Jay Leno leaves his prime-time debacle on Feb. 9, but there is no time like the present to begin damage control. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey that airs Thursday, Leno called "this whole thing a huge mess," while adding that he hasn't yet spoken with Conan O'Brien.
Harpo, producer of "Oprah," released only a few lines of an interview taped in Burbank, Calif., on Tuesday, and none were particularly revelatory or confrontational. Winfrey, for example, asked whether Leno had talked to O'Brien (who severed his ties with "Tonight" Friday after an almost comically public and histrionic standoff with the network).
Well . . . No.
"I haven't talked to him through all this. No. I haven't," Leno said. Considering the level of bile - flood-level - that's hardly surprising.
Leno tells Winfrey that "it didn't seem appropriate" to speak to O'Brien. But Leno says the two comedians might talk when "things cool down."
Winfrey, who is pals with Leno, naturally wanted to know whether all the verbal jabs, hits, blows, stings and zingers were "hurtful."
Leave it to Oprah to ask a late night comic - who has probably told 10,000 "hurtful" jokes about other public figures in his career - whether his feelings were bruised by all the mudslinging. "It's what we do, you know," Leno said. "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."
Anything else? Sorry. We're all going to have to wait. However, a promotion for Thursday's show does appear to contain a question, or more of a statement, from Winfrey, who says "a lot of people are not on your side" in this late-night war. No hint of Leno's response.
And maybe Leno gets a chance to ask her about this. Last fall, NBC admitted that it had even asked Oprah a few years ago if she'd be interested in taking her talk show to the network, as a nightly 8 p.m. series. She declined, of course. Smart lady.