SBC Life Articles

Ellen’s Demise

News that the Ellen program was being canceled brought cheers and tears from opposite sides of American culture.

The Disney-owned ABC Network announced in April that the series, which broke ground with its portrayal of a homosexual as its lead character, would end after a one-hour finale May 13.

The program's homosexual thrust was cited by Southern Baptists in joining in the call for economic action against The Disney Company during the SBC meeting last June in Dallas for "promoting immoral ideologies."

Whether it was the protests by those opposed to the show's content on prime time or the program's aggressive exploration of DeGenere's lesbian lifestyle, Nielsen ratings dropped steadily for the program throughout the season.

The ratings slide began almost as soon as DeGeneres announced her homosexuality, carrying the show's lead character with her, in a program April 30, 1997, watched by an estimated thirty-six million viewers. The program, which made its debut in 1994, now averages around eleven million viewers, according to The Los Angeles Times.

News reports last December said ABC executives had not expected DeGeneres to go as far as she did in depicting lesbian dating situations on the show. During the ABC affiliates' board meetings, the network described the situation as "an ongoing battle" with DeGeneres.

Yet the Disney-owned network knew the program's story line was risky from the beginning but was apparently eager to shake free of tradition. Disney exec Susan Saroff, in an article in The Advocate, a leading journal for the homosexual community, released a day before the controversial episode aired, said, "Ultimately this move makes Disney even more reflective of America because we're acknowledging a basic truth about this country, that there are different kinds of people here. We're getting very good at showing that."

Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptists' Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, expressed delight that the program was being pulled.

"Disney/ABC has finally succumbed to the financial pressures that were increasingly squeezing this television series that is barely clinging to the bottom rung of the ratings ladder," the ERLC president said. "The majority of Americans do not approve of homosexuality and lesbianism as a lifestyle. And they certainly disapprove of an openly lesbian lifestyle being flaunted in prime time on network television."

Tim Wildmon, American Family Association vice president, said, "This clearly demonstrates that viewers are tired of the constant in-your-face themes of shows promoting homosexuality. Americans aren't homophobes, but they do want to protect their children from unnatural lifestyles. Disney just didn't get it until they were slapped in the face with Ellen's dismal ratings."

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation expressed sadness over the show's cancellation. "But the important thing to note," GLAAD executive director Joan Garry told the Reuters news agency, "is that 1997 will be remembered as an historic year for the gay community."

Garry told The LA Times the program "made history and changed hearts and minds." She told the New York Daily News in April, "I don't think people realize how powerful this show is."

Movie star Emma Thompson joined screen star Sean Penn in a November 1997 episode in which both characters played themselves announcing their homosexuality. It was during that show that Thompson, garnering up the courage to tell the world she was homosexual, told Ellen, "Let's go out and terrify some Baptists."

Land said Southern Baptists were never terrified by the program but instead "disgusted" at the show's promotion of a radical lesbian lifestyle. "Ellen's insistence in giving a week-by-week graphic depiction and description of the lead character's deviant sexual behavior has been rightly and roundly rejected by the American viewing public."

Ellen's departure leaves several television programs with some two dozen homosexual characters in supporting roles — including Friends, Mad About You, and Spin City, according to the Associated Press. The likelihood for another program with a homosexual lead is high, said Paul Schulman, a TV analyst whose company buys advertising time. "The trail has already been blazed," he said.

Despite the show's demise, experts suggest The Disney Company is intent on pushing the sexual envelope in their television and cinematic productions. "People see Disney as a squeaky-clean image of America," said the openly gay producer Neil Meron, in The Advocate. "But in fact, the company has become a more realistic reflection of America — one that includes gays and lesbians. That's only fair, since so many of us are creating those images in the first place."

Ellen's prime time slot on Wednesday nights will continue to be filled by the midseason entry, Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place. The situation comedy has become a ratings success, reported Reuters.

    About the Author

  • Dwayne Hastings