Merle Haggard, Jerry Herman, Bill T. Jones, Oprah Winfrey, Paul McCartney Merle Haggard, Jerry Herman, Bill T. Jones, Oprah Winfrey, Paul McCartney

Since 1978, the enduring wonder of the Kennedy Center Honors — which pays respects to performing arts masters for their lifetime contributions — has been the diversity of the group it assembles each year in Washington, D.C. And this year's class is no exception. Country-music outlaw Merle Haggard sidles up to media queen Oprah Winfrey. Sir Paul McCartney pals around with choreographer Bill T. Jones and composer Jerry Herman. And they all hang out with President Obama and the First Lady. "The honorees are kind of joined at the hip for the weekend, and some really nice friendships are made," says George Stevens Jr., who has produced the show for all of its 33 years, recently with son Michael.

For all their star power, however, the honorees still get to enjoy the show. Alec Baldwin, Steven Tyler and No Doubt will be giving presentations and performances for Sir Paul. For Winfrey's segment, introduced by Julia Roberts, "We're creating a set that looks like Oprah's talk-show set," says Stevens. "There will be a few chairs for Sidney Poitier, Chris Rock, John Travolta and Barbara Walters — all people who mean something to Oprah."

Plus one heck of a choir. A 60-member singing group has been assembled to perform a song with Jennifer Hudson from the Broadway play The Color Purple. Says Stevens: "I think she'll be quite thrilled." And if Oprah's happy, we're happy.

The 33rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors air tonight at 9/8c on CBS.

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