In 1997, Ellen made television history when the title character came out as a lesbian in the famous "Puppy Episode" (DeGeneres herself came out concurrent with the episode on The Oprah Winfrey Show and in Time). To ensure a memorable moment, the coming out scene was made into a gag where, at an airport, Ellen turns and tells Laura Dern "I'm gay!" – only to realize that she had turned right into the intercom microphone, announcing her sexuality to the entire terminal. Ellen DeGeneres's mother Betty can briefly be seen as one of the people in the terminal with a shocked reaction to the announcement.
The episode was ranked #35 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All-Time.
The revelation ignited a storm of controversy, prompting ABC to place a parental advisory at the beginning of each episode.
Ellen was successful enough in its early seasons to warrant annual renewal, due largely to DeGeneres's perceived appeal and comic ability, but only with Ellen's coming out did the show make its way into the wide public consciousness and hit a critical plateau. However, after the initial coming out frenzy, the show's ratings declined and ABC began feeling the pain of a backlash regarding the "gay content" being exhibited. The final episodes of Ellen were criticized for focusing too much on gay issues, a criticism begun in anti-gay circles but which spread to the mainstream media. Eventually, even some members of the LGBT community, including Chaz Bono (who at the time was the media director for GLAAD), began to criticize the show's serious new tone as well. ABC pulled the show from the air in May 1998 after five seasons.
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