by | Mar 23, 1997 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

For all I care, Ellen can come out of the closet, go back in the closet, clean the closet or lock herself in the closet. I just want her to go away.

Has there ever a more shameful staged-for-TV event than this ridiculous, drawn-out, non-drama drama? It feels like some Hollywood form of Chinese water torture, the same rumor repeated over and over, until you go running from the room, screaming, “I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE! SHUT UP!” . . .

At first, Ellen DeGeneres was an average comedienne in a passably funny TV sitcom. It did well in the ratings. She got rich and famous.

A few years passed. She made a dud movie. Her show started to sag.

And next thing you knew, there were rumors that Ellen’s character (named
— how’d you guess? — Ellen) might reveal that she was a lesbian.

Of course, nothing in Hollywood is done so casually. The “rumor” began at a network party last summer, where DeGeneres herself, speaking to the press, gave hints that the new season would feature the Ellen character
“re-examining her life.”

This, of course, was designed to get the industry buzzing about her show again.

Then, a few months later, on the season premiere, Ellen sang in the opening song “I fell witty and pretty and . . . hey!”

This, too, was done in hopes of boosting ratings — and testing the waters.

A few weeks later, on “Good Morning America,” DeGeneres did another tease, saying, “We’re introducing a new character. His name is Les Bian.”

Get it? Les Bian?

Then on David Letterman’s show, DeGeneres said her character would actually reveal that “she is Lebanese.”

Geez. Not only is the rumor old, the jokes are bad.

Let the countdown begin

Now, it’s pathetic enough that this woman, DeGeneres, who by many accounts, is gay in real life, takes an issue as sensitive as revealing your sexual orientation and turns it into a made-for-TV tease.

But what’s worse is the sham has gone on so long, nobody gives a hoot. Every other day, it seems, there’s some story about Ellen’s sexuality in the newspaper, in the weekly magazines, on the entertainment shows. They’ve now targeted an actual episode for the big “coming out” moment. It’s April 30 — just in time to lead into the May sweeps.

Please. Somebody put an ether rag over my mouth and wake me when it’s June.

Now, were this only an annoying marketing strategy by a network that really doesn’t know whether it likes the idea or doesn’t like the idea — but knows it wants to make money off of it — it would be bad enough.

But it’s worse than that.

For one thing, it’s pretty damn insensitive. DeGeneres, of all people, should know that revealing your sexual orientation to people who, for the most part, do not approve, is not something one does lightly. To turn it into a circus event — “Three more days until she comes out, two more days until she comes out . . .” — is to trivialize an important issue. To do so for ratings is almost as pathetic as it gets.

I say almost.

No serious talk allowed

That’s because the cake was taken by DeGeneres’ parent network, ABC, last week, when it rejected an ad from the Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian

political group, which wanted to buy 30 seconds on the April 30 episode.

The ad, by the way, was to ask viewers to support a bill that would protect homosexuals from job discrimination.

Now, I don’t know where you stand on homosexuality. I know some folks have religious objections, and others find it squeamish. Personally, I believe there are bigger things to worry about than whom we choose to love. Like whom we choose to kill. Whom we choose to elect. Whom we choose to discriminate against.

Which brings us back to this ad. ABC says it won’t accept it because it’s against its policy of “controversial issue advertising.”

Oh. I get it. It’s all right to milk a controversial issue as a plot of a sitcom, but you don’t want anyone actually to talk about it in real life.

How sad. And ironic. Without the bill being pushed by the Human Rights Campaign, Ellen DeGeneres herself could be fired because . . . she’s gay.

Of course, if her ratings continue to sink, that’s probably the season finale.

“Albom in the Afternoon” can be heard 4-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Guests this week include James Earl Jones, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Grant Hill and Joey Heatherton.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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