Gay characters don't always cost TV ad dollars
April 9, 1997
Web posted at: 3:02 p.m. EDT (1902 GMT)
From Correspondent Jill Brooke
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Because of an episode of the TV comedy
"Ellen" in which its lead character "comes out" as a lesbian,
the Rev. Jerry Falwell has urged sponsors to abandon the
program. Some are listening, but gay characters don't always
mean little advertising.
Some big sponsors are not participating in the landmark
episode, set to air April 30. The show will mark the first
time a lead character in a television sitcom -- in this case
Ellen Morgan, played by Ellen Degeneres -- announces her
The decision from advertisers such as Chrysler not to
participate does not come as a surprise to advertising
"Many advertisers can live without 'Ellen' in their marketing
schedule since it is only a marginal hit," said ad exec Paul
Schulman. "If it was a top 10 show, demand would be greater
to be in it and people would look the other way more."
Big ratings can make a big difference. NBC found plenty of
sponsors to sign up for episodes featuring a gay romance in
"Friends." Advertisers didn't reject Fox's "Melrose Place" or
CBS' "Northern Exposure" despite scenes featuring gay
And while some advertisers were skittish about a kiss between
the star and Mariel Hemingway in "Roseanne," there were many
who embraced the show.
But "Ellen" has not drawn the numbers of viewers those
popular programs drew.
The show has, in fact, turned off many viewers like bad
breath. Gay and lesbian groups hope the new plot twist will
add fresh interest in the program, both among viewers and
"The gay and lesbian community is a growing vibrant consumer
group and (advertisers) shouldn't ignore that fact," says
Alan Klein of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against
Defamation, a media watchdog group.
Meanwhile, ABC doesn't appear to be desperate for
advertisers. The network has turned down sponsors for a
cruise line catering to the gay community as well as a
lobbying group wanting to protest job discrimination against
gay men and lesbians. The network explained that it doesn't
accept advocacy or political advertising.
In the 1980s, "thirtysomething" lost $1 million in
advertising for airing a scene between two men in bed. But
judging from the lack of a backlash against shows with gay
characters, public acceptance has increased over the years.
"We've had many gay characters in supporting roles," says
Schulman. "The thing that would turn 'Ellen' around is better
Ultimately, many believe ABC will fill the air time with
conventional ads despite the ground-breaking story line. The
question remains whether viewers -- and thus advertisers --
will revisit the show after "Ellen's" big coming out party.
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