Sports

Lance Armstrong Will Follow Michael Jordan in the ESPN Lineup

Lance Armstrong turned out to be an unworthy successor to Greg LeMond. Don’t expect the two-part ESPN documentary on the disgraced Tour de France champion to be portrayed as a worthy successor to Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan.

ESPN announces its next big projects

ESPN has announced its next three 30 for 30 documentaries that will air on Sundays after the conclusion of The Last Dance, the 10-part series on the Chicago Bulls of the Michael Jordan era.

Leading off will be Lance, a two-part look at the rise and fall of champion cyclist Lance Armstrong, who ultimately was stripped of the seven consecutive Tour de France titles he won beginning in 1999. The episodes are scheduled to air on May 24 and 31.

On June 7, ESPN will show Be Water, a look at martial arts legend Bruce Lee, who died in 1973 at the age of 32.

The Lance Armstrong and Bruce Lee documentaries were screened earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival.

On June 14 comes Long Gone Summer, which chronicles the 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs. Both eclipsed Roger Maris’ single-season record for homers, with McGwire setting the MLB record that was later shattered by Barry Bonds.

ESPN began promoting the documentaries last fall without announcing the broadcast schedule. With live sports on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, ESPN has locked in the dates in the hope of capitalizing on the success of The Last Dance, which has attracted an average of 5.8 million viewers per episode.

Lance Armstrong won’t get the Michael Jordan treatment

ESPN’s Lance Armstrong documentary was produced under a different set of circumstances than The Last Dance, so the disgraced cyclist didn’t get to lay down some of the rules that Michael Jordan was able to negotiate.

Jordan had to sign off on releasing the footage from the 1997-98 season that the documentary producers used in the 10-part, 10-hour series. He also reportedly demanded final say on footage from the more than 100 other interviews, and his own production company had a role in making the documentary.

Lance director Marina Zenovich is believed to have had unfettered control of the project. Her previous work included documentaries on director Roman Polanski, and comics Robin Williams and Richard Pryor. She also did Fantastic Lies, the acclaimed ESPN 30 for 30 examination of the rape allegations against Duke lacrosse players in 2006.

‘Lance’ is a story of triumph and disgrace

ESPN viewers have been given fresh insight into Michael Jordan long after his retirement as an active player. Some of what has been disclosed is unflattering, but Jordan hasn’t had to deal with accusations of cheating his way to six NBA championships.

On the other hand, cancer survivor Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France cycling titles based on doping allegations, so much the Lance audience will go into the two-part documentary with a negative opinion of Armstrong, unlike fellow American and three-time champ Greg LeMond. Based on reviews following the screening of director Marina Zenovich’s film at Sundance, what viewers see isn’t likely to change those perceptions.

The Hollywood Reporter’s review says the cyclist “leaves plenty of room for whatever the next Lance Armstrong documentary happens to be, because he’s still halfway between victimhood and martyrdom in his own mind.”

Later, the reviewer adds, “Armstrong remains as cocky and confident as ever and is completely unable to avoid phrasing that makes him sound like a victim of fate and circumstance. Zenovich falls into the camp that says that as bad as his lies might have been, they don’t nullify the positive impact of the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the doc is probably persuasive on that front.”