SBC Life Articles

Ellen — Out and On the Offensive

Building on its leading character's barrier-breaking confession as a homosexual late last season, Ellen, the situation comedy on Disney-owned ABC, took only a couple of months in the new television year to place her in a sexual encounter with her lesbian girlfriend.

In its Nov. 26 show, Ellen portrayed its lead, Ellen Morgan, played by Ellen DeGeneres, going into the bedroom with her girlfriend, Laurie, as the episode closed. The segment had focused on Ellen's anxiety about "sleeping with" a woman for the first time.

The "coming out" of Ellen is another incident cited by religious and pro-family organizations as evidence of Disney's promotion of homosexuality. The Southern Baptist Convention voted in June to encourage its members to boycott the entertainment giant for "immoral ideologies" in its policies and products. The American Family Association initiated the boycott in 1995. Organizations such as Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America have joined in since the SBC vote.

Ellen, which is on ABC's Wednesday evening schedule at 9:30 Eastern, has focused on the lead character's homosexuality during the new season, which began in September.

In a Nov. 24 article, USA Today said, "Though ABC said last spring that Ellen would not become a show about being gay, every episode but one this season has focused on Ellen's sexuality."

In a meeting of ABC affiliates in Los Angeles the week of Dec. 1, anger was voiced by station executives, many from the South, that the sitcom's regular story lines of Ellen in homosexual dating situations are chasing away sponsors at local stations, according to various wire reports.

To the affiliates, ABC executives acknowledged they hadn't anticipated DeGeneres going as far as she has in depicting lesbian dating on the air. Network officials described the situation as "an ongoing battle" with the star. According to the wire reports, some station execs left the meeting believing ABC will take a tougher stand with DeGeneres on the show's content.

Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly said in an Oct. 24 piece that Ellen, in its fifth season, "keeps getting funnier, even as its star conducts the most relentless gay-empowerment campaign primetime has ever seen."

Melissa Caldwell, an analyst for the Media Research Center, said she is not surprised at the direction Ellen has taken this season, though she is uncertain what is in the program's future.

"The primary focus has been her learning to fit in with the gay community and get her friends and acquaintances to accept her being a homosexual," said Caldwell, who monitors ABC's programs. It also "has focused on her dating relationships," she said.

Of the bedroom scene, Caldwell said, "After they've done that, I'm not sure how much more they're going to be showing."

Her interpretation of the developments on Ellen is that the star, who has acknowledged her homosexuality, and producers are "looking for mainstream acceptance" for the lifestyle.

The Media Research Center, based in northern Virginia, monitors TV news programs for political bias and primetime entertainment for objectionable material.

A survey of partial transcripts provided by MRC, and showing material it considered objectionable from Ellen episodes through Dec. 3, revealed:

• discussion of Ellen Morgan's previous sexual encounters with men in contrast to her newly found homosexuality;

• attempts by the lead character, with assists from her friends, to find a lesbian girlfriend;

• the developing relationship between Ellen and Laurie, a single mother played by actress Lisa Darr;

• Laurie's daughter becoming upset with Ellen because she will not show public affection for her lesbian mother;

barbs thrown at Christians and Christian leaders who oppose homosexuality and have criticized the show.

On the Nov. 19 episode, Academy Award-winning actress Emma Thompson plays a fictionalized version of herself. When Ellen is hired as the actress' personal assistant, she discovers her boss is a lesbian. She convinces the actress to announce her homosexuality, whereupon Thompson says, "Let's go out and terrify some Baptists." Thompson's confession is prevented when Sean Penn, playing a fictionalized version of himself, announces he is homosexual after presenting her an award.

Once it decided to permit the lead character on Ellen to announce her homosexuality, Disney ordered a stronger handling of the issue than DeGeneres, the executive producers, and writers had first proposed, according to a report in The Advocate, a leading homosexual magazine.

"The folks at Touchstone (a Disney film and TV subsidiary) actually sent the first draft of the script back," executive producer Mark Driscoll said in the April 29 issue. "They said we had been too careful and hadn't dealt deeply enough with the core of the issue. Here we were, trying to be so cautious with this sensitive topic, and they wanted more."

While last season's historic "coming-out" episode of Ellen marked the first time a leading, primetime TV character has been homosexual, the series is hardly alone in featuring homosexual characters. This fall's lineup includes thirty homosexual and bisexual characters, according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Last year's primetime shows included a then-record twenty-three, GLAAD said.