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Come out already! Media hype turning off some 'Ellen' fans

April 21, 1997
Web posted at: 5:20 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Sherri Sylvester

HOLLYWOOD (CNN) -- It's almost impossible to miss Ellen DeGeneres these days.

From Letterman to Leno to online chat rooms, DeGeneres is everywhere.

Pick up a magazine -- Time, Newsweek or TV Guide -- they're all filled with news of DeGeneres' self-named sitcom character becoming the first gay lead actor in TV history.

"Are you sick of me? (Because) I'm sick of me," DeGeneres says in character on "Ellen."

Daniel Howard Cerrone of TV Guide says the "Ellen" phenomenon may be part of a media cycle.

"It only happens, I'd say, every two or three years where one television event crystallizes the entire media," he says.

And as usually occurs, other celebrities are joining in on the discussions.

"I just want to meet Ellen DeGeneres," says Hollywood mega- star Julia Roberts.

Ed McMahon jokes, "It's been the most publicized coming-out since the arrival of the Queen Mary the first time in New York."

Angela Lansbury, however, expresses dismay.

"I'm amazed that they've given it so much hype," she says. "I'm sorry that they had to use it to get an audience because I think it's a very personal thing."

Fans even faced off on Oprah, taking talk-show host Winfrey to task for playing Degeneres' therapist on the episode. The real-life Ellen, who's coming out herself, has granted interviews to Winfrey and ABC's Diane Sawyer in the days leading up to the April 30 airing.

"I feel really good about it," DeGeneres told CNN. "I'm sorry people had to wait so long."


Some say the wait has been made longer by the extended media hype.

"The publicity campaign for this show has dragged out for so long that people have simply lost interest," Cerrone says.

In fact, TV Guide conducted a survey among "Ellen" watchers that found 63 percent of Americans who are familiar with the show have little or no interest in watching the hyped episode.

Still, according to the show's director, the studio audience attending the show's taping gave it a standing ovation.

"I've never had an audience response so true and so emotional. When you hear the show on the air, which we did not sweeten, by the way, you will hear not just applause and laughter and tears, you will hear screams," says "Ellen" director Gil Junger.

Cast and crew spent months finessing the script.

"I really wanted every sentence and every emotion in the play to ring true," Junger adds. "I wanted the audience to feel what Ellen was feeling. That pain, that fear of rejection, the struggle and the joy when she finally admits to herself and others that she's gay."

But critics wonder whether the show is being aired simply for ratings in the intensely competitive May sweeps or for purer reasons.

"Of course it was done for ratings," said Jack Kenny, producer/writer for "Caroline in the City." "If they didn't do it for the ratings, they're idiots."

"Ellen" is currently 32nd in the ratings. ABC has not yet committed to the series for next season.


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