Stripped of his Tour de France titles, disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong is banking on “the Oprah effect” to help get his life, career and public image back on track.
He can expect not only tough questions, but also a generous dose of empathy when he sits down with talk show icon Oprah Winfrey at his Texas home for an interview going out on her OWN cable channel and Web site on Thursday next week.
“Oprah is not flying down to Austin and airing a prime time special to hear another denial [of drug use] from Lance Armstrong,” veteran Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman, vice chairman of Reputation.com, said on Wednesday.
“This is part of a very sophisticated PR effort to get a confession out there and change hearts and minds,” said Bragman, who has known Winfrey for 30 years and placed some of his celebrity clients on her show.
Celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley, author of the New York Times bestseller Oprah: A Biography, speculated that Armstrong will use his interview to shift the spotlight back to his Live Strong cancer charity.
“It’ll be hard for him [to admit to doping], but the apology had better be abject with Oprah, because she’s got a wonderful schoolmarm in her that will slap his wrist if he’s not properly contrite,” Kelley said. “But she’ll have to give him full marks for what he’s done for kids [with cancer] — and that’ll probably be his out.”
Winfrey, 58, became one of the richest and most powerful figures in US popular culture over 25 seasons of her eponymous weekday syndicated talk show aimed at women viewers.
The Oprah Winfrey Show made a virtue of intimacy, emotion and the power of persuasion — and over 4,561 episodes it reshaped the national conversation on such issues as literacy, obesity and homosexuality.
“The beauty of Oprah is that she’s able to be an icon and, at the same time, very, very approachable and very real,” said Chicago ad executive James Lou in the CNBC television documentary The Oprah Effect.
For celebrities with something heartfelt to say, Winfrey’s studio sofa has been the go-to place to bare their feelings before a boisterous live audience.
Tom Cruise famously jumped up and down on it in 2005 as he professed his love for fellow actor Katie Holmes, whom he married the following year. The couple divorced last year.
In 2008, former Olympic track and field champion Marion Jones, out on probation after doing prison time for perjury after lying to US prosecutors about her use of steroids, shed tears as she told Winfrey her story.
“I didn’t love myself enough to tell the truth,” Jones confessed. “I’m trying to move on. I hope that everybody else can move on, too.”
The following year, Mike Tyson broke down as he told Winfrey about the accidental death of his four-year-old daughter — and apologized for biting off the ear of boxing rival Evander Holyfield in their notorious 1997 “bite fight.”
Winfrey lowered the curtain on The Oprah Winfrey Show in May 2011 amid much fanfare to focus on the Oprah Winfrey Network channel, on which she appears less frequently on an interview show called Oprah’s Next Chapter, the program on which Armstrong is to appear.