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You can't snow the snowman
Count me among the few lost souls who had very little interest in watching doping Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey.
It's not that I find the whole sorry saga uninteresting. It's just that beyond the cheating, beyond the lying, and beyond the hardly surprising softball questions from the Queen of Talk, lies the real essence of what that worldwide exclusive was really all about: Manipulation in its purest, slickest form.
And not only manipulation on the part of the cheating cycling champion, his team of attorneys and the bevy of public relations experts, but shameless manipulation for an increase in ratings by Oprah's still-growing network.
In the end, 4,3 million American viewers tuned in to watch Armstrong's admission that he used performance-enhancing substances, a jaw-dropping second only to "Oprah's Next Chapter" episode in March last year featuring the late songstress Whitney Houston's daughter, Bobby Kristina. That episode was watched by 3.5 million people.
In her heyday, Oprah WAS America: Very big and very bold. Her televised chat show became the prototype therapy session for aggrieved members of the public. She would listen, mediate, shed a tear or two, and then invite in the professionals to magic away the mess. In essence, her programme became the conscience of America, the sine qua non of confessional TV.
But for the television icon who was used to being top dog, it must have come as somewhat sobering news to learn that her Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) cable TV channel had plummeted to 73rd in the cable television ratings in July 2011 among its target audience. Only ranked 45th in the first quarter of that year, the further ratings drop revealed that OWN was in disturbing free fall.
Adding insult to injury, Ms Winfrey who had been number one in the ratings for a quarter of a century with her daytime talk show, was now stone last among all women-focused cable networks.
So, what is a girl quickly becoming yesterday's news - and a disgraced former athlete - to do? Call it a wrap? Not on your nelly! Everyone knows that there's nothing like a good dose of self-indulgence combined with a controlled public relations stunt to drive up one's declining ratings.
However, you need a carefully chosen celebrity interview to pull this off. Enter the questioningly repentant Lance Armstrong. Oh yes - there may be the real risk that interviews like these will come across as more staged than genuine, but hey, if it makes good television, who actually cares? I mean, let's face it. A confession under oath at an appropriate tribunal or before the blinding glare of news cameras would be, by comparison, not nearly as captivating.
Sometimes, all it takes to re-establish credibility and resurrect public image is Spin - especially when you make it accessible to the ordinary man.
Janine Lazarus Media Consultancy's press office
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