The Evolution of Gay TV Characters
Ellen (Ellen Degeneres), “Ellen” (1997)
Ellen Morgan (Ellen DeGeneres), "Ellen" (1997)
In 1997, Ellen DeGeneres made history when her TV sitcom persona announced that she was, in fact, gay on "
The Puppy Episode." The momentous event had been in the works for a year, and the anticipation built up for months leading up to the big night.
In the episode, Morgan
admitted to her therapist (special guest Oprah Winfrey) that she had clicked with a woman named Susan, but she just didn't feel the same toward men. Later in the show, she confessed to the object of her affection that she was gay -- accidentally
announcing it for all to hear over an airport microphone.
Just a week earlier, DeGeneres came out herself on the cover of
Time magazine with a headline that read, "Yep, I'm Gay." The fallout from the episode was enormous. Televangelist Jerry Falwell called the show's star "Ellen Degenerate," and the producers received death threats. Later, Winfrey was
targeted with biting letters and racially charged comments for her role in the show. But many rallied around the show and its leading lady. "The Puppy Episode"
took home a Peabody Award and a primetime Emmy Award for outstanding writing for a comedy series. DeGeneres won a GLAAD Media Award for her performance.