Ellen DeGeneres Had To Woo ‘Skittish’ Stations Ahead Of Talk Show

EllenTHRCan you believe Ellen DeGeneres has had a talk show for a decade? It seemed after she came out and her sitcom was canceled that the comedienne would fade from public view, but DeGeneres proved naysayers wrong.

In a cover profile in the latest The Hollywood Reporter, DeGeneres discusses how she and her Warner Bros. partners traveled the country to ease any worries middle American stations may have had about carrying a lesbian's daytime talk show.

DeGeneres' popularity among those Middle America viewers (many of whom likely voted for McCain) is not without irony. In fact, this is precisely the viewership affiliates feared a homosexual comedian would offend, if not altogether alienate, when Warner Bros. executives pitched Ellen 10 years ago.

To persuade those skittish station managers, DeGeneres crisscrossed the country, making stops in each of their markets with Jim Paratore, the late president of Telepictures Productions. "They were always shocked. They'd be like, 'She didn't curse,' as though cursing were a characteristic of gay people," says DeGeneres, reflecting on the draining process of schmoozing a cadre of people fearful of who she was and, worse, what she might do with it on air.

"These stations really thought she'd have a gay agenda. It was the hardest show we've ever had to launch in the history of our company," says [Warner Bros. executive Hilary Estey] McLoughlin, recalling the subsequent test interviews she did prelaunch with stars including Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt and singer Alanis Morissette to show affiliates she was capable of having compelling conversations with those outside of the gay community.

"I had to show them that I know how to talk to people — like how hard is it to talk to people? — and still a lot of them didn't want to hire me," adds DeGeneres, who confesses over iced teas at West Hollywood's Soho House in August that being on this end of an interview is the only time she is uncomfortable talking. (It is for that reason that DeGeneres, more serious in person than she is on her show, gives them so infrequently.)

If you love DeGeneres the Cover Girl, read more of Lacey Rose's profile of DeGeneres at The Hollywood Reporter.

(ht/ Good As You)


  1. GregV says

    I can’t think of any gay person in America besides Ellen who has done as much to make middle-of-the-road people realize that we are human, too. She makes people laugh but she also speaks from the heart.
    I love Ellen.

  2. "The Gay" says

    The US was a different world, pre Ellen.

    Didn’t know what a huge effort it was for her to get on the air, but looking back, I can’t help but admire how brave she and Jim Paratore were. Those were NOT easy times.

    I remember living in WA state around the same time; the anti-equality in housing and employment referendum on the ballot across the state, you’d see the petitions EVERYWHERE, in businesses, people in the public parks on weekends collecting signatures for it, even in the lunch room where I was working. It was just horrible and extremely traumatic. They wanted to make it legal to fire us, to kick us out of our homes. They threw rocks and bricks and bottles at us at the first gay pride parade in the town where I lived…

    It was not that long ago…

    I’m not sure what was worse; the feeling of almost overwhelming despair and the stress, or the constant stress of confrontations at check out counters and with the HR department where I worked, even in the public parks where signatures were being collected, or the apathy of so many people in the community, who would rather sit around and drink and feel sorry for themselves, and avoid any confrontation…

    I feel exhausted just remembering those times.

  3. Rick says

    Before you go to far with the canonization of Ellen, a few points are in order.

    First of all, by the time she came out, she was already extraordinarly wealthy…..as were Elton John, Anderson Cooper, and other celebrities who have done so, so let’s just say it takes a lot less “courage” to come out when you have financial security for life than it does when you don’t…….

    Secondly, her sitcom was already on the wane when she came out, so the coming out episode was in part a “Hail Mary” designed to try to save it, not a sacrificial act on her part……

    Thirdly–and this is the most important point–at age 54, what I have observed about all highly successful people, including highly successful gay people–whether “out” or not–is that the most critical factor in their success has been that there were powerful people in their corner, giving them breaks at critical stages of their careers and clearing paths for them that they could not have cleared on their own…..”guardian angels” who for whatever reason, took them under their wing (or collective wings) and protected them and championed them…….and clearly that was the case with Ellen, judging from the story.

    Same is true of Tim Cook, who was lucky enough to have attracted the attention of a social activist like Steve Jobs, without whose mentorship he would never have even come close to being where he is……

    You have to have the talent to succeed, for sure, but without the lucky breaks that result in gaining access to and being championed by the powerful, nobody would.

    Why some people are so fortunate when so many others are not is one of the great mysteries of life that one contemplates in middle age……

  4. FYoung says

    Yes, It’s unbelievable how much change Ellen did. Just one person.

    I know Oprah has had a big influence too, but if there were an out African-American LGBT, that would make such a difference in a demographic where Ellen has not had much influence.

  5. ? says

    Rick, I agree with your comment. Also, a number of celebrities who “came out” during 15 or so years were, in reality, more or less coerced into publicly admitting their sexual orientation, as the public had already figured out that those celebrities were gay.

  6. MaddM@ says

    Ellen is an amazing ambassador to middle america because she is very wholesome, even in her standup she is pretty clean but still is able to be very funny. Her presence in easily accessible mass media (and on basic cable no less) has done a lot to normalize homosexuality, however there is one caveat.

