Ellen is ready to "come out," but will the episode ever air?
Jamie Tarses, president of ABC entertainment, says an episode which reveals Ellen DeGeneres' character as a lesbian is being worked on. However she said it's "wait-and-see" whether the episode will be shown.
We are very seriously considering about going in the direction that everyone's speculating on," she told reporters at the semiannual Television Critics Association meeting.
However, Tarses said discussions are needed to determine how the show would evolve once the character comes out.
from "Spotlights", The Toronto Star - Monday January 13, 1997
Unlike Ellen co-star Joely Fisher, who dyed her hair from blonde to red at the insistence of the show's producers. Both she and star Ellen DeGeneres were blondes and they didn't want the viewers to confuse them. Duh!
Fisher says she is having more fun as a red head. She feels the image suits her own "big mouthed, wise-cracking New Yorker" persona.
Must have worked, she got the wedding ring.
Fisher, daughter of Eddie Fisher and Connie Stevens, did the down-the-aisle number with cinematographer Chris Duddy on New Year's Eve. Among the wedding guests, Carrie Fisher, Joely's half-sister from Eddie's liaison with Debbie Reynolds.
Talk about First Wives Club. Stevens and Reynolds are so tight, Stevens even subbed for Reynolds in her Vegas act while she was off filming the movie Mother and playing mother to John Goodman on an episode of Roseanne.
Reynolds has even made nice with Eddie's other ex, Liz Taylor, who'd snared him away from her when Taylor become The Widow Todd. In fact, Reynolds quipped that she had considered recruiting Taylor for Vegas also.
"Too bad Liz Taylor doesn't have an act," she lamented.
Could have fooled us.
from the weekly column, "And this just in..." in Starweek magazine - February 15 to 22 edition
Celebrities ranging from Demi Moore to Laura Dern to Billy Bob Thornton will make guest appearances during this episode to show their support for Ellen who plays Ellen on "Ellen."
These days this is what is called ``news.''
Ellen-time-three is the cover story on Time magazine this week. It was to be the cover story of Newsweek but was downgraded at the last moment to make way for ``this just in'' from the Heaven's Gate gang in Rancho Santa Fe. Newsweek's editors did run a six-page package in its ``Lifestyle'' section so as not to be ``scooped'' on the ``story'' by its competition.
Ellen DeGeneres's interview with Diane Sawyer for ``Prime Time Live'' will air soon, as will her interview with Oprah Winfrey. As it happens, both Sawyer and Winfrey are wholly owned subsidiaries of Disney, which owns ABC Television, on which ``Ellen'' appears. The show has been flagging in the ratings of late, so DeGeneres's decision to ``come out'' in advance of her character Ellen's ``coming out'' has created a special kind of synergy that allows Disney to use many of its moving parts to try to save the show from cancellation.
Syndication deals beckon, after all.
Meanwhile, everybody and their sister has opinions of this subject, all of which are entirely predictable. Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, thinks it's pathetic. The Reverend Jerry Falwell thinks it's a disgrace. Psychologist Mary Pipher thinks it's all to the good so long as it's not polarizing. And New York Times columnist Frank Rich thinks it's an act of courage but distrusts Disney's motives.
Advertisers are nervous. Should they or should they not sponsor the show? Chrysler and J.C. Penney decided to pass, but a gay cruise ship line saw it as a perfect vehicle for their message. This caused the suits at ABC/Disney to call many meetings to decide against gay cruise ship ads on this or any other episode of ``Ellen.'' Americans, they reasoned, loved Ellen, but they might not be ready for the Village People on the QE2.
All of this, in turn, will be subject of yet more ``news'' coverage leading up to the great event. People and Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide and USA Today will weigh in on the subject, as will every television critic in America, as will every trade magazine in the business, as will the major networks and cable outlets, as will every radio talk show from Boston to San Francisco. By the time the ``Ellen'' episode actually airs, most everyone in America will know that Ellen played by Ellen on ``Ellen'' is gay. And they'll have heard what the chattering classes think about that.
American popular culture gets more idiotic by the day. A week ago, Walt Whitman, the great American poet, ``came out'' on the CBS-TV drama ``Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.'' Dr. Quinn, played by Jane Seymour, attends to the great poet when he comes to Colorado Springs to recuperate from a stroke. Quinn finds Whitman delightful, but then hears ``rumors'' and is weirded out. Her husband, an enlightened mountain man named Sully, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the male model Fabio, teaches her that intolerance is bad.
