So let me tell you a quick something about me, the guy who (by default) writes most of this O blog. I am one of the many who claims to be on Team Coco. But my reasons for that have absolutely nothing to do with liking his performance on "The Tonight Show." I didn't. I've never found the guy that funny, when he took over Letterman's gig or when he got Leno's. I have no objections to him and his comedy, by any means, I just am more of a Letterman kinda guy and have been since I was a teenager staying up late waiting for Dave to put on the Alka-Seltzer suit.
Full disclosure: Never watched Leno, either. He's brutish and broad and way too common-denominator for me on a regular basis. Which is exactly why he killed in the "Tonight Show" ratings all those years. He's got a line on the heartland funny bone. And, sad though it may seem to some, he'll most likely kill again when he returns to "Tonight" on March 1. Or at least by summer when we (thankfully) forget about this nonsense.
I'm breaking the fourth wall here because I'm confident that I'm like most of the people who also jumped onto Conan's bandwagon -- like the 94 percent who claimed they were "on his side" of this dreadful Jay-Conan melee in a poll on Oprah.com. If everyone who claims to be on Team Coco had actually watched the show, none of this would be happening. But we didn't, really. Jay failed at 9, and Conan failed at 10:30, and we at least had a cat-fight to entertain us as NBC did what corporations do to protect their bottom line.
So why, if I wasn't necessarily a fan, did I and others chose sides? Two reasons: 1. Everyone loves the underdog, and 2. Leno -- as evidenced in today's chat with Oprah -- has proven himself to be pretty selfish, even if it's kinda understandable.
Throughout today's interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Jay sounded like he was running for something in Tuesday's Illinois primary. Three times he referred to job creation and saving jobs. When Oprah asked him point-blank if he ever thought he was being selfish by reclaiming "The Tonight Show," that was his defense: He had to save the jobs of his staff. But that wasn't his first answer to the question. He initially said, "I like the job and all that comes with it."
When we get down and wallow in the sometimes unpleasant truths of human nature, who can blame the guy? He's right: For the first time in about 60 years, "The Tonight Show," under Conan's brief watch, was on its way to losing money. And Jay appears to be quite sincere when he says he had no idea that NBC would turn to him and offer a return to "Tonight." ("Nowhere in my wildest dreams did I think they'd ask me to go back," he told Oprah.) He's no fool: He took it. And while we wish he was somehow nobler, he's not. Conan himself said it's the best job in the world, and today Jay said the same. He almost had a shaky junkie's look in his eye. Primetime was methadone for him, but now he's got the good stuff again. Ahhhhh.
Oprah, to her credit, pushed him a little near the end. She and Jay go way back; she wasn't exactly Mike Wallace, of course, but she did have the courage to pursue the sticking point that brought so many of us fair-weather fans over to Team Coco.
Oprah: Didn't you think you were the reason [for Conan's departure]? Jay: No, I wasn't the reason. The reason was the ratings. ... I'm not sure what I could've done differently. Oprah: [somewhat incredulous] Lots! You could've walked away! Jay: To me, that's the ego. To say, "OK, I'm outta here."
That's his rationalization: It would have been more obnoxious for him to walk away with his nose in the air than to be what he sees as a loyal employee and go back to doing what made the bosses so happy. Again, who can blame him? An extremely powerful network came to him with supplications, on their knees, saying, "We screwed up. You da man." In addition, he's the hero, saving jobs. "It's a team effort," he said of his staff. "As long as I'm working, they're working." (Which Conan realized, too, which is why he made sure his staff was ably covered in the massive severance from NBC.) Much earlier in the conversation, Oprah asked Jay if he ever considered saying no to NBC. Without an instant of hesitation, he answered, "No."
"I always thought I was doing the right thing," he added.
The only aspect of this interview that rose to the level of poignancy was the fact that Oprah was doing it. She just announced she's quitting her show. She recognized some appropriate exit point and will wave a triumphant farewell next year after 25 years on TV. She expressed some of what's going through her mind about this looming threshold: "Who am I without a TV show when I've had one for 25 years?" she said she's begun asking herself.
Jay laughed off her departure, though, appearing not to believe that she'll actually go through with it. "I'm not going anywhere, neither are you," he said, claiming that they'd both keep on forever. ("If you're a gunfighter, you like to die in the street," he said -- his second fighting metaphor of the interview.) Oprah was amazed. "You don't believe I'll do it?" she said of leaving her show. Jay smirked: "I believe that you believe it."