    Elllen, aside from her public, very consistent and stable monogamous relationships, is usually not “being gay” as in being affectionate with women or presenting women regularly as objects of desire on her talkshow. I think that helps her palatability to the closed minded but it doesn’t mean they are truly open and tolerant/accepting of queerness even if they do love Ellen. She’s definitely made advancements for other queer actors/actresses since the people casting them will know gays have salability

  7. jason says

    I’m sorry but I don’t like Ellen. She is symptomatic of the preferential treatment that females in our community get ahead of males. Let’s face it – straight men get on better with lesbians than with gay men. This is reflected right throughout the entertainment industry where straight men making the hiring and firing decisions.

    Ellen is probably one of the reasons why gay men don’t get much in the way of high-paying jobs on television. She’s standing in our way.

    I know a lot of you will think this is sour grapes but keep this in mind: lesbians never had to suffer like we gay men did. When the laws against homosexuality were enforced, it was almost always against gay men.

  8. David B. says

    let’s not negate the paths other people have helped blaze — Rosie O’Donnell helped here with her show, Graham Norton has been influential across the pond, and subsequently both Nate Berkus, Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper have shown us the way… it takes a village…

  9. GregV says

    “Ellen is probably one of the reasons why gay men don’t get much in the way of high-paying jobs on television. She’s standing in our way.”

    What a ridiculous comment. She has done more to smash the glass ceiling for ALL gay people than anyone I can think of.
    The real problem is her blond hair. Every brunette in America who didn’t get a raise this year can blame it on her.

  10. numeracy advocate says

    Wow, it sure does NOT seem like Ellen DeGeneres has had her talk show for a decade!!!….MAYBE IT’S BECAUSE SHE HASN’T.

    In fact, it hasn’t even been a full 9 years.

    Her talk show premiered in September 2003.

    Anyway, go Ellen. Love her. I wish her many more decades – or “decades” – on the air.

  11. jason says

    Why is it that we gays always cast an uncritical eye on anything by a gay person? Case in point: Ellen De Generes. It’s as if, in our eyes, being gay means that everything you do smells like roses.

    Well, let’s be objective for a change. Ellen is dull and not particularly funny. Her daytime show is insufferable. There are more screams from the predominantly female audience than your ears can bear. All on cue, too. She gives out prizes to greedy members of her audience who are there simply for the prizes.

    At the end of the day, she rates poorly. Her show is watched by very few people.

  12. says

    I love Ellen. And there is no GOOD reason for anyone posting on here to be spewing hatefulness other than some pathetic envy. She has earned her position with a lot of hard work and persistence. She deserves our respect not jealousy!

    It’s because she’s a lesbian??? I guess Rachel Maddow is the reason Anderson Cooper can’t get ahead . . . Oh wait . . .

  13. Icebloo says

    I like Ellen as a person but I have to admit her talk show is boring. I preferred her sitcom. I also do not like the hysterically screaming audiences but, unfortunately, that’s the awful formula US TV companies like so they encourage it.

    I would prefer Ellen to do an evening show where she can interview people like adults instead of trying to be childishly funny.

  14. Robert K. says

    I like Ellen a lot. I think she’s funny as well as charitable and generous. But I have bias against tslk-vsrirt shows anyway, and even when the shows arr hosted by comics I like, such as Ellen, Jimmy kimmel and Jimmy gallon, the shows end up boring.

    I remember on one show where Dur stated that she had defused yo. R political on her djowd, but at that time the one million moms in name only were eatening a boycott against j.v. Pennsylvania” who had selected Ellen as their product spokesperson. On her shoe Ellen delivered a very powerful, moving smd intelligent dprech.

    I remember one particularly finny episode on her old ditcom where Dur tried to set up s big water bottle on an office cooler. Trslly hilarious.

  15. andrew says

    @Jason: Ellen is funny and exciting and her audiences love her. Her show is a highly viewed daytime T V show with an average of 2,740,000 viewers per episode.

  16. Robert K. says

    I apologize for the grossly mis-typed post above. I hit the POST button before I was ready. Let me try again.

    I like Ellen a lot. I think she’s funny as well as charitable and generous. But I do have a bias against talk-variety shows anyway, and even when the shows are hosted by comics I like, such as Ellen, Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon, the shows end up boring.

    I remember one show where she stated that she had refused to be political on her show, but at that time the One Million Moms In Name Only were threatening a boycott against J.C. Penney because they had selected Ellen as their product spokesperson. On her show Ellen stood up for herself and made a speech for herself that was very powerful, moving and intelligent.

    There was one really hilarious episode on her old sitcom in which she tried to set up a big water bottle on an office cooler.

  17. Diogenes Arktos says

    “[Ellen] is symptomatic of the preferential treatment that females in our community get ahead of males. Let’s face it – straight men get on better with lesbians than with gay men.”

    I seldom agree with Jason, but if he hadn’t posted this, I would have.

    On the other hand…

    “Ellen is probably one of the reasons why gay men don’t get much in the way of high-paying jobs on television. She’s standing in our way.”

    I think this is nonsense.

  18. Jim says

    I believe a few of the above commenters should schedule their suicides “tout suite”. What a bunch of sour, bitter, depressed “fags”; and you probably don’t even know who you are!!!

  19. Dw says

    Regardless of whether you find her funny (I do) or like her show (again, I do), I don’t see how anyone can deny the importance of her coming out at the time. I believe her sitcom and time magazine cover article were THE turning points in acceptance of gay people in the U.S.

    She set an example that made it possible for other public figures to come out, and allowed younger people to see an openly gay public figure they could relate to. Will and Grace was the next step and there have been many since then. But Ellen was the true trailblazer in terms of mainstream US media.

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