``He's the same man he always was,'' says Sully-Fabio.
``What's changed is how folks look at him.''
Thus tutored, Dr. Quinn recognizes her homophobia for what it is and emerges a better and more enlightened person. I am not making this up. The only reason you didn't hear more about it is that Walt Whitman has been dead for a long time and dead gay poets don't have publicists. Had he been alive, God only knows what CBS would have done or what Time and Newsweek would have said. People have been gay since the beginning of time. People will be gay to the end of time. Do we need Disney and Fabio to tell us how to think about this? Do we need to know what Ellen, who plays Ellen on ``Ellen,'' thinks about this? Does anyone care what Jerry Falwell or Frank Rich thinks about this?
This leads to the larger question. Is this media-driven or audience-driven? If it's media-driven - a bunch of producers and publicists and editors and reporters hoping that gay issues move the merchandise - then it's harmless. Exploitation is probably not a sign of cultural health, but it is hardly unprecedented.
The scarier prospect is that all of this is audience-driven - that it is what we want to see and read and talk about. If that is the case, then stick the proverbial fork in American popular culture. We're cooked. John Ellis is a consultant at Rasky &Co.
The Boston Globe, April 12, 1997
Fax 617-929-2098, E-MAIL: email@example.com
In a poll taken recently for TV Guide, 63 percent of viewers who were aware of "Ellen" said they had little or no interest in watching the supposedly special coming-out episode.
And why should they? Their lack of interest probably has less to do with attitudes about homosexuality than with the tiresome manner in which the lesbian story line has been promoted.
The hype has been relentless since word leaked in September that Ellen Morgan, the bookstore manager played by Ellen DeGeneres, might acknowledge that she is a lesbian, becoming the first lesbian or gay lead character on television.
Magazines and newspapers tried to predict the public reaction; on talk shows, DeGeneres made coy jokes about her character being Lebanese and skated around the issue of her own sexuality. Finally, last week, she brought one part of this unsuspenseful story to a close by telling Time magazine that she is, indeed, a lesbian. Now the character Ellen is ready to announce what the world already knows.
Still, ABC and Touchstone, the company that produces the show, are working hard to give the decisive episode the aura of a show-business event. The hourlong episode is scheduled for April 30 (during the May sweeps period) and is loaded with guest stars.
DeGeneres' interview with Diane Sawyer, originally scheduled to run on ABC's "PrimeTime Live" April 23, has been moved to "20/20" on April 25; the interview will run during sweeps, which start April 24.
This manufactured "event" is full of double messages. Paradoxically, six months of news, speculation and hot air have made the show seem both more and less important than it really is.
Ellen Morgan's coming out reflects a changing middle-American attitude toward homosexuality. After all, by the time a network sitcom latches onto an issue, the show is merely validating what mainstream society already has absorbed, though cultural acceptance may still be uneasy.
There are nearly two dozen gay and lesbian characters in supporting roles on television this season, so the fanfare makes Ellen's decision seem more daring than it really is.
But while Ellen's coming out may be a minor landmark, it is a landmark nonetheless. Television's validation of social change is itself important, making new attitudes more solid and acceptable. The circus atmosphere surrounding "Ellen" has overwhelmed the message and made the character's declaration seem like just another sweeps-month stunt.
On one hand, the publicity machine has set up Ellen's coming-out as a comfy, middle-American experience, a ratings-grabber like Rhoda's wedding or the birth of Little Ricky.
Yet the presence of a star like Winfrey offers a kind of cushion. Winfrey's reassurance is necessary only if there is something to be nervous about in the first place. Embracing a lesbian character even while exhibiting skittishness, the network may be sending a more accurate signal about conflicted mainstream attitudes than it intended.
The producers' nervous approach may not be entirely about the show's subject. During its three-year run, "Ellen" has never risen above its status as a "Seinfeld" wannabe. It used to be an unfunny show about a bookstore manager; now it can be an unfunny show about a lesbian bookstore manager. With its mediocre ratings, "Ellen" had little to lose by declaring its heroine a lesbian.
The coming-out show itself (its script was made available in advance) is cautious, bordering on unbelievable. "I thought if I ignored it, it would just go away and I could have a normal life," Ellen tells the therapist. "And what is a normal life?" Winfrey's kindly therapist replies. It is Winfrey who finally tells the reluctant Ellen: "OK, Ellen, I'll say it. Good for you, you're gay." Winfrey offers many more positive lines about accepting homosexuality than Ellen Morgan does.
