Lance Provides TV Drama, But Little Personal Emotion: More To Come?
Television-wise, most of the Lance Armstrong interview with Oprah Winfrey on OWN's "Oprah's Next Chapter" was akin to watching the early part of a road cycling race.
That's the typically calm part of the race -- one where the so-called early morning breakaway occurs with maybe five or 10 riders. Cycling analysts might tell viewers that a breakaway tends to settle down the race overall in preparation for the real drama that comes later.
For Lance Armstrong -- champion cyclist and cancer cure crusader -- many hope there is more to come, including some deeper apologies.
Armstrong's interview was an attempt to calm things down a bit. Yes, he admitted to drug use during all his Tour de France victories. But Armstrong wishes he could have spoken earlier, especially just before the USADA (the U.S. Anti-Drug Agency) released its final report.
What did advertisers get from this highly touted TV show? Pretty much what they expected -- some 3.2 million viewers from the original airing of the show and another 1.1 million from a re-run later that night. Given that the news of Armstrong’s admission of drugs leaked earlier in the week, perhaps some of the wind was taken out of the interview’s sails rating-wise. (Other news may also have hurt the numbers, especially the girlfriend hoax around Notre Dame footballer Manti Te'o).
What was unexpected? Armstrong copped to doing drugs through most of his racing career -- starting in the mid-90s and going through 2005, his last Tour de France win. Armstrong said he did not do drugs during his Tour de France comeback from 2009 to 2010 because of the fear of stronger drug controls.
Doing drugs? Just part of the job, said Armstrong, "like filling your tires with air, and filling your bottles with water." Less drama came from this. He didn't name or imply drug use by other cyclists. The closest Armstrong got to this topic was talking maybe "five" riders who weren't doing drugs out of 200 riders in the peloton. He said they were the "heroes."
One glaringly head-scratching commercial popped up at the end of the first night of the Winfrey interview – from the Cancer Treatment Centers of America – since Armstrong had survived dire testicular cancer and went on to win the Tour de France seven times.
In the first part of Winfrey's interview, Armstrong seemed somewhat sincere and straight-forward but largely absent of emotion, according to TV critics. There was no TV-friendly weepy breakdown that some viewers might have hoped for.
That changed big time in the interview’s second night, especially when Armstrong talked about what to say and what to do with his 13-year old son, Luke, who had been defending him. Armstrong stopped several times, struggling to come up with words, his eyes glassy.
A key topic wasn't just the drugs, but the "bullying." Armstrong said this was a major flaw of a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted, and to control every outcome. He called that behavior "inexcusable." Yet he admitted that he didn’t feel guilty or torn at the time.
It is this that sticks in the craw of those who supported him. It's one thing to take performance-enhancing drugs in a drug-laden professional sport. But it's another to bully people nonstop for almost a decade with almost nonstop lawsuits, ruining many people's lives.
For her part, Winfrey didn't pile on to some seemingly cavalier responses -- like when Armstrong couldn't remember how many people he sued or that he didn't feel doing drugs was wrong when he was in competition. Perhaps that would have made for better television. But that isn't necessarily how Winfrey works.
Plenty of anger abounds from critics over what the interview didn't deliver -- more sorrow and apologies. Related to this – as with any TV show -- viewers need and want to see a turn of "character" in big, visual and tangible ways. Talking about his kids, Armstrong offered a glimpse of that. But others believe he still needs to go further.