ABC News’ Diane Sawyer chose Ellen DeGeneres as her Person of the Week on Friday, almost 15 years ago to the day after the funny lady came out of the closet on her sitcom, Ellen.
“If they found out I was gay, maybe they wouldn’t applaud. Maybe they wouldn’t laugh,” says a clearly emotional DeGeneres, discussing her concerns about the April 30, 1997 episode of Ellen—the infamous “Puppy Episode.” “Maybe they wouldn’t like me if they knew that I was gay.”
At the time, the coming-out of a lead character on a major prime time series—especially linked to the coming-out of the actress playing her—was unheard of. And while the episode garnered blockbuster ratings and critical acclaim, advertisers freaked out. JCPenney, which recently made DeGeneres its spokesperson and has produced gay-friendly marketing, refused to buy commercial time during the episode. And right-wing pundits loved using DeGeneres as their favorite human piñata: Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson called her “Ellen Degenerate.”
After “The Puppy Episode,”Ellen began to flounder and was canceled in 1998, a year after Ellen came out.
Now, of course, Ellen is America’s sweetheart, gays are all over the small screen and Falwell’s roasting in Hades. Funny how times have changed, huh?