Ellen DeGeneres reflects on her bumpy road to talk show glory
Endured hard times between coming out on ABC sitcom and start in daytime
When looking at the career of Ellen DeGeneres as a whole, it would appear she’s had a charmed existance.
Her sitcom, Ellen, ran for four seasons on ABC and she won an Emmy for writing the famous episode in 1997 in which her character came out – at around the same time DeGeneres came out publicly.
Then since 2003, she has won many more Emmys for daytime’s The Ellen DeGeneres Show which beings its 10th season next month.
But DeGeneres confesses in the current issue of The Hollywood Reporter that the years between her sitcom and her talk show were far more lean than she could have imagined when she decided to declare to the world ‘Yep, I’m gay’ on the cover of Time magazine.
‘I assumed there would be some fallout, but I didn’t realize the amount,’ she says, her welling up. ‘I was that person before, and I thought, ‘How did I lose my entire fan base?’ It’s not like all of a sudden I ripped some mask off.’
The sitcom’s ratings fell and the show was soon canceled after the coming out episode. DeGeneres was so upset that she retreated from showbiz for awhile by moving to Ojai, California, with then partner Anne Heche.
‘I was heartbroken. I thought, ‘I don’t want to be a part of this business. It’s shallow and superficial,’ she recalls. ‘I work my ass off and do something that I think is important and this is how I’m rewarded?”
She didn’t work in television for three years and because she didn’t own any part of the show named after her, she nearly ran out of money.
‘It felt like it was the end of the world, like nothing was ever going to change, and I was never going to work again,’ she says now.
She eventually began to write stand-up material and went on tour then her voice was featured in the wildly successful Pixar film Finding Nemo (she’s in talks to participate in the sequel). She starred in a sitcom for CBS during the 2001-02 television season called The Ellen Show and was a big hit as host of the post-Sept. 11 Emmy Awards in 2001.
After the Emmys success, she was asked to host Saturday Night Live then her own talk show.
She was back in a big way.
Her journey has taught her that no matter the risk, to always be herself.
‘I know that every time I list something that I am, I am potentially alienating a whole group of people,’ she says. ‘Publicists and managers will encourage you not to say what political party you belong to, what you eat, what you don’t eat, who you sleep with and all that stuff.’
‘I just think it’s dangerous. People need to have all kinds of examples and heroes on television who stand for something.’