1 9 9 4 – 1 9 9 8 (USA)
108 x 30 minute episodes
When this vehicle for Ellen DeGeneres debuted on ABC in March 1994 it was originally called These Friends of Mine (it was changed to Ellen after season one to avoid confusion with the show Friends) and Ellen Morgan simply managed the Buy the Book bookstore rather than owning it, as she later did. The shop eventually bit the dust in an earthquake and she ended up selling the rebuilt operation to the Tom and Larry Corporation and managing it again.
Pals Holly (Holly Fulger) and Anita (Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Maggie Wheeler) originally helped with the humour, dishing with Ellen about their love lives.
Come September, the show had a new name and Holly and Anita had gone. In their places were Spence (Jeremy Piven) and Audrey Penney (Clea Lewis), a salesgirl at Buy The Book who was addicted to the colour pink.
Ellen was now best friends with Paige Clark (Joely Fisher), a secretary at Tri Global Pictures (Paige is later a producer’s assistant and finally a development executive. Her first film project was The Long Engagement). Paige and Ellen met at camp at the age of ten. When Ellen admitted she was a lesbian, Paige was the first girl she kissed.
Ellen DeGeneres caused a stir with her decision to come out of the closet, but that was nothing compared to the decision to have her character on Ellen come out as well.
36 million viewers tuned in on 30 April 1997 to watch Ellen kiss guest star Laura Dern (pictured at right).
Fearing a boycott by conservative Christians, Wendy’s, Chrysler and JC Penney all pulled their ads from the show.
DeGeneres’ very public relationship with actress Anne Heche was also a source of criticism from both straights and gays and some called Heche’s sincerity into question – since she and Ellen had made their relationship public just days before Heche’s new film, Volcano, hit the multiplexes – and felt that her admission that she had “been straight before I met Ellen” only reinforced the image of homosexuals as predatory creatures.
As Ellen became more politicised and issue-oriented, it became less funny and the audience fell away. Low ratings and a continuing battle between the show’s producers and ABC over the show’s “gay content” contributed to the network’s decision to pull the plug after the 1998 spring season.
In 2008, DeGeneres married her long-term partner, Portia de Rossi, and later hosted a hugely popular light entertainment and talk show.