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The Puppy Episode

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The Puppy Episode

"The Puppy Episode"
Ellen episode
"Susan...I'm gay." Ellen Morgan comes out.
Episode no. Season 4
Episode 22/23
Directed by Gil Junger
Teleplay by Mark Driscoll
Tracy Newman
Dava Savel
Jonathan Stark
Story by Ellen DeGeneres
Production code 421/422
Original air date April 30, 1997 (1997-04-30)
Guest actors

"The Puppy Episode" is a two-part episode of the lesbian and her coming out. It was the 22nd and 23rd episode of the series' 4th season. The episode was written by series star Ellen DeGeneres with Mark Driscoll, Tracy Newman, Dava Savel and Jonathan Stark and directed by Gil Junger. It originally aired on ABC on April 30, 1997.

DeGeneres began negotiating with ABC in 1996 to have Morgan come out. When word of the negotiations got out, DeGeneres found herself at the center of intense speculation about when she or her character, or both, would come out. With DeGeneres hinting at her and her character's coming out both within the show and off-screen, the rumors were confirmed when the episode went into production in March 1997.

Despite threats from advertisers and religious groups, "The Puppy Episode" was an enormous ratings success, won multiple awards and became a cultural phenomenon. Regardless of the episode's success, DeGeneres and her show quickly garnered criticism for being "too gay"; the series was canceled after one more season and DeGeneres and guest star Laura Dern faced career backlash.

Plot

Ellen goes out to dinner with her old friend Richard, a reporter who is in town to cover a story. His producer, Susan, joins them for dessert and she and Ellen hit it off. Ellen goes back to Richard's hotel room. He comes on to her and, uncomfortable, Ellen leaves. She runs into Susan in the hall and returns with her to her room. They continue to enjoy each other's company until Susan tells Ellen that she's gay and that she thought Ellen might be too. Ellen denies it and suggests that Susan is trying to "recruit" her. Susan sarcastically says that she'll have to call "national headquarters" and let them know Ellen got away. ("Damn, just one more and I would have gotten that toaster oven.") An agitated Ellen leaves Susan's room and returns to Richard's room, determined to have sex with him to prove to herself she is not gay.

The next day, Ellen tells her friends at the bookstore that she and Richard had amazing sex. She tells her therapist the truth, that she could not have sex with Richard. Ellen laments that she just wants someone that she clicks with. Her therapist asks if she has ever clicked with anyone and Ellen replies, "Susan."

A message from Richard that he is leaving town ahead of schedule sends Ellen rushing to the airport to see Susan. Ellen tells Susan that she was right and struggles to say the word. Finally, Ellen is able to say, "I'm gay," inadvertently broadcasting her announcement over the airport's public address system. Ellen assumes that Susan will be leaving with Richard but in fact Susan will be staying in town for several more days.

Ellen has a dream in which she is grocery shopping. She is offered a special lesbian discount on melons, her sexuality is announced to the other shoppers, she is offered a granola bar, she is beckoned toward a checkout lane with a pink triangular sign reading "10 lesbians or less" and given her grocery total of "a lesbian twenty-nine" ($11.29). She discusses the dream with her therapist and realizes that she's been suppressing her sexuality for many years. Her therapist encourages her to come out to her friends but Ellen is worried about not being accepted.

Ellen has her friends over to come out to them. Before they arrive, she comes out to her gay neighbor Peter. When everyone else arrives, Ellen balks at telling them but Peter outs her, exclaiming "For God's sake, Ellen, tell them you're gay!" Ellen confirms that it's true and her friends are all supportive of her, although her friend Paige is hesitant.

The next day Ellen and Susan are at the bookstore. Susan tells Ellen that she does have feelings for her but she is in a long-term relationship. Ellen is heartbroken and Susan leaves. To cheer her up, her friends take her to a lesbian coffeehouse. There Ellen mistakenly thinks her waitress is coming on to her and is chagrined when a woman flirts with Paige instead of her.

Under the closing credits, Susan leads Ellen over to Melissa Etheridge, who confirms that Ellen is gay and, after completing the necessary paperwork, awards Susan a toaster oven.

Production

Ellen DeGeneres, an Emmy winner, came out, as well as her fictional counterpart.

