Oprah scores big from Lance scoop
Oprah Winfrey's exclusive interview with Lance Armstrong - broadcast over two nights, starting last night - is a coup for the talk show diva as she strives to pull her upstart OWN network to the front of the crowded TV peloton.
Winfrey, 58, dominated US daytime television like no one else from 1986 through 2011 with her eponymous syndicated talk show that redefined the genre and firmly established her as a household name.
Since the demise of The Oprah Winfrey Show, however, it's been an uphill battle for the pop culture icon and her OWN cable and satellite channel, which began with less than stellar ratings.
Her interview with Armstrong, aired on both OWN and the Oprah.com website, could be a turning point.
"This is a huge 'get' for Oprah" given how OWN is not yet part of the [media] mainstream," celebrity biographer and author of Oprah: A Biography Kitty Kelley said.
"This is enormous for OWN in that it's probably going to be first time ever that many people have tuned into the channel," said Larry Gerbrandt of Media Valuation Partners.
Winfrey herself called Armstrong's two-and-a-half-hour confessional "the biggest interview I've ever done in terms of its exposure".
In the interview, Armstrong admits taking illegal substances, providing answers "people around the world have been waiting to hear".
"Oprah's vision is to use television to drop little pieces of light into our consciousness," said OWN president Sheri Salata after the network won its first Emmy last year.
Winfrey has likened the launch of OWN to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak.
Whereas the final episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show pulled in a staggering 16.4 million viewers, OWN - backed by cable powerhouse Discovery Channel - attracted fewer than 300000.
The vastly bigger CBS network had pushed hard for Armstrong to go onto its flagship 60 Minutes.
"We wanted the Lance Armstrong interview badly. He chose to go with Oprah," 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager conceded.
In the end CBS had to make do with Oprah herself, who on Tuesday told CBS This Morningshe e-mailed Armstrong "a couple of months ago" in the hope of securing an interview.
He replied with an offer to "do lunch", which never happened due to scheduling conflicts.
Ultimately, at his suggestion, the two met one-on-one at Winfrey's vacation home in Hawaii over the Christmas holidays. The interview itself was recorded in an Austin, Los Angeles, hotel suite.