Hollywood Cashes in on the Lance Armstrong Drama
Movies, TV deals and books will test the post-Oprah-confession market.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In the wake of Lance Armstrong's admission to Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his quest to win a record seven Tour de France races, numerous projects about the controversial cyclist are popping up, including several books, a feature film and a long-in-the-works documentary.
The splashiest deal came the day after Armstrong's Jan. 17 televised confession on OWN, when Paramount and J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot acquired the rights to New York Times sportswriter Juliet Macur's forthcoming book Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong. (The book, for which HarperCollins reportedly paid a six-figure advance, is set to hit in June.)
Macur's book won't be the first or even the most important about the scandal to be published this year. Set to arrive Jan. 29 is Seven Deadly Sins by British sportswriter David Walsh, who has been tracking Armstrong's doping since the late '90s, even though the cyclist called him "the worst journalist I know" and a "f---ing troll" while using his lawyers to try to bully the writer into silence.
Also on tap is a documentary from Oscar winner Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room). Started as a complement to Frank Marshall's now-adrift biopic based on Armstrong's best-selling 2001 memoir It's Not About the Bike, Gibney followed the cyclist during his 2009 Tour de France comeback attempt when the then-37-year-old finished third. Now, after several delays -- caused in part by the revelations from former teammate Tyler Hamilton and reports from the Department of Justice and the World Anti-Doping Agency -- Gibney is set to finish in the next few months. He promises that the film (whose original title, The Road Back, likely will change) will address the "huge story" of the allegations, and he expects Armstrong to cooperate.
It's unclear whether Armstrong will write a book on the scandal; he has remained mum on the subject. For now, the tidal wave of potential lawsuits -- from litigants like The Times of London, which lost a libel case and wants its money back -- could make it difficult for him to provide the detail necessary for a book.
Still, the depth of the public's appetite for Armstrong projects is uncertain. Even though It's Not About the Bike (co-written with the Washington Post's Sally Jenkins) sold more than 1.2 million copies, according to BookScan, book agent Scott Waxman -- who had a surprise hit with Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams' Game of Shadows, probably the best-selling book about sports doping in the past 10 years -- thinks another Armstrong book would be a "tough sell after the confession." After all, his two-part sit-down with Winfrey, which drew 3.2 million viewers for the first installment, gave the public the one piece of information it cared about: his guilt.