Details are emerging about Jay Leno's salvation-seeking chat with Oprah, which airs Thursday (9 a.m. in Chicago on WLS-Channel 7).
First, he describes NBC's recent switcheroo -- canceling his primetime show, yanking Conan O'Brien from "The Tonight Show" and reinstalling Leno there -- as "a huge mess." That's the only quote from Jay shown in this teaser ad from Harpo.
Oprah is also seen asking Jay whether he ever considered he was just being selfish. Cut to a shot of Jay looking pained. (Who knows if that's fancy editing or an actual reaction shot.)
Then, AP reports that Leno tells Oprah he hasn't even spoken to Conan throughout this whole mess. "It didn't seem appropriate" to do so, he says, but the two might talk later: "I don't know. I think it -- let things cool down and maybe we'll talk, you know."
Leno adds that he didn't take the jokes against him personally: "They were jokes. And that's OK," he says in this report of the show. "It's what we do, you know? You can't -- it's like being a fighter and say when you got punched in the head, did it hurt? Well, yeah. But you're a fighter. That's what you do."
Leno is scheduled to return to "Tonight" on March 1.
Harpo has made an offer for Conan to appear on Oprah's show, but it hasn't been confirmed. He's allegedly forbidden to give interviews for several months under the terms of his severance from NBC.
Apropos of maybe nothing: Here's a snippet of video from mid-2009 in which Jay and Oprah chat about who Jay would take with him to a desert island: Conan or Letterman. And he picks ...
Oprah will soon shutter her syndicated daytime talk show and move to her own cable network (now with a new tagline). Another famous (and infamous) daytime talk queen will soon also move to cable.
Martha Stewart announced this morning she has signed a deal to move "The Martha Stewart Show" to the Hallmark Channel, effective this September.
And though Stewart isn't getting her own entire cable channel, she is carving out her own slice of Hallmark: After Stewart's show, Hallmark will air 90 minutes of programming created by Stewart's production company.
For Hallmark, which has built a strong audience in the 25-54 demographic with its movies, landing Stewart is a high-profile move that it hopes will broaden its appeal. While the channel gets decent ratings, it is not as strong in urban and wealthy markets as it is elsewhere. Stewart caters to an upscale audience that the channel hopes will translate to stronger advertising dollars.
Oprah is back on top. She has regained her position -- for whatever this might be worth -- as America's favorite TV personality.
In the annual Harris Poll, conducted in December with results released this week, Oprah returns to the No. 1 slot of favorite TV figure. She was at No. 4 last year.
She gets the bump after announcing the end of her daytime talk show next year, when she'll be moving her focus to her own cable network, which just revealed it's new tagline. (And did you hear: Martha Stewart announced today she's moving to cable, too!)
Debuting at No. 2 on the list is Fox News demagogue Glenn Beck.
Last year, Jay Leno was No. 1. This year, he's No. 3. That has little to do with the recent late-night melee, however; the poll was conducted Dec. 7-14, before the Jay vs. Conan debacle at NBC.
The rest of the list:
4. (tie) Ellen Degeneres
4. (tie) Dr. House (Hugh Laurie's character on "House")
6. "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart
7. Charlie Sheen on "Two and a Half Men"
8. Mark Harmon on "NCIS"
9. David Letterman
10. Bill O'Reilly on Fox News
That's going to be the tagline for Oprah's new cable network, OWN.
And remember: it's not called the Oprah channel.
"This network is not called Oprah, it's called OWN -- it's about owning your challenges, your relationships, and moving forward in a positive way," said Discovery networks leader David Zaslav, in a brief Q&A session Monday during a convention for the National Association of Television Program Executives. The OWN network will be part of the Discovery group.
"There is nobody that's in this Oprah space, the 'Live Your Best Life tools for your life' space," he said. "Oprah is not just a great brand, but she's a great creative, she's incredible at finding talent, and she's a great talent for this mission, which is really her mission in life."
That's just a tease. Details about OWN's programming are tightly protected and likely won't be revealed until this spring.
Jay Leno and Oprah Winfrey celebrate the 50th anniversary of "The Tonight Show" in 2004.(NBC)
Word is: Jay Leno wants to go on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to tidy up his tarnished image.
The appearance could happen as early as next week, according to the report this morning in The New York Post.
"Oprah and Jay love each other," a source told the Post, suggesting that Oprah will play nice with the beaten-down talk-show host. "They talk constantly."
"We're still discussing it," an NBC representative said of the idea.
