Appearing on "Oprah" after a bruising public battle is a clear admission of a PR emergency. So during yesterday's TV chat with Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno spoke openly of trying to "rehabilitate my image" after reclaiming the host's chair on "The Tonight Show" from Conan O'Brien. Fighting the perception that he had been selfish and bullying, Leno blamed NBC executives for bungling the situation and insisted he's a "good guy." Will Leno's Oprah "confessional" really help redeem him in the eyes of late-night TV viewers? (Watch a clip from Oprah's talk with Jay Leno)
He made a good start by controlling the venue: Leno had little choice but to go "one-on-one with the Queen of the Confessional," says Lisa de Moraes in The Washington Post. Oprah is "the first Station of the Cross (practically an industry rule) on his Road to Redemption," but he made "a great tactical move" by having the chat at his studio, not Oprah's — he, not Oprah, was the focus for a whole 30 minutes of their chat. Interview done, he's now clear to hit Station Two: the charity fund-raiser.
"Oprah interview with Leno manages to be all about . . . Oprah"
Too bad he gave way to self-pity: If Leno really wants to redeem himself, he shouldn't "throw himself a pity party" on national TV, says Mike Byhoff at Gawker. He did so much "passing the buck...blaming everyone and everything but himself," that it's unclear why Oprah even gave him "a shoulder to cry on." NBC really did mess up, but Leno now looks "short-sighted, ignorant, and most of all, cowardly."
"Jay Leno tries to set the record straight on Oprah, comes off as a lying, victimized cry-baby"
He made at least one convincing argument: I doubt this interview reassured viewers who'd already decided that Leno's been acting "sketchy," says Linda Holmes at NPR. But he was most persuasive when he argued that TV is "merciless," that it's "not show friends, it's show business." If I were his PR adviser, I'd have him push that soundbite.
"What did Jay Leno tell Oprah? Not much you haven't heard before"
Leno doesn't need damage control: Those of us playing scorekeeper with NBC's "bloody late-night skirmish" are "missing a key point," says Chuck Barney in the Contra Costa Times. "Leno's reputation might not need all that much mending." He was No. 1 for so long, he has an army of "Leno loyalists — Middle America, older viewers, etc." — who will gladly welcome him back. Late-night TV fans are like "hard-core" political partisans, and if you were a Leno viewer, you still are.
"Leno visits Oprah, let the damage control begin"