An article about Rob Burnett, the former assistant to an assistant to an assistant Letterman intern and now, 23 years later, executive producer of The Late Show and president and CEO of Worldwide Pants.
The primary mission at Worldwide Pants is to make top-notch shows. “The company runs by a simple mantra,” says Burnett. “Will Dave like it? If not, we won’t do it. The world doesn’t need another mediocre TV show.”
The key to fostering quality? “Our philosophy is to find people we like, respect, and trust and protect them from idiots, who crop up everywhere in show business,” Burnett says. That means knowing when to be hands-on and when to be hands-off. While he rarely calls the set of Raymond anymore, for example, Burnett still conducts Monday-morning meetings at The Late Show and talks to someone at the Ed Sullivan Theater, often Letterman himself, just about every day. He and Kilborn speak every other week, on average. Burnett, who TiVos the Kilborn show, passes along feedback as well as the occasional idea. “I know their type of humor, which is great, but mine’s different, and Rob encourages that,” says Kilborn. “I’ve worked at a lot of places, and he’s one of my favorite people to work for.”
The Letterman endorsement is good enough for Chris Albrecht, head of HBO, Worldwide Pants’ development partner on The High Life and Raymond . “I’ve always been impressed with the creativity and imagination of the people who work for Dave,” Albrecht says. “They’re not only uniquely talented, but they’re also able to produce the same tone and quality as Dave. When you’re looking for somebody to be in business with, you look for somebody who gets it. And they get it.”
Creating something that’s worthy of a cultural and television icon such as Letterman is a “gigantic responsibility” fraught with “an enormous amount of pressure,” admits Burnett. Like a lot of creative people, he has absolute confidence in his artistic vision yet a gnawing insecurity that he’s forever coming up short. Rather than being counterproductive, though, his fear — of embarrassing Letterman, embarrassing himself, embarrassing anyone on staff — is a constant source of motivation. A kick in the pants, if you will.