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How David Letterman, Jay Leno and Oprah Winfrey pulled off their secret Super Bowl promo for CBS' 'Late Show'

To pull off the surprise Super Bowl spot he did with rival David Letterman, Jay Leno flew secretly to New York on the NBC jet last Tuesday and managed to sneak into the Ed Sullivan Theater undetected wearing a hoodie, sunglasses and a fake mustache.

Rob Burnett, executive producer of the “Late Show,” said keeping Leno’s participation under wraps was the key to preserving the effect of the 15-second promo, which featured the two late-night comedians uncomfortably watching the Super Bowl together, with Oprah Winfrey trying to keep the peace.

“We wanted desperately to keep this a secret,” said Burnett, who said the only CBS official who knew of the plan was Chief Executive Leslie Moonves. “Most of the staff didn’t know. We just knew we had to keep the circle extraordinarily tight.”

At NBC, Leno’s executive producer, Debbie Vickers, NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin and NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker were in the loop, but few others had a clue that Letterman and his longtime rival had joined forces for what was easily the most unexpected Super Bowl ad of the night.

In the spot, Letterman is seen on a couch, glumly munching potato chips. “This is the worst Super Bowl party ever,” he says.

“Now, Dave, be nice,” responds Winfrey, seated beside him. The camera then pulls back to reveal Leno squeezed on the couch on the other side of her, with his own bowl of potato chips. “Oh, he’s just saying that ‘cause I’m here,” the NBC host says. Letterman then mimics Leno in a high-pitched voice, prompting Winfrey to roll her eyes, sigh and throw up her hands in frustration.

Letterman came up with the idea and wrote the script himself after CBS told him they were giving his show a brief promo during the Super Bowl, Burnett said. Letterman pitched the idea to Winfrey, who had appeared in a similar spot with him in 2007. She quickly agreed to it, and then Burnett ran it by Vickers. She thought it was funny, and within minutes, Leno was on the phone, agreeing to do it.

“I think for Jay, he thought of it less as a promo and more of a funny piece to be doing on the Super Bowl,” Burnett said. While the “Late Show” staff speculated internally about what the ad would do for Leno’s image, Burnett said Letterman was focused on another aspect.

“Dave is ruled by one law: Is it funny?” he said. “That’s all he really cared about. And the sense I got in the room was that all three sides thought it was really funny.”

Though Letterman and Leno have both flung pointed insults at each other on the air in recent weeks during NBC’s messy late-night imbroglio, Burnett said the two men got along well during the 20-minute shoot.

“Dave and Jay were very professional and cordial and friendly with each other,” he said. “And Oprah, in addition to her many talents, is a wonderful comedienne.”

NBC officials had no comment on Leno's participation in the ad. The taping kept Leno from doing his show Tuesday, so the network extended Tuesday's edition of "The Biggest Loser" to fill his time slot.

-- Matea Gold and Maria Elena Fernandez

Video credit: CBS

Comments () | Archives (24)

Dave and jay pointing insults at each other on the air.? this really very controversial. Well, good thing Oprah is with them.,.

Did anyone invite Conan?

This was such a yawner. Both Jay and Dave are passe. Conan's participation would've rocked the house...would've been alot funnier than having Oprah there in the middle.

No wonder Leno was not on Tuesday! But come people, it's show business. This whole Leno vs Conan vs Letterman is just a media piece. These guys throw insults at one another, but don't get pissed.

Now that's what I call fun!

Defnitely this is a funny ad. It would have been even funnier if Conan or Kimmel joined at the end with a 6 pack and some Doritos.

Who is Conan?

JAM. FIRST, you are wrong. Yes, bidness is bidness, but if you think Conan should play along right now, then that is pure lunacy. You are very naive when it comes to networking and marketing, by the way.

Anyone who saw the film "The Color Purple" or watched the early years of Winfrey's talk show would have noticed her comedic abilities. Bravo to all!

"Did anyone invite Conan?"


Absolutely brilliant! Dave's creative mind is still cranking them out, kudo's to all three of them! Wonder if it was reversed if Dave would have gone to LA?

I can't believe they left COCO out. He probably couldn't afford to go what with that pidley thirty odd million dollars he was just paid.

Conan could not be included because in his buyout he is banned from making any TV appearances for 3 months. There is speculation that is first one after the time will be on with Dave! That would be great!

First Bush and Clinton appear together and now Jay and Letterman... what is the world coming to, how are we supposed to pick sides, maybe the jokes on us for picking sides??

Can't help wondering what it'd have been like if Johnny Carson had such simpatico a with Joey Bishop, Cavett, Merv...Joan Rivers.

In my opinion, the funniest and best ad of the Super Bowl. Totally unexpected.

Agreed--it was the funniest ad in this year's super bowl...which doesn't speak well to the writing on the rest of this year's commercials.

They should have had Conan walk in and say to Leno, "Hey, you took my seat".

Entertainment Tonight is reporting that Conan was asked to participate in the bit but he declined because he was "too busy".

I can see it now....they could have had the doorbell ring, Oprah answers it and there's Conan at the door wearing a delivery outfit saying "did anyone here order a pizza?"

That would have been hilarious!

(Next year: look for an ad with Brad Pitt sitting in the middle between Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston.)

Loved Dave's Art Donovan jersey.

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