A lotta folks, from fellow talk-show hosts David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel to pundits and bloggers, have been piling on Leno for acquiescing to NBC's plan -- yanking Conan O'Brien from "The Tonight Show" after only seven months and returning Leno to that post after his spectacular failure in primetime.
But don't look for Oprah to make peace between Leno and Conan on the show. The deal he signed to leave NBC mandates that he stay off TV -- and can't give any interviews -- until late this summer.
UPDATE: It's set. Jay Leno will be on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" this Thursday, Jan. 28.
The queen of tell-all, unauthorized biographies has a new subject for her stiletto pen: Oprah Winfrey.
Crown Publishers announced today that Kitty Kelley's 544-page, unauthorized Oprah: A Biography will be released April 13.
The first printing will be at least 500,000 copies.
Kelley has written gossipy, unflattering but best-selling books about Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan and the Bush family.
She announced in December 2006 she was pursuing Oprah. "She has fascinated me for many years," she said at the time, making it sound as if she intended to portray Oprah in a more positive light than her previous subjects. "[Oprah] has built an empire around her personality and has been one of American's most admired business women and philanthropists. Oprah's story is one of hope, promise and realization of the American dream."
Kelley still says she has high regard for Winfrey but also felt committed to writing the truth. Kelley says she devoted the past three years to examining Winfrey's life. She says she came away "full of admiration for her accomplishments and fascinated by her complexity."
Crown says Kelley conducted 850 interviews for the book.
Several have tried to write investigative and tell-all bios of Chicago's talk-show queen before -- and failed. In 1997, a former boyfriend tried to publish a book, in which he claimed the two lived together in 1985 and did drugs; the book wasn't published, and the boyfriend then tried to sue Oprah for $20 million for blocking it. Plus, Oprah's own father announced plans to write a tell-all bio, but the project was never completed.
The next musical star to appear on Oprah: Susan Boyle, this Tuesday.
She'll be performing "Who I Was Born to Be," a song written especially for her and that appeared on her debut album. That album's run at the top of the British charts was just cut short by Ke$ha's "Animal."
Here's hoping she behaves herself in Chicago. As she prepared to fly to America for the Oprah appearance, she ... er, acted a little strange at the London airport. The Daily Mail explains:
"Britain's Got Talent" star Susan Boyle shocked passengers at London's Heathrow Airport after she started shouting obscenities and singing into a mop.
The singer ... suddenly grabbed the mop from a cleaner and began to treat it as a makeshift microphone.
During the bizarre outburst she also used the mop to polish passengers' shoes, according to onlookers at the VIP lounge on Tuesday.
Complaints were made to British Airways staff, who tried to calm her down but instead she fled the Terminal 5 lounge, yelling, "I've escaped, I've escaped!"
A source told the Sun: "It was chaos. Susan was very restless and agitated from the minute she walked in and immediately started making a scene. She was singing and dancing around, shouting obscenities at full volume."
Has our dear Susan become savvy enough in the ways of celebrity PR to act loony in order to get, well, write-ups like this? Maybe she's just a free spirit. Or maybe she's certifiable. Oprah will, no doubt, get to the bottom of it.
The appearance was taped earlier this week. Here are some quotes from Susan's chat with O:
"Pretty awesome to be recognized in the street and asked for autographs. I'm getting quite a few fan letters and cards from around the globe. I'm loving every second of it."
"It takes a bit of time to take in because it happened so quickly. I'm really enjoying every second of it. It's like a dream come true."
"My mom died two years ago. After that there was a wee period where I didn't sing. You try and keep going through that pain and that's what I try to do with my singing. I am very slowly getting over it. One of the reasons I applied to the TV show was to see if I could perform in front of an audience."
Lady Gaga canceled a concert Thursday night, claiming illness -- and yet there she was live on Oprah today, looking perfectly fine.
Thursday night's show at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., was canceled -- after the opening acts had already performed! -- "due to exhaustion and dehydration." Lad Gaga tweeted an explanation later: "An hour before the show I was feeling dizzy and having trouble breathing." The performance has been rescheduled for Jan. 26.
This morning, though, she looked perfectly hydrated and spunky -- with spiky toothpick hair --as she performed a medley of her hits on Oprah's weekly like Friday show. She was even healthy enough to swing a gold, spiked ball on a chain into the windshield of a taxi on the stage.
"I am so devastated," she continued on Twitter, discussing the cancelation. "I have performed with the flu, a cold, strep throat: I would never cancel a show just based on discomfort. I hope you can forgive me. I love my little monsters more than anything, you are everything to me."
