This week marks the 20-year anniversary of "The Puppy Episode", the now-famous two-part episode of Ellen DeGeneres' ABC sitcom where her character - and afterward, the real DeGeneres - chose to come out as gay publicly.
She's done more than nearly anyone to make America comfortable with the LGBT community, and "The Puppy Episode" is what started it all. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, ABC executive Stuart Bloomberg said, "As the show became more politicized and issue-oriented, it became less amusing and audiences noticed". I suddenly said, "Why am I being, you know, ashamed of who I am just to be successful and famous in society's eyes?". DeGeneres came out in an episode of the show and it was so inspirational, The Ellen Show brought Oprah Winfrey and a few other special guest stars who appeared on the episode. Oprah played Ellen Morgan's therapist who talks her through realizing she's gay, while Dern played the woman who awakens Ellen's interest, Susan. "But we still have a long way to go to make sure everybody has the right to be who they are". While I'd engaged in a couple of sapphic encounters prior to meeting her, at just 18, I eschewed, even recoiled from labeling whatever it was we were. The drafts were locked in safes, DeGeneres told the Associated Press, and shredded at the end of each day. "It was like we were spies or something". She came out in real life on the April 14 cover of TIME magazine. Ellen said that she had rarely had the occasion to say "I'm gay" out loud before and during rehearsal, she'd burst into tears every time. To celebrate the occasion, today's episode of DeGeneres' talk show is dedicated to "The Puppy Episode", and it's a fascinating look at not only all the criticism, backlash, and even death threats DeGeneres received for the episode but how her bravery paved the way for gay equality and acceptance in the USA on TV and beyond - something that was not at all common when the episode aired in 1997.
Ellen DeGeneres has opened up about how she had a breakdown on set whilst filming an iconic episode of her sitcom in which she came out.
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"Nobody's ever ready. You can't just wait for America to be ready for things, and that's how we effect change". "I lost everything, and I got to be stripped of everything and start over again". The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson host was so impressed with her stand-up routine, he offered her the rare opportunity for a one-on-one, something that only happened to a half-dozen first-time guests. But my sexuality is as much a part of me as my skin color.
You can see the original episodes free here. But I felt her influence, as many straight and queer people have.
Variety summed it up this way: Climaxing a season of swelling anticipation, Ellen Morgan (the bookstore-managing alter ego of Ellen DeGeneres) finally acknowledges her lesbianism tonight in an Ellen hour that represents televisions most-hyped coming out since Little Ricky came out of Lucy 44 years ago..