The episode of Ellen DeGeneres’ TV sitcom in which her character Ellen Morgan comes out as gay was first transmitted 15 years ago today.
At the time, DeGeneres had just recently herself come out publicly with an interview in Time magazine and a chat with Oprah Winfrey. Oprah then played Ellen’s therapist on her sitcom, in scenes where the hapless bookstore owner first comes out.
Titled ‘The Puppy Episode’, Ellen’s comedic coming out led to the show’s highest-ever ratings – 42 million people tuned in. The episode was deeply controversial at the time, with advertisers threatening to spend their money elsewhere, and the studio even received a bomb treat.
Nowadays we can look back at the show as pioneering. Coming out episodes on TV dramas are now commonplace, happening with hardly any backlash in a variety of shows for all ages.
While DeGeneres’s career suffered for a while – the next and last season of her show was transmitted with a ‘parental guidance’ warning and was cancelled after ratings dipped – today she’s one of Hollywood’s most influential stars, raking in money, ratings and the hottest stars through her daytime talkshow.
DeGeneres herself later reflected on her tumultuous coming out time: “It was a huge step in my life. I think people sensed the honesty in it. I think it helped a lot of people, and still to this day I hear about parents and children being able to have an honest conversation through watching that show. That’s ultimately what television can be: It can get conversations started.”
Watch the climax to Ellen’s ‘The Puppy Episode’, first broadcast on April 30, 1997, below.