Nowhere is that truer than in broadcast television, a medium that by its very definition must try. Advertiser-supported and dependent on huge audiences to draw those advertisers, network TV can't afford to take chances.
It also can't afford not to take them.
Sure, we're a mixed-up country, with 260 million people, nearly all of whom, given a moment, would be able to identify themselves with one special interest or another.
We offend easily. But with broadcasters losing audience share to cable, and satellite services poised to offer niche programming to those whose oxen are particularly gore-prone -- there's the Conservative Television Network in the pipeline, not to mention the Recovery Network -- broadcasting can't afford to sit still, either.
Nothing about the April 30 coming-out party for network television's first starring gay character has been easy, and dealing with potential advertisers has been no exception.
First, there was the Human Rights Campaign, a lobbying group for gays and lesbians, which wanted to place a commercial about discrimination in the workplace during the big episode. No issues advertising, said ABC, citing a longstanding policy.
Then Chrysler, General Motors and Johnson & Johnson decided they'd rather not be associated with that particular episode. No problem, said ABC, confident that it would still find advertisers for all the commercial time available during the hourlong episode (which the network now says it has).
Then Olivia Cruises and Resorts, a California-based travel agency that caters to lesbians, wanted to buy a 15-second spot during the April 30 show to promote one of its cruises. And things got sticky.
``It's a gray area,'' ABC spokeswoman Anne Marie Riccitelli acknowledged Friday, before restating the network's official position: ``We will be looking at commercials that will be presented to us on a case-by-case basis, but we do not discuss reasons why we accept or reject ads on the network.'' Olivia Cruises' ad was rejected, however, and Riccitelli did hint at a reason: ``We try to keep the advertising broad-based.''
She has a point.
In an interview last week with the San Francisco Examiner, Olivia president Judy Dlugacz called the April 30 episode ``a golden opportunity'' for the company ``to reach an entire market we've been trying to reach for 20-something years.''
``We believe this entire market, which doesn't want to be easily identified, would be watching this show,'' Dlugacz said. She, too, has a point.
But Riccitelli's point is better. While Dlugacz's idea is smart marketing -- targeting a specific audience you know will be watching, in large numbers, at one particular time -- it is a niche strategy, and not one that could do anything for ABC, which still has to sell commercial time year-round, and not just for 15 seconds here and there.
The breakthrough that ABC and ``Ellen'' are making is an inclusive one, in which network television acknowledges, at last, that gays and lesbians are mainstream enough to be considered TV stars. The cruise that Olivia wants to advertise, by contrast, is exclusive. Unlike the 1994 Ikea ad that featured two men shopping for a table together as part of a larger campaign whose message was basically that all kinds of people shop for furniture, an ad for a lesbian travel agency suggests that some people choose to travel outside the mainstream.
But if the concept of broadcasting, rather than narrowcasting, is to survive, sooner or later we're all going to have to get in the same boat.
You can reach Ellen Gray by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by fax at 215-854-5852 or by mail at the Philadelphia Daily News, Box 7788, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.
The Human Rights Campaign, a large gay lobbying group, initially planned to mail 300 ``party kits'' to people hosting viewing parties for Ellen DeGeneres' show in their homes. But by last week the list had grown to 1,400, including more than 100 in the Bay Area. ``We can't ship them fast enough,'' said HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch.
More epicure, events and entertainment at eguide.
``I think it's great,'' said George Rosenfield, who with his partner Christopher Hoover is hosting an ``Ellen'' party for about 25 people in San Francisco. ``It's time television starts dealing with gay issues in a positive light. It's a start, and a great move forward by the TV industry.''
Other gay groups, including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, are encouraging members around the country to hold private parties that will become part membership drive and part national celebration of the April 30 airing.
GLAAD is also sponsoring big public viewing parties in major cities, including New York, Washington, Dallas, Chicago and even heartland cities such as Nashville and Kansas City, Mo. In Los Angeles GLAAD and HRC will co-host a showing at Girl Bar, a popular lesbian club, and ``Ellen'' cast members are expected to attend. In New Orleans a movie theater has been rented to air the show. In Dallas local gay groups are running a billboard campaign to coincide with the show.
Birch viewed the taping of the coming- out episode in Los Angeles and says she thinks it is superior to previous ``Ellen'' shows in content and acting. ``This is several cuts above what the show has delivered in the past,'' Birch said. `` `Ellen' takes on some definition and the characters around her emerge. It was right on the mark culturally, with a quality of writing that I don't think we've seen in the past. I laughed a lot, and people were actually teary in the audience.''
