Oprah interview with Leno manages to be all about . . . Oprah

Late-night talk show veteran Jay Leno appears on the "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to tell his side of the story on the NBC/Conan O'Brien scandal.
By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 29, 2010

In her most challenging interview ever, it took Oprah Winfrey a full half-hour Thursday to make her sit-down with beleaguered comic Jay Leno all about her.

For 30 exhausting minutes, Oprah burrowed and probed the Jay Leno vs. Conan O'Brien story in search of how to turn the topic that has gripped the nation -- okay, us, anyway -- for weeks now into a story about Oprah.

Leno was making his pilgrimage to the first Station of the Cross (practically an industry rule) on his Road to Redemption before returning as host of "The Tonight Show" in March.

During his one-on-one with the Queen of the Confessional, Leno admitted he "told a little white lie" when he announced on the air in 2004 that he would "retire" after Conan took over NBC's iconic late-night franchise in 2009 -- Leno really thought he'd move his late-night self to another network.

"You seem to be the man everybody's talking about," Oprah said wistfully as the interview got underway.

In a great tactical move, Leno did not come to Oprah's studio in Chicago for the interview -- he made Oprah come to his set, which we're guessing is what threw her off her game. As recently as mid-November, it took Oprah about 90 seconds to turn her very first interview with former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin into an interview All About Oprah, when she opened by asking Palin if she felt snubbed when she -- Oprah -- did not have Palin on her show during the presidential race, as reports had suggested.

Because Oprah was in Los Angeles to interview Leno, she was wearing tight bluejeans and a burgundy cardigan sweater, cinched at the waist, over her brand-new Christian Louboutin shoes -- the traditional symbol of status in that city.

Leno, meanwhile, came dressed as a trustworthy banker with a very good barber.

In his first interview since the NBC Late-Night Dust-Up played out, Leno told Oprah he does not believe he stole "The Tonight Show" from Conan, because it's "all about the numbers."

Of course, he also said NBC could have handled the kerfuffle better if it had assassinated all interested parties.

"Anything they did would have been better than this. Anything!" Leno said.

"If they'd come in and shot everybody, I mean, it would have been people murdered, but at least it would have been a two-day story. Yes, NBC could not have handled it worse, from 2004 onward."

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