UPDATE: There's been some debate online and elsewhere about whether Lady Gaga's performance on Oprah this morning was live or pre-taped. (An earlier MTV report here claims the appearance would be pre-taped.) A rep at Harpo this afternoon, however, confirmed to us that the performance was live and occurred today.
Even Oprah feels that way. That's why she's launching a campaign against distracted
Harpo Productions on Thursday announced Winfrey will call it the "No Phone Zone" campaign.
Winfrey plans to sponsor a pledge on her Web site, asking motorists to commit to not text or talk on their phones while driving. On Monday, the
talk show host plans to feature those who have lost loved ones in distracted-driving accidents on an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
In a statement, Winfrey says she's "passionate" about the issue and asks viewers to spread the message to their families, friends, co-workers and community.
Winfrey says she wants people to know "how absolutely stupid it is that we continue to text and drive."
Taking a page from that great marketer Willy Wonka, Oprah is placing golden tickets in the February edition of her O magazine. Unlike Wonka's trick, every issue will contain a ticket -- but not every ticket is the winner. To find out if your ticket is one of 10 sweepstakes winners, you'll have to log on to Oprah.com. (Rules here.)
The prize? An expenses-paid trip to Oprah's "Live Your Best Life Weekend," May 7-9 in New York. The self-help hootenanny features sit-downs with familiar Oprah gurus, from financial wizard Suze Orman to stylist Nate Berkus, plus an evenin with Oprah herself at Radio City Music Hall. (Tickets to these events for the non-golden rest of us go on sale in March.)
It's all part of the celebration of the magazine's 10th anniversary. 10 years? O my!
OK, play time over. Oprah's back this week with new shows! (See the widget above for what's scheduled this week.)
PLUS, "American Idol" loser and publicity stunt architect Adam Lambert says he's been invited to come to Chicago and sit on Oprah's couch. Oprah's show doesn't usually confirm upcoming bookings, but Lambert tweeted "Oprah: def true." (Translation: The rumors are true that I will be appearing on 'The Oprah Winfrey Show'!")
Lambert told "Extra": "I'm really excited. I want to meet her. We have the same birthday! She's incredible. What a great leader, communicator, philanthropist. ... I'm really curious what she is going to ask me. Maybe she will dig and make me cry."
And Oprah herself is looking for Lambert fans, posting this notice on her Web site: "Calling ALL Adam Lambert Fans!!! Did you vote for him as many times as you could? Were you holding your breath when the new American Idol was announced, hoping and praying it would be HIM? If you are a HUGE fan of Adam Lambert's, e-mail us now and tell us why you want to be in the audience for this once-in-a-lifetime show."
How involved will Oprah be in her new cable TV channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network? Will she mostly be behind the scenes, calling the shots and making programming decisions? Or will she be on screen, hosting a show or appearing on others' shows?
That's a question mulled lightly by fans but quite seriously right now by the television executives at the Discovery Channel. OWN will go live in 2011 via the existing cable channel Discovery Health. And the Wall Street Journal reports this week that Discovery execs are talking to Oprah, trying to get an answer to those questions.
The level of Oprah's involvement, no surprise, likely will be directly proportionate to the success (at least initially) of the new channel. That's the big bet Oprah is making, anyway: that her mega-popularity via one daytime talk show can transition to an entire 24/7 cable network.
WSJ reports: "At an investor conference in San Francisco, [Brad Singer, chief financial officer with Discovery Communications Inc.] identified OWN as one of the company's most promising growth opportunities, but he said the key question of how much Winfrey herself will actually appear on the network is still being negotiated."
Oprah has a 50 percent stake in the new channel, so she has a big incentive to see it financially successful.
Part of that financial success might hinge on how much money the new channel can command from cable TV providers, like Comcast. If the Oprah Effect makes OWN more valuable than Discovery Health has been -- and it's hard to imagine that won't happen -- then Discovery can make providers pay more to include it in their lineups. Currently, for instance, providers pull 12 cents from each subscriber to "buy" the Discovery Health channel; The New York Times reports that OWN, with Oprah behind it, could command as much as 50 cents.
Translation: Oprah's helping to jack up your cable bill.
In the meantime, the question remains whether Oprah plans only to pull the strings on the new channel or to float through its programming with shows of her own, infomercials, guest appearances, what have you.
What would YOU like to see Oprah do on her new network?