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'Ellen': Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish

'Ellen': Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish
by L. Brent Bozell III
April 28, 1998

It's a rite of spring in Hollywood when the television networks unveil their schedules for the next season. ABC won't announce its fall lineup until May 19, but this much we do know: "Ellen" will not be part of it. Hallelujah. Cancellation of the lesbianfest had been foreseen long ago, but ever mindless about public opinion, the Disney-owned network refused, until now, to admit what a disaster this show had become.

What a difference a year makes. In April and May of '97, "Ellen," and Ellen DeGeneres, were on a roll.

After months of hokey will-she-or-won't-she promotion, DeGeneres and her character, Ellen Morgan, triumphantly stepped out of the closet, to the wild applause of the militant homosexual community. The coming-out episode drew strong ratings, primarily from a voyeuristic, mildly amused public - but now what? Having made the plunge, "Ellen" stayed on message with increasingly gay-oriented storylines, and the audience, which was never loyal to the show - evaporated. In other words, "Ellen" in the closet proved to be more popular than "Ellen" out. Imagine that.

After the series was officially axed, DeGeneres was fairly restrained in her comments, but executive producer Tim Doyle wasn't. After conceding the obvious-that "there was a segment of the audience that definitely ran away from the show because of the gay material" - Doyle ripped into his show's benefactor. ABC, he asserted, "could have... made 'Ellen' into a cultural phenomenon, but instead, they justified people's bigotry." Lost on Mr. Doyle is that making "Ellen" into a "cultural phenomenon" is precisely what ABC tried to do. The problem was that the public, by the millions, responded by hitting the channel changer on the remote. Those blasted heterosexuals: There they go again.

Then there was Doyle's declaration that "there's a group of older people that will never accept [homosexuality], but there are a lot of empty cemeteries, and when they're filled, the world will be more tolerant." Now, there's a new marketing strategy.

Apparently those of us currently living are expected not only to tolerate but also to simply accept flippant treatment of immoral behavior. An "Ellen" promo last fall, broadcast during "Monday Night Football," featured DeGeneres quipping, "If you enjoy watching people of the same sex pat each other on the bottom, you might want to check out my show." ABC was flooded with angry phone calls from parents upset by seeing homosexual content within a program watched by many youngsters. I'm not sure which is more amazing: that network executives could be so hopelessly naive as to not realize the damage they would cause themselves, or so arrogant as not to care.

Far worse than the promo, of course, was the strident propaganda of the series itself. The February 25 installment, for example, centered on a character's dream of a society in which homosexuals were the majority. As Ellen and a straight male friend, Spence, watch television, they hear, "Tonight on 'Nightline': Heterosexuals in the military, yea or nay? Ted Koppel interviews Speaker of the House Candace Gingrich. Also, we'll meet Herb and Jim Stump, two of the many World War II veterans that found love on the beaches of Normandy." Later, Ellen, Spence, and their gay friend Peter are in front of an art gallery. Peter, looking in the window, remarks, "Is this their idea of art? A painting of a little boy kissing a little girl?" Spence interjects, "That's not art, that's pornography," and Ellen adds, "Who is this Norman Rockwell anyway?"

C'mon, people, laugh. That was funny. (Now do you understand why this moronic series was canceled?)

In a November episode, guest star Emma Thompson said, "Let's go out and terrify some Baptists," alluding to the Southern Baptist Convention's boycott of Disney/ABC. That line touches on the cause of the downfall of "Ellen." The show's purpose this season was not to entertain, but rather to "educate" (or, failing that, insult) the family audience - just like another now-defunct ABC series, "Nothing Sacred." With both of these obnoxious efforts off the air, there may yet be hope for this web.

On May 13, "Ellen" will say goodbye with a one-hour episode featuring such guest stars as Jennifer Aniston, Ted Danson, Phil Donahue, Linda Ellerbee, Woody Harrelson, and Helen Hunt. In other words, we must ride out one more wave of hype before the series is gone forever. It won't be fun, but remember: no pain, no gain.