Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL:
As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.
April 30, 1997
In The Puppy Episode of the ABC sitcom Ellen, the character of Ellen Morgan (played by Ellen DeGeneres) announces that she is gay. The widely publicized episode featured cameos by Oprah Winfrey, k.d. lang, Demi Moore, Billy Bob Thornton, and Dwight Yoakam. An estimated 42 million viewers watched the special hour-long program. Ellen DeGeneres herself had come out earlier that year on The Oprah Winfrey Show and in TIME. Ellen is often credited to be the first primetime sitcom to feature a gay leading character but there was a sitcom titled Love, Sidney (1981 until 1983) staring the late Tony Randall. The first openly gay regular character on a sitcom was Soap's (1977) Jodie Dallas, played by Billy Crystal.
In the spring of 1994, Ellen DeGeneres was cast in a series called These Friends of Mine, but in the fall of 1994, she took center stage and the program was retiled Ellen. The program finished in the top 20 shows for the 1994-1995 season.
The outing ignited a storm of controversy, prompting ABC to place a parental advisory at the beginning of each episode.
Despite her success, and the enormous audience drawn by the coming-out episode, ABC cancelled the series at the end of the 1998 season. Although the network pointed to dwindling ratings, Ellen DeGeneres contended that the network buckled under pressure from conservative groups and stopped promoting the show after the controversial episode.