Etheridge, one of the most successful out entertainers, will make a guest appearance on the April 30 show. The coming out of Ellen Morgan, the lead character on the sitcom, has been discussed for months -- too many months, some cynics speculate. They suspect the show's sagging ratings may have had as much to do with the breakthrough as anything.
Regardless of ratings, the April 30 segment will be a milestone in American popular culture. No medium is more potent than television in shaping the public mind. An openly gay lead character on a prime-time sitcom could widen public acceptance of gays, just as Bill Cosby's starring role in ``I Spy'' beginning in 1965 helped soften public attitudes on race.
Last week, the comedian herself came out in an interview with Time magazine. DeGeneres said she never wanted to be a ``lesbian actress'' or a spokeswoman for the gay community. ``I did it for my own truth,'' she said.
Network officials are reluctant to spell it out, but they are hoping that after the initial flurry over the coming out dies down, ``Ellen'' will be still be seen as a mainstream comedy and not a ``lesbian show.'' ``We just want her to be gay and funny,'' one producer said.
Pro-family and religious groups hotly oppose the ``Ellen'' segment. ``Homosexuality exists in our society, but to glamorize it and attempt to make a joke out of something that is much more significant is an unfortunate choice for Disney,'' said Kristi Hamrick, spokeswoman for the Family Research Council.
The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of the ABC network and Touchstone television, the production company for ``Ellen.'' Some groups, including the Southern Baptists, are boycotting Disney. ``Disney is losing the loyalty of those people who have made it the entertainment giant that it is,'' Hamrick said. ``The `Ellen' show is not doing well in the ratings and was not going to survive. This particular change may add to its life for a short time, just for shock value, but Disney long- term will bear the brunt of this decision.''
The comedy show’s title character will reveal that she’s a lesbian in a special one-hour show. And star Ellen DeGeneres, who plays the title role, says in this week’s Time magazine that she is homosexual.
All of which has led to several controversial decision.
Chrysler and J.C. Penney have announced that they won’t buy time on the April 30 episode. Advertisements from two organizations -- the Human Rights Campaign lobbying group and Olivia Cruise Lines, which targets the gay community -- have been rejected by ABC. The network affiliate in Birmingham, Ala., will not air the episode.
Nothing so dramatic has happened here.
“We’ve had four or five telephone calls in the last couple of days, asking us to not run the episode,” WOI general manager Bill Bradley said Monday. “We’ve had two or three calls saying we should run it.”
He said he didn’t know if those callers were acting as individuals or representing organizations.
However, he said, there has been no internal debate about whether WOI should or shouldn’t put the show on the air. “There isn’t going to be any discussion, because we’re going to run it.”
The only local ad spots are 60 seconds at the start of the show, 30 seconds in the middle and 30 seconds at the end, Bradley said. “It’s pretty well sold out, and others have asked to buy the time, too,” he said.
According to USA Today, ABC turned down the Human Rights Campaign request for commercial time by saying that the network does not accept advocacy or political advertising, with the exception of presidential campaign ads.
The cruise line’s bid was refused because it was considered inappropriate for children.
"I don't mean to rain on people's parties," says longtime San Francisco gay activist Robert Bray. "I understand the importance of it. But here in San Francisco, we have a very unique way of looking at things."
Bray has organized the "Celebrity Liberation Front," an ad hoc group battling the "crass consumerism" it says has marked ABC's promotion of the April 30 outing of DeGeneres' character, Ellen Morgan.
"What I question is whether this is really about progressive social change or delivering a 33 percent market share to advertisers," said Bray, former media director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
DeGeneres came out in a recent Time magazine cover story.
While millions of viewers watch her character do the same next week, Bray and an undetermined number of his followers - "with tongue firmly planted in cheek" - will don liberation front T-shirts and celebrate "Allen" Day, in honor of the late poet Allen Ginsberg.
"Instead of an Ellen party, a bunch of us are going to get together and read from "Howl,"" said Bray, who unveiled the group Wednesday at a press conference in front of the Castro Theatre.
"I'm really sick of it already," said Salvatore Bovoso, 53, of San Francisco. "It's hard, because it's a political act being handled in such a commercial way. I definitely feel manipulated."
Bray, who said he's seen Ellen stickers with a line through them in two locations in the Castro, asserted, "We're reaching the saturation point. Talk to anyone and they'll roll their eyes. Even straights."
Others say the hype is worthwhile.
