Nobel Peace Prize contender-if-her-fans-have-anything-to-say-about-it Oprah Winfrey last night made her first appearance on David Letterman's late-night show in 16 years to claim there was never any truth to the report that she had a problem with him.

Next she'll be blaming "the media."

"Could you please tell me what has transpired?" Oprah asked Letterman, smiling sweetly.

"I have never for a moment had a feud with you."

Which is odd because, for the better part of two decades, despite repeated requests from Letterman, Oprah had refused to return to any show he has hosted. Two years ago she told Time magazine that she would not go on Letterman's show because both times she had, in the '80s when he was on NBC, "I was sort of like the butt of his jokes. I felt completely uncomfortable sitting in that chair, and I vowed I would not ever put myself in that position again."

But now, at least on her fans' Web sites, she's campaigning for the Nobel Peace Prize, and Letterman has gotten old and lost his edge, so last night he fawned over her and she let him. It was sad.

"This is the television event of the decade," he gushed, introducing her as an "icon," "humanitarian" and "Broadway producer."

Oprah brought him a present that, because Oprah is first and foremost a businesswoman, was wrapped in purple by way of plugging her new Broadway production, "The Color Purple."

The present was a picture of Oprah and Uma Thurman, the gals who, just a few days earlier on Oprah's syndicated show, had dissed Letterman for that lame joke with which he'd opened the Academy Awards in '95 -- "Oprah, Uma. Uma, Oprah." They've never forgotten the cruel, cruel joke, they told Oprah's viewers, because they're both very, very sensitive about their first names. Poor lambs.

"I want you to know it's really over, whatever you thought was happening," Oprah told Letterman, still smiling very Nobel Peace Prize-ly.

Letterman said he could not thank Oprah enough for finally agreeing to be a guest on his CBS show: "It means a great deal to me, and I'm just very happy you're here."

"Does it really?" Winfrey asked. "I've been hearing for the past week you talking about it, and I didn't know if you were really serious or you were just doing your 'Dave thing.' " Letterman, ignoring the slap, continued to fawn:

"You have meant something to the lives of people," he said. "We're just a TV show."

He stuck with that theme for some time: "It's more than a show," he said of her syndicated daily program.

"It's a mission," she agreed.

"I can't believe you're being this serious!" she said repeatedly. Really, she's got to work on her shtick if she expects to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Still, you can't blame her for being a bit skeptical. Though she insisted "there never was a feud" between her and Letterman when she recently picked up an award for good-deed-doing -- not, however, the Nobel Peace Prize -- at the International Emmy Awards ceremony, the Chicago Tribune tells a very different, much darker, if slightly sketchy and lead-buried, story.

In 1989, Letterman's NBC show traveled to Chicago, and Oprah was his guest for what would be the last time -- until last night.

The reporter covering the Chicago taping little knew it would be the start of a 16-year kerfuffle that ended only because (a) Oprah produced a musical version of "The Color Purple" that opened last night right across the street from the old Ed Sullivan Theater, where Letterman's show is taped, and (b) a bunch of Oprah freaks started a movement to get her the Nobel Peace Prize, so she needs to bury all outstanding hatchets.

If the writer had known, he might have led his coverage with something a little yeastier than "David Letterman's first Chicago taping did, I suppose, live up to its billing Tuesday afternoon at the Chicago Theatre."

Five graphs in, the report got down to it:

"With little fanfare but with Larry 'Bud' Melman doing the Dave introduction, taping began," according to the 1989 Trib account.

It continued that Letterman "couldn't help that his interview with Oprah Winfrey uncomfortably disintegrated into discussions of black people in restaurants, satanic sacrifices and one scream of 'Rip her, Dave.' Robert Palmer, the model of urbanity, provided the show's obvious highlight, while comic Tom Dreesen was his amiable self."

Black people in restaurants and satanic sacrifices? Is it any wonder that Oprah, no matter how she may deny it, was a little miffed for 16 years?

But last night, Oprah had an expensive Broadway production to hawk, and so, to wrap their kiss-and-make-up session, Letterman escorted her to the premiere of "The Color Purple," with cameras rolling. Oprah's victory was complete, and Letterman had become that which he once mocked. An Opraholic.

NBC, not Fox, has made the risky midseason scheduling move.

One day after those pantywaists at Fox wimped out on moving "American Idol" to Thursday night, NBC announced that it's moving this season's biggest freshman success, "My Name Is Earl," to Thursday night and reintroducing the four-comedy block that made NBC great for almost two decades.

Best of all, "Joey" is off NBC's schedule. See, someone is listening to our prayers.

As of Jan. 5, NBC's Must See TV lineup will start with "Will & Grace," followed by the new guy-com "Four Kings," then "My Name Is Earl" at 9 and "The Office." "Earl" is the No. 1 comedy on any network among the 18-to-49-year-olds advertisers pay a premium to reach.

Replacing it and "Office" on Tuesday night are "Scrubs" and "Scrubs." Yes, NBC will air back-to-back original episodes because if there's one thing we've learned this season from, say, Fox's "Prison Break," it's that oftentimes the best lead-in for a show is the same show. "Scrubs" debuts on Jan. 3 and the plan is to run two episodes each week until the start of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 10.

The four-comedy block on Thursday "has been a big part of our history," NBC's daring entertainment division chief Kevin Reilly told The TV Column.

"We know viewers like watching comedy in blocks, and they really liked watching it on NBC on Thursday for a long time."

He noted that the current broadcast TV landscape is short on comedy and very short on four-comedy blocks -- the only other one being CBS's on Monday night because, technically, "King of Queens" is a comedy.

NBC has 24 episodes of "Scrubs" and, what with Olympics preemptions coming up in February, the network could almost get through the season with the back-to-back "Scrubs" play pattern, if it wanted to. On the other hand, unless we get really lucky, "Joey" might become "Scrubs's" partner on Tuesdays after the Games because Reilly said "Joey" would be back, but not on Thursdays.

Also not on this schedule is "The Apprentice" with The Donald, though NBC has promised it will rev up again after the Games. Replacing Martha Stewart's "The Apprentice" on Wednesdays at 9 will be "The Biggest Loser." Fill in your own joke here.

That hole on Friday at 10 left by the cancellation of NBC's fertility clinic drama "Inconceivable" will be plugged by a new drama, "The Book of Daniel," in which Aidan Quinn plays a pill-popping Episcopalian minister who sees and talks to Jesus.

Oprah! Uma! Winfrey gives David Letterman a picture of her and Uma Thurman.