rated of 107 shows, the WB Network's "First Time Out," attracted nearly 2.1 million.

However, by book-selling standards, Bantam's million-plus figures in hard-cover (not including the million-plus totals in paperback editions) represent huge, money-making successes. Howard Stern's "Private Parts" (Simon & Schuster) and Tim Allen's "Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man" (Hyperion) are two other examples of comedy publishing sensations.

"When you have a success with comedy, or a pop-culture title, you connect with an audience that wants that information in book form," said Irwyn Applebaum, Bantam's president and publisher since 1992. That is, even though most of the Top 10 lists in the new Letterman book already have generated laughs on his popular "Late Show," Bantam believes that fans will still find the printed collection funny and stupid.

Steve O'Donnell, the head writer on "Late Show," said that many of the TV lists were reworked or updated for the book, and some of the entries are new. Among the latter are Mr. O'Donnell's "Top Ten Odd Fortune-Cookie Fortunes" (scripted for Martha Stewart's use on "Late Show" but largely ignored by the home-making queen) and a list written by Mr. Letterman, "Top Ten Pet Peeves of Bowling Champion Dick Weber" (No. 2: "Why do miniature golfers get all the chicks?").

"Not all comedians can work in book form -- can work in a way that connects with the book-buying public," Mr. Applebaum added. As a result, he explained, Bantam has turned down far more book proposals from comedians than the company has published.

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