A Personal Vendetta: Leno, Oprah Against the Audience
A lot of people love Oprah. It’s just a fact of life. I spent many a day in high school plopped on the couch with my mom at four o’clock, generally sobbing at some person’s tragic life story. But today, I’m mad at her. (Oprah, that is, not my mom – my mom is awesome.)
On yesterday’s episode of Oprah, she interviewed Jay Leno to get “his side" of the late night show debacle. In an unusual move, she interviewed Leno in his The Jay Leno Show studio—either because her audience would have attacked him at her own studio, or because both she and Leno wished to be present at the scene of the crime. Before the interview actually took place, there was a poll on Oprah.com, asking viewers to vote whether they sided with Conan O'Brien or Leno. As Oprah announced yesterday, 96 percent of viewers thought Conan was in the right.
Oprah’s reaction to the numbers? Flabbergasted.
Now, I’m not saying Oprah is a stranger to bias. She isn’t, often priding herself on sticking to one side. She’s not afraid to flip-flop (poor James Frey… never saw it coming), and she’s not afraid to pool all her ever-fluctuating weight behind one person (she liked Barack Obama, and everyone knew it.)
Still, perhaps my own love for a 6’4” lanky ginger is what has me seeing red on this issue.
While Leno is not my favorite person by a long shot, I'd hoped that Oprah would straighten him out. From the various commercials for the interview, I assumed she'd be asking all the hard-hitting questions — was he surprised at how public opinion so quickly turned against him? Was he being selfish? She did ask these questions, and she did get Leno's answers. But Oprah — she did what I hate. She blamed the audience. She spent nearly 30 minutes of the post-show discussion with the viewers in her studio talking about how no one understands television, Leno just did what he had to do, and he was just reacting to a situation that was handed to him. Any audience-member who didn’t agree with Leno got an offhand remark about "not knowing how the industry worked," while anyone who agreed with him got a pat on the back.
As a talk show host, your currency is that your audience can relate to you, whether you’re on at 4 p.m. or at 11:35. Yesterday, for the first time, it felt like Oprah was saying, “You can’t have an opinion; you just don’t know.” Are we not allowed to be annoyed that a favorite late night host is off the air? Are we not allowed to blame Leno in the least for saying he never talking to Conan before retaking the Tonight Show slot? I may not have chaired a number-one show for twenty years, but the beauty of television is that I can form an opinion on anyone who appears in front of me. I don’t doubt that Leno is a nice guy and passionate about what he does, but that doesn’t mean I should be chastised for not agreeing with him.
For once, Oprah, we disagree.