By the end of the third season of Ellen, producers were becoming frustrated by the series' lack of focus and the lack of interest that the character Ellen Morgan displayed toward the standard sitcom [5] "The Puppy Episode" went into production on March 7.[6] Guest stars sought to be a part of the project. According to writer/producer Driscoll, "Suddenly all these talented actors were lining up to be in the episode. It had a buzz around it that it would be an historic episode. When Oprah came on—and she was so wonderful and open and giving—it suddenly had this great weight to it."[4]

With word of the episode out, backlash began. The studio received at least one bomb threat and Driscoll received a telephone call informing him he was going to Hell.[4] DeGeneres was followed by car to the studio on at least one occasion by a "suspicious man".[7] Some within the entertainment industry assumed that the coming out was simply a ratings stunt, to which DeGeneres responded, "I did it selfishly for myself and because I thought it was a great thing for the show, which desperately needed a point of view."[8]

DeGeneres began dropping hints in the episodes leading up to "The Puppy Episode" that she was planning to come out in real life and have her character come out as well, including such k.d. lang while presenting her with an award at a Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center function in early 1997.[7] DeGeneres finally officially came out in TIME magazine, with an April 14, 1997 cover emblazoned with the words, "Yep, I'm Gay".[9] She appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show with then-girlfriend Anne Heche the day "The Puppy Episode" was set to air.[10]

DeGeneres commented on her months of hinting at her sexuality and the media frenzy within the episode itself, giving Ellen Morgan's friends lines like "Ellen, are you coming out or not?!" and "Yeah, quit jerking us around and come out already!"[11] Morgan's therapist comments that if Morgan does not come out she will "continue to have these dreams and then it's going to show up in your waking life as these little clues that get more and more obvious. And eventually tiresome."[12] She also says that Morgan cannot blame her reluctance to come out on the media.[12]

Reception

"The Puppy Episode" and DeGeneres's attendant coming out generated enormous publicity before the show aired. Right-wing groups like the [17] Local activists circulated a petition requesting that Abilene, Texas-area affiliate KTXS-TV not air the episode but were unsuccessful.[16]

"The Puppy Episode" was the highest-[21] GLAAD credits Ellen with paving the way for such LGBT-themed programming as Will and Grace, The L Word, and Ugly Betty and it has been suggested that Ellen and these other series presenting LGBT characters have helped to reduce societal prejudice against LGBT people.[3] The episode was ranked #46 on TV Guide's list of "100 Greatest Episodes of All-Time".[22]

Following "The Puppy Episode", Ellen was renewed for another season. ABC prefaced each episode of season five with a parental advisory warning.[23] DeGeneres strongly criticized ABC for including the warnings, saying in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, "It was like this voice like you're entering some kind of radiation center. It was very offensive, and you don't think that's going to affect ratings?"[24] DeGeneres further noted what she believed to be hypocrisy on the part of ABC, citing episodes of ABC series The Drew Carey Show and Spin City which included two men kissing (the Carey episode was even promoted using the kiss). "There's no disclaimer on [the Carey show] at all, because it's two heterosexual men, and they're making fun of heterosexuality...[Spin City aired without a disclaimer] because neither (Michael J. Fox nor Michael Boatman) is really gay in real life."[24] Episodes after "The Puppy Episode" dealt with Ellen's coming out to her parents and boss, quitting her job at the bookstore and finding a series of new jobs. Other episodes dealt with her search for a romantic partner and learning more about the LGBT community. Even some gay people began criticizing the amount of gay content in the series, including Chastity Bono, who was at the time working for GLAAD. Bono was quoted as saying, "[Ellen] is so gay it's excluding a large part of our society. A lot of the stuff on it is somewhat of an inside joke. It's one thing to have a gay lead character, but it's another when every episode deals with specific gay issues."[25] Bono would later say that the comments were taken out of context. Ellen was canceled after its fifth season.

