When has a network ever let anyone have two separate specials on the same night?
Now, and it's not just anyone: It's Barbara Walters.
Following her on-air Thanksgiving weekend visit with President and Mrs. Obama, much of ABC's evening is on the shoulders of the broadcast journalism legend Thursday, Dec. 9 -- first with "A Barbara Walters Special: Oprah, The Next Chapter," in which Winfrey discusses with Walters her soon-to-launch Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and other future plans, then with the 18th annual edition of a traditional year-ending show in "Barbara Walters Presents the 10 Most Fascinating People of 2010."
"It's two totally separate hours, and I'm hosting both of them," Walters says. "I don't know when they've ever done this with one host, and I've also had other things in between (including the weekday ABC show 'The View,' which Walters co-hosts and produces). And I think that on Dec. 10, I'll have a nervous breakdown."
The Oprah interview was done in early November, and Walters found it "amazing, because I think it's the most personal interview she's done in years. We're doing it now because OWN debuts in January, and it's going to change her life. We did the interview in her apartment, and she will be leaving that apartment and Chicago. This doesn't just change her professional life; it changes her 'life' life." (Winfrey, of course, ends her syndicated weekday talk show next spring.)
"She says that at one point, she thought, 'It's been 25 years; I'll have lunch with friends and travel,' " Walters reports, "but she just couldn't see herself doing that. She'll be on (camera) a certain amount of time, but this will be much more organizational for her, rather than having to come out every single day and do a show. And she looks forward to that."
Walters claims she was surprised how easy it was to get Winfrey to agree to the session. "I wrote to her and said I'd love to do this interview," Walters says, "and she immediately said, 'Yes.' I didn't think so, because Oprah doesn't do this kind of interview, and we must have sat and talked for 2 1/2 hours. As friendly as we are, she's not an easy 'get,' so I was thrilled. She has a lot of honors and things coming up, and we really wanted to be first."
Winfrey often has called Walters her mentor, which added extra layers to the interview.
"It is a great compliment," Walters reflects. "When she started in Baltimore years ago, she won a contest by imitating me. She says she used to watch me on (NBC's) 'Today' and think, 'A female journalist? Maybe I could be that.'
"We've been very close all these years, and I've had her on 'The 10 Most Fascinating People,' but I haven't done this kind of interview with her since 1988."
The top-ranked individual in Walters' "10 Most Fascinating People of 2010" won't be revealed until the program airs, as usual, but others are known. They range from teen music star Justin Bieber and busier-than-ever acting veteran Betty White to former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin -- her third time on Walters' list, a first -- and Gen. David Petraeus, leader of the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan.
Perhaps the most surprising people on the list, even with the top one yet unknown? Snooki, "The Situation" and other stars of MTV's unscripted series "Jersey Shore." Walters says, "I wanted to talk to two or three of them, and they said, 'No, you're going to do all of us.' I sat down with all seven, and I liked them. I really did. They were very open about what they were going to do next; each is thinking of his or her own empire."
Also included is Sandra Bullock, whom Walters also interviewed earlier this year for her final Oscar night special, before Bullock won the best actress honor for "The Blind Side." Given her marital split afterward, "we update her life situation," Walters confirms. "What I did not do was run the part of the (previous) interview in which she talked about what a wonderful marriage it was (at that time), out of respect and affection for her. I like her very much."
Many personalities of a given year could be deemed fascinating, but Walters explains, "You want to get people from different categories. It would be very easy to do just 10 movie stars, but we really try to have people from television, films, music, sports and politics.
"There are people who call us and want to be on, but we don't think they're fascinating, and there are people we like who are very hard to get and don't want to come on."
If doing two shows in one night is a possible statement about her health, at the end of a year in which she underwent open-heart surgery to replace a valve, Walters isn't promoting that actively.
"People keep asking me how I am, and I'm almost getting annoyed, because I'm fine," she muses. "This is a matter of traveling back and forth and staying up late and doing a lot of editing and so on. Obviously, I'm able to do it.
"I don't have over my head what I had last year at just about this time, which was the thought, 'Oh, my heavens, am I going to have to have an operation?' I had been resisting it all year. Now I don't have all those doctors' appointments and cardiograms and such. That was a big umbrella over me that's gone now."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun