(USA TODAY) - The media buildup to Oprah Winfrey's interview with Lance Armstrong is growing so large it's difficult to tell which of the two stands to benefit more.
Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse, thinks it's Winfrey.
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"This shows she still gets the big interview," Thompson told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. "A lot of people are going to find, for the first time, where OWN is on their cable box. And that's very important for a fledgling channel."
There is much to gain for Armstrong, as well. "For Lance, it will appear he's starting the road to punishment and redemption because it'll look like he's paying a price," Thompson said. "But Oprah seems an Earth Mother type, so it's a safe way to go."
The Armstrong interview will run Thursday and Friday at 9 p.m. ET, one night more than planned, on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. Winfrey's low-rated cable channel seems certain to get a big boost from high interest in what the stripped seven-time Tour de France winner has to say after years of denying that he used performance-enhancing drugs.
Winfrey, appearing on CBS This Morning on Tuesday, said it was the biggest interview of her career. That's saying a lot, given that her popular syndicated show boasted many blockbuster interviews over its 25-year run -- including one with Michael Jackson in 1993, when Jackson hadn't granted an interview in 14 years.
David Walsh, who chased the Lance Armstrong doping story vigorously for years, is among those anxious to see the interview, but the chief sportswriter for the London Sunday Times is taking a wait-and-see approach.
"I'm not surprised he's confessing, but it's better to wait until it's played out in full" on OWN, Walsh told USA TODAY Sports. " We've all seen confessions that are convincing, and confessions that may not be as convincing."
OWN, a joint venture between Winfrey's production company and Discovery Communications, debuted on Jan. 1, 2011. It is in about 80 million cable/satellite TV households out of a total of roughly 100 million such households; about 16 million more TV households do not have cable or satellite.
Last year, OWN averaged about 330,000 viewers in prime time, compared to about 650,000 for CNN and 1.9 million for Fox News, according to Pew Research.
Before Winfrey did the interview, Walsh's Sunday Times bought a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune -- Winfrey lives in Chicago -- to suggest 10 questions she should ask.
"We wanted to make sure she knew what some of the important questions were so she couldn't claim afterward that she didn't know," said Walsh, a co-author of Lanced: The Shaming of Lance Armstrong.
The Sunday Times lost a libel suit over Walsh's coverage and Walsh wrote in a postscript to his 10 questions in The Tribune: "The Sunday Times is seeking to recover about $1.5m (million) it claims he got by fraud. He used Britain's draconian libel laws against us."
Walsh does not join the chorus of critics that had questioned Winfrey's ability to conduct a rigorous interview: "From everything we heard -- and in her promotions she said she read my book -- she gives the sense of an interviewer who wanted to do her job."
Walsh said newspapers and TV networks that might be critical of Winfrey after the interview runs should look back at their coverage of Armstrong over the last decade, and longer, before casting stones.
Winfrey's celebrity confessional with Armstrong is her second big "get" this month. Her interview with David Letterman about his workplace affairs made headlines across the country. This one is making them around the world.
Interest might be even greater in countries with avid cycling fans than in the USA, where even many Armstrong fans had little interest in cycling when he wasn't racing.
"It is certainly a global story," Walsh said. "I have a sense of how big it is in the UK, in Ireland, in continental Europe, in Australia, in New Zealand, in South Africa. These are all English-speaking countries where people are calling me. Dutch TV called me."
Elizabeth Hillman, a spokeswoman for Discovery Communications International, said the Armstrong interviews will be offered on various Discovery Channels overseas when they first run, or on tape-delay, or both.
Hillman did not have a total household number for Discovery channels worldwide but said they cumulatively reach 217 countries. The Armstrong interviews will be streamed - shown online - at 9 p.m. ET each night, when they first run, and at 9 p.m. PT when they run on the West Coast. Anybody, anywhere, can watch either time.
Winfrey, in her magazine, explained why she started OWN after she ended her syndicated talk show: "I started to feel that, 'Gee, television has lost its mind.' There's no mindfulness there anymore. You used to be able to watch shows and come away with something - like my favorite program growing up, The Andy Griffith Show."
Hard to imagine what Andy would have told Opie about Lance.