Audiences debate Ellen's coming out
May 1, 1997
Web posted at: 4:01 p.m. EDT (2001 GMT)
From Correspondent Sherri Sylvester
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- After months of speculation and a
seemingly endless media frenzy, the character Ellen Morgan
finally spoke words rarely heard during prime time: "I'm
No lead character in a prime-time TV show had ever come out
to viewers. The episode scored a 26.5 rating and 37 share in
Nielsen Media Research's overnight measurements.
Listeners in Los Angeles and New York, gathered at two of six
"Come out with Ellen" parties sponsored by the Gay and
Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, applauded the show.
"You did a great job, Ellen," said one New York woman.
"I think they showed the humor to the straight people of the
world, how silly it sounds when they say things to us," said
another woman at the New York party.
Meanwhile, a man in Los Angeles found the way they deal with
the issue "very sensitive, and something I can actually talk
to my mom and dad about because they watched it too."
More than 2,000 paying guests attended a party in Birmingham,
Alabama, to watch the show via satellite, after the local ABC
affiliate refused to air the episode. On this night, men
handed out religious pamphlets even as guests gathered in the
Birmingham City Auditorium.
The Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition,
who watched from his home in conservative Orange County,
California, supported the Birmingham affiliate's decision.
"You don't want to put in a child's mind this gay-affirming
role model and that's what Ellen did tonight, it
gay-affirmed. It said to them, hey, this is great, let's
experiment," Sheldon said.
"It's like the whole thing is written just to satisfy the gay
In Waco, Texas, Pastor Kenneth Moerbe of St. Matthew's
Lutheran Church suggested the show served a purpose. "If
there's something here that helps all of us to better
understand our own sexuality, then I think that can be
helpful," he said.
Another Waco clergyman, Associate Pastor Bob Morris of
Meadowbrook Baptist Church, disagreed, implying that the show
was too confrontational. "She's saying I'm a homosexual and
I don't have a problem with that. You do, deal with it," he
Times have changed. ABC lost $1 million in advertising
revenue when the "thirtysomething" show depicted two gay men
in bed. Seven years later, there are sponsors for "Ellen"
and they reportedly paid more than $300,000 for each
Chrysler was one company that opted not to buy commercial
time. "We're not on a crusade to change morals in this
country as a company. As individuals we may well be, but as
a company that's just not our role," said Robert Eaton, the
chairman of the Chrysler Corp.
But talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey had no problems with
appearing on the episode. Playing a psychologist, she asks
DeGeneres' character after her announcement, "So what are you
gonna do now?"
"I'm going to Disneyland," Ellen replied.
Disney, which owns ABC, took heat for committing to the
controversial episode. And although the ratings were solid
for the episode, for the season, the show has been a ratings
disappointment, ranking only 37th for the season. ABC has not
yet committed to renewing the show.
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