Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ellen DeGeneres: America's real new idol

One wonders if Ellen DeGeneres isn't holding back an "I told you so" or two these days. Who could blame her.

It wasn't that long ago, 13 years, when pop culture pundits were suggesting that her public coming out, her heartfelt admission of her homosexuality on The Oprah Winfrey Show, almost killed her career.
After years of working the comedy circuit, in clubs in hometown New Orleans and then around the country, and after landing an unprecedented (for a female comedian) sit-down on The Johnny Carson Show, DeGeneres hit prime time in 1994, charming American viewers on her sitcom Ellen.

Then came the 1997 Oprah confession (Winfrey subsequently played her therapist when Ellen uncloseted herself in an episode on her show), and while viewers were initially drawn to the public drama of a Hollywood celebrity coming out — a revelation that wasn't as common or acceptable then as it is now, especially for a woman -- the show took a dive in the ratings, and was cancelled in 1998.

DeGeneres returned to standup and, in 2001, rebounded in prime time with The Ellen Show, a sitcom where she openly portrayed a lesbian. The show lasted only a year, and many a critic opined that it was a nice try but conservative middle America just wasn't ready for a loud and proud lesbian TV star.
Funny though, how times change, how social mores have evolved on the small screen, and how sexuality has become less of an issue in Hollywood (although Adam Lambert would rightly suggest there's work still to be done).

But the door was ajar and, in 2003, DeGeneres stepped through it as the host of a crisp new daytime talk show. Today, The Ellen DeGeneres Show is not only a ratings winner but it has turned the once-spurned comedienne into a beloved mainstream star.


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