Oprah and Dave: A Made-for-TV Reunion

On Thursday night, Oprah Winfrey will appear on David Letterman's late-night talk show for the first time since 1989. It's big news because for years, Winfrey refused to talk to Letterman. Writer Jimi Izrael says that the feud resulted from Winfrey's inability to take Letterman's — or anyone's — jokes about her, and that she shouldn't be so sensitive.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Now more news from the world of late-night TV. Talk show giant Oprah Winfrey appears tonight on the "Late Show with David Letterman," her first appearance since 1989. Writer Jimi Izrael is skeptical about the reunion.

JIMI IZRAEL:

Oprah Winfrey is set to make history yet again. Her appearance on David Letterman's "Late Show" will squash a 16-year-old beef between her and the late-night talk show host. Now she did two turns on his NBC show, but hasn't been a guest since 1989. She told Time magazine in 2003 she would never go back on his show because during her appearances, she felt like the butt of his jokes. Well, what was she expecting? Insults are late-night television's stock-in-trade, and Letterman's specialty is stretching a joke as far as it will go, and Oprah's been the punch line of a lot of these jokes. Letterman takes careful note of her fluctuations in weight and her stagnant relationship with boyfriend Stedman Graham. He's done this for the better part of the last 20 years and an Oprah joke always gets him a laugh. Even her refusal to reappear on the show has become part of the joke.

Now I'll watch, but I'm not looking for any full-on belly laughter because let's face it: Oprah is not funny, and she can't take a joke. The fact she's gotten rich dispensing wisdom you can get at any beauty salon, barbershop or kitchen table in black America and wears this mantle buttoned up to her neck is exactly why she has made the perfect foil for Letterman all these years.

This late-night love fest is not a reconciliation born of good cheer. It is, instead, remarkably transparent. Oprah is hawking her DVD set and tickets to the stage version of "The Color Purple," a musical that she's producing that's opening tonight. Dave has his own reasons for wanting the interview now. He's down in the ratings and is banking on a much-needed boost of energy. He's using her for cheap laughs, and she's using him for cheap publicity. Granted, it's not kismet but it's certainly a pairing made for TV. Oprah is the anti-Dave; the smug, bookish girl sitting at the front of the class dutiful, attentive and always with the right answer. Letterman is the scrawny guy lobbing spit wads from the back of the room. On paper, there's no good reason that the twain should ever meet, but while feuds come and go, ratings and box office receipts are forever.

Tonight, laughs will be stale but there could be other excitement. Dave's pretty obnoxious, and I think there's a good chance Oprah will smack him if he gets out of hand. So I wouldn't miss this for the world.

CHADWICK: Jimi Izrael is a columnist for AOL Black Voices.

There's more to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.