"If it heightens the awareness of the difficulties in both getting lesbian and gay characters on the screen and allowing lesbian and gay actresses and actors to be who they are, then the hype is worth it," said Brian Cheu, a discrimination representative at the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.
But Bray questioned what lesbians and gays are getting out of it.
Saying DeGeneres should go to "Celebrity 101 charm school, " he noted: "She spent most of the Time interview either distancing herself from gay activism or dissing gays and lesbians who don't fit the image she has in her mind - like dykes on bikes and drag queens. She should at least rise to the occasion and say something transformative."
"I definitely want to honor and appreciate what she's done," Timoner said. "But I also want to tell her, in a supportive way, to take the extra step, speak with pride about who we are."
Pamela Wyman, who is helping to organize an "Ellen" coming-out party at the Chat House, a new women-owned and -run cafe in San Francisco, saw it differently.
"Ellen represents herself," Wyman said. "I don't think she wants to come off and represent all dykes. I don't see her as being hugely political. But she's doing her part."
I don't know, is it just me? In the past few weeks some of my best hetero-as-can-be girlfriends have called me up to whisper, "I have a crush on my best friend" or "I'm obsessed with the idea of being with another woman."
It surprises them as much as me, and the only thing I can credit it to is how Ellen's recent public awareness has suddenly made women's relations more palatable.
My best friend in Manhattan is an office manager by day and an erotic dancer by night. "Men make me physically ill when they touch me now," Kim says, "I've been going home with a different woman every night and the sex is so much better, calmer, easier."
Then, there's a writer pal in Georgia who woke me up last week to say she's in love with her female therapist. She has no one to talk to about it. "Why are all the nice men gay?" she asks. She's been beaten up by her last three exes and sighs, "At least with a woman it's more of a fair fight."
And, a longtime friend Claire, with a daughter my age, is now asking me about girl clubs in WeHo. Problem is, she doesn't drink, she loves to dance and she's terrified of the bars she's walked past. After half a century of attraction to men, she yearns for the nurturing of another woman and says "my feeling toward women is stronger than anything I've ever felt."
"We're hearing that story a lot, bring her on over here," says a crusty spirited woman from the Coalition of Older Lesbians at The Center. "We'll take care of her."
Ellen-mania is catching. A pregnant friend queries if there's any significance to Lesbian News' nickname L-N sounding like "Ellen." My neighbor, pornstar Sharon Kane stars as "Ellen DeLesbian" in an all-girl video and she says the very limited lesbian genre in adult video is going gangbusters since Ellen's outing. Guy friends are going out in drag as "girlfriends." My best straight buddy from Kentucky laments that his love life is experiencing a "sexual nuclear winter" — he's not getting laid — and I told him I'd set up with my eligible bachelorette friends if I wasn't so afraid they'd become lesbians after dating him.
My sister lives in a small Indiana town with a baby after her husband left last year. She phones me this week while my nephew is bawling and confesses, "I'm so disinterested in men if there was a good woman nearby, I'd go for it. Why do I need to take care of another baby? In fact, I'm getting close to this girlfriend who has two kids—"
I drop the phone. Ellen's affecting everyone, and not only are all these women following Ms. Morgan's exploration of self-identification, but some are actually taking notes. They're watching the sitcom to see how she does it. They don't relate to the word bisexual, they hate men, some haven't taken the dive, but they're more open to it than ever.
Most shocking for me is my Mom, who lives in an old age complex in Florida. Mom's confused the L-word even before "Lebanese" jokes, thinking that all women who liked other women also have dark complexions. And being Dutch, she can never figure out why they were called "dikes." When I first told Mom that "Ellen" might be "coming out" she thought it meant she's moving to L.A.
"Just because she wears pants doesn't mean she's lesbian, I mean, I wear pants," protests Mom protests, who thinks "Ellen" is the funniest show on television. "I really identify with her, I like her, but I'm NOT a lesbian. After all, I have two kids."
Now that Ellen's fully out, Mom muses, "I can see how women are more fun. Men and women think differently. I made my best friend dinner last night and we talked about her boyfriend, and she couldn't figure out what she gets out it. Nothing!"
My Mom, who only recently has dealt well with my sexuality, now admits, "If I would have found a woman like her 30 years ago, things would be very different for me. I never realized—"
I had to call Dad. They live a mile away and still fight daily after being divorced for more than a decade. He always has words of wisdom. "It's all a fad," says Dad. "Ladies want companionship, want you to take them out to dinner, take care of them, and then they won't put out. So what have they got to offer?"
