Oprah & Letterman End 16-Year 'Feud'

UPDATED 12/02/2005 at 04:30 PM EST Originally published 12/02/2005 at 08:00 AM EST

Oprah & Letterman End 16-Year 'Feud'
Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS
It no doubt helped that she had a multimillion-dollar Broadway musical opening a block away. And it's even been suggested that she needs to bury every hatchet if she ever expects to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

But for whatever reason, Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman kissed and made up Thursday night on his CBS Late Show.

"Even my mother said tonight she may switch over from Leno," Letterman said in the great buildup before Winfrey walked out on his stage. He called Oprah "the most beloved woman in America – despite the fact she gave us Dr. Phil."

In the end, Letterman had ample reason to kiss Winfrey; she delivered him his biggest Nielsen ratings in a decade: an estimated 13.5 million people, reports the Associated Press. Only his 1993 CBS premiere and two shows the following year, during the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding ice skating melodrama, did more viewers tune in.

The only question that lingered during the often funny exchange between the two TV giants (or, as Letterman called them, "Broadway's other Odd Couple") was, What caused the feud to begin with? Let alone, was there really a feud?

"Could you tell me please what has transpired?" Oprah asked Dave, who had pointed out that since appearing on his old NBC show 16 years ago – "16 and a half," Oprah interjected – she has refused to come back. Insisted Winfrey: "I have never for a moment had a feud with you."

One possible reason might have been Dave's Oscar stunt the year he hosted the Academy Awards, when he tried to make a joke out of Oprah's and Uma Thurman's names. (The awkward joke fell silently flat.) "Was that a problem for you?" Letterman asked Winfrey.

"No," she responded. "It was a problem for me," Letterman shot back.

In an olive-branch gesture, Winfrey gave Letterman an autographed photo of herself with Thurman. Both women signed it to Dave "with love." "I want you to know, it's really over, whatever you thought was happening," Winfrey said.

Throughout the show – which also featured singer Bonnie Raitt – Letterman behaved like a gentleman, and finished by escorting Winfrey next door to the Broadway Theater, to the premiere of the musical The Color Purple, which she helped bankroll.

Now it remains to be seen if Oprah can make peace with Broadway critics. Friday morning's reviews of The Color Purple are cool, to say the least.

Though the musical's star, a singing powerhouse named LaChance, received glowing notices as Celie, the heroine of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (and subsequent 1985 Steven Spielberg movie), critics say the $10 million show itself comes across as overly crammed, Classic Comic Book-style, with plot and songs that move along too quickly for audiences to sit back and enjoy. "Color it a letdown," crowed the headline in New York's Daily News.

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