A chat with Rob Burnett

A case could be made that — after David Letterman, of course — the next top creative force at the Late Show was Rob Burnett. The New Jersey native first began as an intern at Late Night in 1985 at just 23 years of age, rising in the ranks to become not only head writer, but also executive producer of the Late Show and CEO of Letterman’s production company, the wonderfully named Worldwide Pants. WWP would also produce Burnett’s acclaimed NBC primetime show Ed and receive a production credit on his newest directorial project, the Netflix Original movie Fundamentals of Caring, starring Selena Gomez and self-proclaimed “Letterman fanatic” Paul Rudd. We chatted with Burnett by email about his years “growing up” on Letterman, regrets about Jay Leno, and being ready to move on from the show.

As we know from the end run of Late Shows, Paul Rudd, the star of your new movie Fundamentals of Caring, was a big Letterman fan. Did you know this before making the film? Did he pepper with you questions about the show?

Paul and I had met once or twice, but didn’t really know each other. I was a huge fan and as it turned out, he did have a healthy respect and love of the Late Show.

He was curious about the show and we did talk a bit about it on set. I am always a little reluctant to say too much about some of what went on up there. Some of it was pretty ugly, and I think it probably will remain with those of us who lived it.

What was Worldwide Pants / Letterman’s role in the production of the movie? I know it’s a Netflix Original, but I understand they didn’t commission the movie.

The movie was independently financed. Worldwide Pants has a production credit on the movie because of my role with the movie. Dave was not involved at all, nor did WWP provide financing.

Netflix came in after the movie was done. They have been a distribution partner, not a production partner in this case. They have been fantastic.

Is leaving the Late Show somewhat bittersweet? I know your role has expanded and contracted depending on your other projects, but it obviously gives you the opportunity to pursue directing movies full-time.

I’ll treasure my time there, but honestly I think it was time for the show to go off the air. It was tough being the old, irrelevant show when Fallon was killing it across town. It was the first time I can remember losing staff to another show. We had always been the talk show everyone in NYC wanted to work on, and it felt strange to have people wanting to be elsewhere.

I was a little worried at one point that the end would be a whimper, but we did indeed go out with a bang. I was relieved that it turned out so well. I think in the end the whole body of work was too big to ignore.

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