He always has a way of putting things into persepective. He's "had" his share of women, but he says, "Afterward, they're not interested in sex anymore. So what the hell are they good for then?"
Dad "dates" a massage therapist 20 years younger than him. "They get old, lose their looks and still think they're God's gift to mankind, but we have the pick of the litter. They don't have any choice but to go after other women."
Just before deadline, Dad calls to say, "Hey, when ratings drop, I bet this Ellen DeGenerate (that's what he calls her) is going to find a good man and settle down. Maybe I should start a group that helps straighten up all those women confused by Ellen."
Maybe not, Dad.
Right away it's clear that, despite this star's unquestioned appeal, the show just isn't working. The formula is tinkered with. Supporting players are fired and hired.
The next year, there are more changes. Even more the year after that. Five rocky seasons pass. By now it's 1973. Still half-baked, ``The Doris Day Show'' disappears.
History suggests that, after a brief probationary period, fate pronounces a TV series a turkey, no matter what it's stuffed with. As Doris Day would put it, ``que sera sera.''
This is worth pondering as the world awaits the umpteenth, likely doomed-to-failure overhaul of ``Ellen.'' Zero hour is Wednesday at 9 p.m. EDT on ABC (parental rating is TV-14), when the sitcom's title character, Ellen Morgan, will declare herself gay on a special hour-long episode we've all heard so much about, we could swear we've already seen it. What else do we know?
--This broadcast will surely take its place as a TV event of monumental proportions. No TV character has ever made such a disclosure, then, reconfigured with a brand-new sexual identity, resumed life a week later as the series' driving force.
--Another thing we can count on is more heat from the ``family values'' kingpins, to whom, at least in the short-term, a handful of affiliates and advertisers will kowtow.
For instance, season-long ``Ellen'' sponsor Chrysler has dropped out of this week's broadcast. Despite touting ``the new Dodge -- it's about change,'' the automaker seems to feel the new Ellen represents a little too much change.
--We know that this week's big step by Ellen Morgan will bring her into synch with Ellen DeGeneres, the series' star.
There's no way we couldn't know. In a three-pronged publicity attack (her recent Time magazine ``Yep, I'm Gay'' cover story, last Friday's ``20/20'' interview with Diane Sawyer, and Wednesday's appearance on ``The Oprah Winfrey Show''), DeGeneres is coming out, too.
--And we can be sure that ``Ellen's'' bold move will continue to be hailed by the gay and lesbian community, which threw its support behind the notion from the moment it was leaked to the press last fall.
A TV show exploring ``the full and funny complexity of our love would be a first,'' writes Sarah Pettit, editor of Out magazine, in its current issue. Who could blame her for being pleased? But Pettit is expecting a lot from a TV series. Especially ``Ellen.''
After all, how many shows have what it takes to dramatize ``the full and funny complexity'' of even the most mainstream, heterosexual love? Or, for that matter, of anything? What would lead Pettit, or any other viewer, to expect a dependably feeble show like ``Ellen'' to excel at what other series seldom if ever even attempt?
Since it premiered three years and a month ago, ``Ellen'' has gone through concepts and cast members, writers and producers, with numbing regularity. For most of that time, its ratings have remained in the mediocre mid-range (for total viewers season-to-date, it's currently ranked 42nd place).
Through it all, Ellen Morgan has remained an enigma. Up to now, she has been a wistful, over-eager puppy dog of a character. A failure with men, with no comprehension why. A sitcom android who seemed to have no mission beyond giving Ellen DeGeneres a steady gig.
To finally establish Ellen Morgan as a lesbian is to explain ``Ellen's'' senselessness. This new piece of the puzzle tells us that she was as much a mystery to herself as she was to the viewers.
Fine. But what will this revelation have to do with being funny? Declaring Ellen Morgan gay provides new storytelling opportunities. But it also raises the storytelling stakes. This week, ``Ellen'' becomes the most ambitious sitcom on the air, perhaps ever -- yet it consistently has failed at the one thing any sitcom ought to do: make us laugh.
Dual announcements that the Ellens Morgan and DeGeneres are gay may be a good thing for advancing social tolerance. They may help the larger population grasp what a gay person faces when going public.
But lesbian, left-handed or Lebanese, it doesn't matter. ``Ellen'' wasn't funny in its past incarnations. Odds are, it won't be funny in the future.
To borrow an old show-biz quip: Coming out is easy; comedy is hard.