With the cancellation of Ellen, DeGeneres focused her energy on stand-up comedy, where she had begun her career.[26] She returned to network television in 2001 with the short-lived The Ellen Show, in which her character Ellen Richmond was openly lesbian from the start,[27] before finding renewed success with her talk show The Ellen DeGeneres Show.[26]

Guest star Laura Dern faced backlash over her appearance on the show. In a 2007 interview for Degeneres's talk show commemorating the tenth anniversary of "The Puppy Episode," Dern stated that she did not work for a year and a half because of playing Susan.[28] Nonetheless, Dern said that she was grateful for the "extraordinary experience and opportunity" of being a part of the episode.[29] Speaking of her experience, DeGeneres said, "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."[4]

Notes

  1. ^ Tracy, p. 239
  2. ^ a b c Lo, Malinda (2005-04-09). "Back in the Day: Coming Out With Ellen". AfterEllen.com. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  3. ^ a b c Staff (2007-04-11). "US activists celebrate Ellen's ten lesbian years". pinknews. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  4. ^ a b c d Kaufman, Debra (2008-01-27). "Sitcom Was True to Star's Style". TelevisionWeek. Retrieved 2008-11-20. 
  5. ^ "ABC will let 'Ellen' out of the closet: Gay lead character a prime time first". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 1997-03-04. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  6. ^ Tropiano, p. 246
  7. ^ a b Tracy, p. 248
  8. ^ Tracy, p. 247
  9. ^ Handy, Bruce; Elizabeth L. Bland; William Tynan; Jeffrey Resner (2007-04-17). "Roll Over, Ward Cleaver".  
  10. ^ Marchessault, p. 81
  11. ^ "The Puppy Episode, part 1". Ellen. Season 4. Episode 22. 1997-04-30.
  12. ^ a b "The Puppy Episode, part 2". Ellen. Season 4. Episode 23. 1997-04-30.
  13. ^ Tracy, p. 251–52
  14. ^ a b Capsuto, p. 393
  15. ^ Handy, Bruce (April 14, 1997). "He Called Me Ellen Degenerate?". TIME magazine. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  16. ^ a b Lapham, Bob (April 15, 1997). "Petition being circulated against showing of "Ellen" episode". Abilene Reporter-News. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  17. ^ Tracy, p. 251
  18. ^ "Ellen: TV Guide news". tvguide.com. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  19. ^ "And The Winners Are...". Seattle Times. 1997-09-15. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  20. ^ Ellen' Wins Peabody Award"'". New York Times. 1998-04-03. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  21. ^ Castañeda, et al., p. 267
  22. ^ "TV's Top 100 Episodes of All Time" TV Guide; June 15, 2009; Pages 34-49
  23. ^ Johnson, p. 158
  24. ^ a b DeGeneres, quoted in Ehrenstein, p. 315
  25. ^ Douglas-Brown, Laura (2007-04-13). "Queer people, big world". Southern Voice. Archived from the original on April 29, 2007. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  26. ^ a b Fees, Jarre (2008-01-27). "Tracking Ellen's Career Highlights". TV Week. Retrieved 2008-12-20. 
  27. ^ Owen, Rob (2001-07-26). "On Air: New DeGeneres sitcom won't focus on gay life". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2008-12-20. 
  28. ^ Vejnoska, Jill (2007-04-20). "Ellen DeGeneres and Laura Dern Reunite". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  29. ^ Associated Press (2007-04-23). "Ellen and Laura Dern reunite after kiss". Retrieved 2008-11-20. 

References

  • Castañeda, Laura and Shannon B. Campbell (2005). News and Sexuality: Media Portraits of Diversity. SAGE. ISBN 1-4129-0999-6.
  • Capsuto, Steven (2000). Alternate Channels: The Uncensored Story of Gay and Lesbian Images on Radio and Television. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-41243-5.
  • Ehrenstein, David (1998). Open Secret (Gay Hollywood 1928–1998). New York, William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0-688-15317-8.
  • Johnson, Victoria E. (2008). Heartland TV: Prime Time Television and the Struggle for U.S. Identity. New York, NYU Press. ISBN 0-8147-4293-9.
  • Marchessault, Janine and Kim Sawchuk (2000). Wild Science: Reading Feminism, Medicine, and the Media. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-20431-3
  • Tracy, Kathleen (2005). Ellen: The Real Story of Ellen Degeneres. Pinnacle Books. ISBN 0-7860-1750-3.
  • Tropiano, Stephen (2002). The Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. ISBN 1-55783-557-8.

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