Oprah Winfrey and Lance Armstrong, Discovery | TV reviews, news & interviews
Oprah Winfrey and Lance Armstrong, Discovery
Sinning cyclist tells all to TV's Mother Superior
Even though this much-anticipated encounter was shown on the Discovery channel in the middle of the night, it was still generously packed with ad breaks, which may be some testament to the global selling power of Oprah Winfrey. But in fact the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), which made the programme, has been struggling for ratings in its two-year existence while managing to burn a $300m hole in Oprah's pocket.
Could disgraced super-cyclist Lance Armstrong, seven-times Tour de France winner but now expunged from the record books following revelations about the epic extent of his use of banned substances, apply further ratings catnip? They're still adding up the numbers, and there's still part two to come, but I was surprised to find it a bit of a yawn. And that was watching it the day after (happier days as Armstrong wins again, pictured below).
Armstrong, following a relentless tide of accusations and an unanswerably damning report from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), had already been strung up by the court of public opinion, as well as by several eminent sports journalists. Even though he'd tried blitzing his accusers with lawsuits, Armstrong's sponsors couldn't drop him fast enough, and when cycling's governing body endorsed USADA's recommendations to ban him for life and strip him of his titles, there wasn't any wriggle room left.
Oprah may not have helped herself with the show's opening yes-no interlude, in which she extracted the fallen sportsman's confessions to all the questions the lay viewer was likely to be interested in. Oprah: Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance? Lance: Yes. Oprah: Did you ever use other banned substances like testosterone, cortisone or human growth hormone? Lance: Yes. Oprah: In your opinion, was it humanly possible to win win the Tour de France without doping, seven times in a row? Lance: Not in my opinion.
Lance, a cancer survivor and clearly an extremely tough customer, also committed the cardinal sin of not crying. Blimey, even Andy Murray has grasped the value of a bit of a sob for the cameras. But Lance remained firm of voice and dry of eye as he ran through 90 minutes' worth of mea culpas. "Certainly I'm a flawed character, as I well know... all the fault and all the blame here lies on me... I had a ruthless desire to win at all costs... Yeah, I was a bully... People have every right to feel betrayed and it's my fault... [I'm] a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome, and it's inexcusable." Many, of course, won't believe a word of what he says ever again. Oprah herself wore the slightly puckered expression of a disappointed big sister.
Part two has the stuff about his mother and kids, so maybe he was saving all the tear-duct action for that. Otherwise, while the Lance and Oprah Show may be like another Christmas for cycling journalists and lawyers, this didn't feel like TV history in the making.
- Part two of the Winfrey-Armstrong interview is on Discovery at 2am and 8pm on Saturday 19 January
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