Oprah Winfrey chatted with pal Gayle King, Charlie Rose and Nora O'Donnell on Tuesday's 'CBS This Morning.' / AFP/Getty Images
The sports world is holding its breath, waiting to hear exactly what shamed cyclist Lance Armstrong will say in his interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Airing Thursday on OWN's Oprah's Next Chapter (Part 1 at 9 ET/PT, Part 2 Friday at 9) and streaming live on Oprah.com, the interview will be the first time fans hear from the seven-time Tour de France winner since his doping scandal erupted in October.
An Armstrong interview is long overdue, and it's seen as a chance for him to come clean, earn forgiveness and try to start polishing the tarnished Livestrong image.
For Winfrey and the entertainment world, it's a huge coup, a huge "get."
"Congrats @Oprah on your sensational @lancearmstrong scoop. (This is said through severely gritted, envious teeth)," tweeted CNN's Piers Morgan.
"We wanted the Lance Armstrong interview badly," 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour Saturday. "He chose to go with Oprah."
Winfrey acknowledged as much on Tuesday's CBS This Morning: "I think it's the certainly the biggest interview I've ever done in terms of its exposure. Back in 1993, I did Michael Jackson, live, around the world. This is going to be live-streamed around the world, as well as on OWN. I think the number of people who have exposure to it makes it the biggest interview I've ever done."
Even if it doesn't reach the 90 million or so people worldwide who saw that chat with Michael Jackson, Oprah's landing of Lance is another step - an important one - in building her network. It's the latest in a string of high-profile interviews that have brought her OWN cable channel the kind of attention, if not the ratings, she used to get regularly on her powerhouse daytime show.
"'I'm not doing the hula yet," Winfrey told The Hollywood Reporter in December, "but compared to a year ago, it feels like a sigh of relief."
Yes, a year ago, says THR staff editor Erin Carlson, Winfrey "was hanging on by a very thin thread. Nobody could find OWN. There were also accusations of weak programming and her dwindling influence." Then, Carlson says, Winfrey turned to her "massive Rolodex" and began going after the big celeb interviews.
Her sitdown in August 2012 with pop singer Rihanna was watched by 2.5 million people. Her exclusive with Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of Whitney Houston, in March 2012 pulled in 3.5 million viewers and is still the most-watched telecast for the network. She also made headlines in past months talking to Justin Bieber and David Letterman.
After struggling in 2011, the network closed 2012 up 30% in total viewers and up 32% among women 25 to 54, notes Brad Adgate, media analyst for Horizon Media. "I think part of it has to do with her interviews. Suddenly they're popping up, appearing in pop culture, and that really didn't happen before for the network or her. It's like when she had her talk show. She has found the secret sauce again.
"The network's kind of on a roll. It's taken two years and it's still not a top-tier network, but clearly this is a huge step in that direction."
Oprah's doing what Oprah has always done so well - landing the big celeb interview and making news with it. On CBS, she said she got it by asking. "I had sent him an e-mail a couple of months ago, just, you know, hoping he would talk to me."
Said CBS anchor and longtime interviewer Charlie Rose with a laugh, "I e-mailed him, too."
Winfrey continued: "He e-mailed back and said he wasn't ready to talk but would be in Hawaii over the holidays and maybe we could get together for lunch." She said she followed up, asking, "What about that lunch?" and wound up staying in the islands two extra days to "accommodate" Armstrong's schedule. "He came to visit me in Maui. He lives on another island."
She "cleared out the house," she said, including "people who are there for help and even the people who do the lawn." She even had a "different person pick him up at the airport, so he wouldn't be recognized."
They met to discuss the interview, which took place Monday in Austin. And, Oprah said, she got "most" of her 112 questions asked.
It's all sure to make news as soon as it airs. It's already spurring jokes: Jimmy Fallon tweeted: "Oprah's interview with Lance Armstrong supposedly lasted nearly 3 hours. So it's sort of like a regular interview ... on steroids."
It could also mean "millions" for her, writes Forbes' Jeff Bercovici.
"It's free advertising," Adgate says, "a big interview like this." And it could "translate into better channel positioning."
His ratings prediction? "If her Bobbi Kristina Brown got 3-plus million viewers, this could do significantly more. If she had her talk show, the number would be over 10 million. I think (OWN and Oprah) would be happy with 5 million. That'd be a very respectable number. But, hey, you just don't know."
But Oprah knows the value of a good get. She has already announced she has a slew of celeb interviews lined up for 2013.
On her Next Chapter show, she'll talk with Drew Barrymore, rapper LL Cool J and his family, and Whitney Houston's mother, Cissy, one year after her daughter's death. For her Masterclass show, she will feature Alicia Keys, Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Nicks, Diahann Carroll, Susan Sarandon, Berry Gordy, Cindy Crawford and Tom Brokaw. Upcoming episodes of Where Are They Now? will feature Omarosa, rapper Bow Wow, Nadya "Octomom" Suleman, Dennis Rodman, Gennifer Flowers and Heidi Fleiss.
"She has reached a turning point ,where she is bringing relevance and ratings to OWN by leveraging her personal brand and contacts," Carlson says. "But even if you're Oprah, you have to work for an audience. Especially when you're channel 504."
Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com
Read the original story: The big 'get': What can Lance do for Oprah? A lot