ELLEN PLANNING TO COME OUT OF THE CLOSET
Sources: New York Times News Service, 1997-JAN-11; Associated Press,
Ellen DeGeneres, a lesbian in real life, is the lead character in a TV comedy show
Ellen. At the start of the 1996-1997 TV season, word leaked out that she
would come out as a lesbian on the show. She dropped a few hints during various
episodes, and almost came out to a friend, her parents and her therapist. She has
been a visitor on a number of other shows, including David Letterman, The Rosie
O'Donnell Show, and The Larry Saunders Show where she joked about the
idea of her character revealing her sexual orientation. Considerable opposition
was expressed by conservative religious leaders who felt that the US was not ready
for a homosexual lead character. [One is forced to wonder exactly when the country
would be ready, if not now].
The show went off the air for 6 weeks, starting on MAR-4, and be replaced with
a new, unnamed comedy starring Arsenio Hall. During this period, Ellen, the producers,
the ABC network and Walt Disney Company reviewed the show material that has been
prepared for her "coming-out" episodes. Jamie Tarses, president of ABC
Entertainment, said: We are seriously considering going in the
direction that everyone has been talking about. We are all taking this
pretty seriously. It just has to be done very well. It can't be just
another episode of television."
Various industry sources reported that Ellen's "coming out program"
will be scheduled for 1997-APR-30. This may have been timed to coincide with the
"May Sweeps", a major pubic opinion poll of TV programs during which
networks are rated. Hollywood Reporter on FEB-14 reported only one
hitch: "The final thumbs-up on Ellen's outing depends on ABC and Disney
execs approving a script, which has not yet been submitted."
The Associated Press reported in 1997-MAR-3 that ABC will broadcast a
show on April 30 that will have Ellen talk to a therapist about her
attraction to a lesbian. Oprah Winfrey will play the role of the
therapist; Laura Dern will play Ellen's love interest. Reaction to ABC's
announcement was mixed:
|Chastity Bono, spokeswoman for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against
Defamation said "I think it's going to be a very positive event
for the gay and lesbian community." |
|Rev. Donald Wildmon, head of the American Family Association
has threatened to organize an advertiser boycott if "Ellen" comes
out. [As a general rule, we have noted that conservative Christian groups have
no objections to gays and lesbians being shown in unsympathetic roles
(e.g. homicidal maniacs). But they become very distressed when they are
portrayed accurately, as decent, likable characters.] |
|On 1997-MAR-26, the Boston Globe's Names & Faces column described Jerry Falwell's
comments on "Ellen". He urged people attending a conservative conference in Albany to
write letters of complaint to General Motors, Chrysler, and Johnson & Johnson's urging
them to stop sponsoring the program. |
|The 1997-APR-14 issue of Newsweek commented that the show was beginning to
get stale. At one point, the producers suggested to the TV network that
Ellen get a puppy. This became an inside joke when the coming out show
became known as the "Puppy Episode". Disney rejected the first draft of
the show because it was focused on how Ellen's friends reacted to her
disclosure. When re-written, it dealt mainly with Ellen's own feelings
There will be cameo appearances by Demi Moore, Billy Bob Thornton and by
some lesbian friends: Melissa Etheridge and k. d. lang. |
|On 1997-APR-13, the American Family Association issued an AFA ACTION ALERT bulletin about
the show. They were "pleased to announce to our AFA team that Mr. Jerry Heilman, ABC's
WBMA President and General Manager in Birmingham, has taken the [moral] high road...".
WMBA will not be airing the Ellen episode. The AFA included an Associated Press article. ABC
has not heard whether any of its other 222 affiliates will censor the show. WBMA first asked
for permission to air the show at 11:30 PM rather than the normal time of 8 PM, but the network
would not allow it. Kim Mills of the Human Rights Campaign complained, stating that
"The viewing public can make its own decision on whether to watch this episode or not."
The AFA applauded WBMA saying "I think it's great news that an ABC affiliate has chosen not
to go along with Disney and ABC's big celebration of lesbianism."
But Birmingham will not be completely blacked out. The AFA mentioned that the Birmingham
Pride Alabama and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation plan to show the
episode at the Alabama Theater by satellite feed.
WBMA has also set up an Email address for comments. Send your comments to:
|On 1997-APR-14, a New York Times column by Frank Rich was reprinted in the Globe
and Mail, a Toronto ON newspaper. He referred to a parallel between this show and the
"I Spy" series of 1965; Bill Cosby was the first black lead in TV history. He concluded:
"The extent to which that act [of 'coming out'] makes a difference in the lives
of today's young and frightened gay Americans will determine whether it is a landmark in the
history of cultural civil rights or of show-business hype.
|Also on APR-14, a Globe and Mail TV reviewer, John Cuff, wrote:|
difficult to stifle a sense of outrage when some self-righteous, Bible-packing demagogue
denounces DeGeneres just because she likes to have sex with women, something that about half
the population - including heterosexual red-neck preachers - loves to do.
This foofaraw over a gay woman is merely indicative of how conflicted and deeply repressed
US culture remains after more than two centuries. Any culture that sanctifies gun ownership,
routinely exploits murder and mayhem, worships the money and affluence gained in part by the
brutal exploitation of the labour forces of developing countries and then gets its knickers in
a knot over women making love to women or men making love to men, is deeply sick and in need
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