Just “Ellen”: The First Ellen DeGeneres Show

I remember watching Ellen when it first aired. I don’t recall many details, but I remember it being funny and the characters rang true to me. I recently watched the episode about bowling for another blog (see September 3, 2018), and it prompted me to take a closer look at the show.

Photo: celebrities-galore.com

Ellen DeGeneres was born in Metairie, Louisiana into a middle-class family. When she was sixteen, her parents divorced and later when her mother remarried, she moved to Atlanta, Texas with her new husband and children. Ellen started college but decided it wasn’t for her and made her living in various jobs before trying stand-up comedy. Only four years after graduating from high school, she was touring the nation with her comedy. In 1986 she would appear on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

From 1989-1990, Ellen starred as Margo Van Meter in Open House. Open House was about a real estate company. Ellen played the man-hungry secretary. In 1992 she gave sitcoms another try, portraying Nancy MacIntyre on Laurie Hill. This time the show was about the medical profession, and Ellen was a nurse with a great sense of humor.

Ellen appeared in a handful of shows and movies and then received her own show, Ellen, not to be confused with The Ellen Show which debuted in 2001 or The Ellen DeGeneres Show which aired in 2003 and is still going strong. Ellen ran on ABC from 1994-1998. The show was created at an interesting time in her career. Now a household name, Ellen had established herself as a respected comedian but was not the typical star who carried a self-named sitcom. Think of The Doris Day Show, The Jimmy Stewart Show, or The Joey Bishop Show, all well-established stars.

Photo: pressfrom.info

Ellen was created by Carol Black, Neal Marlens, and David S. Rosenthal. (Black and Marlens had created Growing Pains and The Wonder Years as well. Rosenthal would go on to produce many successful series.) Originally titled “These Friends of Mine”, the show is centered around Ellen Morgan, a bookstore employee and her friends and coworkers, whose lives become intertwined. Like Seinfeld, the show was primarily about Ellen’s relationship with her quirky friends and dealing with day-to-day life and issues. Ellen works at “Buy the Book” bookstore. She lives in an apartment with Adam (Arye Gross), a college friend.  Adam just can’t find the right woman and gets dumped often.

Recurring characters throughout the series were Ellen’s parents, Harold (Steven Gilborn) and Lois (Alice Hirson). Her dad is a bit naïve. Her mom spends a lot of time interfering in Ellen’s life. At one point, they plan on getting divorced but later reconcile.

Photo: imdb.com
Clea Lewis

Ellen’s friend Holly (Holly Fulgar) is only seen in season one. She is very shy and introverted but would like to be an extrovert. Anita is another first-season friend who is not seen in subsequent years. Joe (David Anthony Higgins) is a sarcastic Canadian and the coffee barista at the bookstore café. He becomes closer to Ellen as the series continues. Audrey (Clea Lewis) began as Ellen’s neighbor and eventually becomes a coworker as well. Audrey has a high voice and is extremely perky and cheerful and she loves pink. She was born into a wealthy family but has put her money aside for a job at the bookstore.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

During season two, Joely Fisher joined the cast as Ellen’s friend Paige. She works for a movie studio and is a little arrogant. Paige had previously dated Spence (Jeremy Pivens), Ellen’s cousin, and she leaves her fiancé at the altar to resume the relationship.

The show always did well in the ratings but because some of the characters were more appealing than others, most of the main cast was dropped for the third season.

The theme song from season three on was an altered version of “So-Called Friend” by a Scottish band, Texas. A running gag on the show centered around the altered lyrics which changed from time to time. The lyrics resulted in different opening sequences as Ellen searched for the perfect opening.

During season three, Adam moves out when his character takes a job in England. and Ellen lives alone. Eventually her cousin Spence moves in. Spence has been going to medical school but wrestles with a career decision, going to law school for a bit before returning to the medical profession.

Photo: visiontv.ca

During the fourth season, Ellen buys her first house. Paige is still having a hard time adjusting to Ellen’s being out of the closet but accepts it at the end of the fourth year. Another change during season four is the arrival of Ed who manages the bookstore. He often disagreed with Ellen on how to run the business.

Of course, you can’t discuss the show without talking about a 1997 episode, “The Puppy Episode” that made television history. DeGeneres revealed that she was gay in real life which the writers and producers decided to carry over into the sitcom, making Ellen Morgan the first openly gay sitcom character who was the star of a show. Other gay characters appeared on shows; e.g., Billy Crystal as Jodie was a gay character in Soap, but he wasn’t the star. Ellen’s therapist on the show was Oprah Winfrey. The revelation caused a lot of controversy and media exposure.

Photo: tvguide.com

While the show made it easier for gay characters on television in the future, it didn’t help Ellen. Ellen DeGeneres not only was chastised by members of society who didn’t approve of gay characters, she also was criticized by the LGBT community as well. They were unhappy when she said she never wanted to be a role model for LGBT. “I was looked at as the new leader, and I didn’t want to be a leader and I didn’t want to be political . . . I just wanted to be free from a secret and that’s all I wanted.” She was portrayed as not gay enough for some groups and too gay by others, a no-win situation.

Photo: imdb.com

With so much controversy, I think the powers that be on the show could not make the announcement and then ignore it but to put too much emphasis on it detracted from the relationship all the characters were involved in. Most of the subsequent episodes focused too much on the gay issues, destroying the camaraderie of the group by focusing more on one character. Rather than shows being about the group or even Ellen, it was about being gay. Ratings declined and the show was cancelled, but it had an impact, making way for gay characters in the television community. Despite all the backlash the show received for featuring a gay character, Will and Grace debuted the same year Ellen was cancelled and became a huge hit.

Of course, Ellen DeGeneres would go on to become a superstar with an award-winning talk show and a producer extraordinaire of eclectic shows. She does games shows, she has a line of home goods and shoes on QVC, and she has hosted a design competition on HGTV. Like Oprah, she has the avenues open now to explore whatever types of shows capture her interest. I have not seen Ellen on syndication in years, but episodes exist on YouTube. The DVDs were released from 2004-2006.

It’s too bad the show could not return to its original premise. Like Friends, Seinfeld, Will and Grace, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, it had a cast of interesting personalities that had a special bond. Ellen DeGeneres received Golden Globe nominations for best comedy actress for the show three of its seasons. Joely Fisher received best supporting actress in 1998. Ellen also received the Emmy nomination for best comedy actress every year from 1994-1998. The show was also nominated for Emmys for directing, writing, and guest stars. It was a hilarious show, and it would have been amazing to see how long it could have lasted if it had not been forced off the air for non-creative reasons.

Photo: memorabletv.com

As I mentioned, I recently watched the bowling episode which brought out Ellen’s competitive streak. I remembered how funny the show was and what an amazing ensemble cast the show featured. I will definitely watch more episodes.

A Cut Above the Rest: Television Hairstyle Awards

Happy National Hair Day.  I’m not sure why we need a National Hair Day, but it gives me a good reason to discuss hair styles on my blog.

Hair is pretty amazing. Black is the most common color, and red is the most rare color. About 90% of the hairs on your scalp are growing and 10% are resting. Each of these hairs has a lifespan of five years or so. And, if you decide to grow this hair out, it takes three years to reach your shoulders and seven to reach your waist.

Hairstyles are easy things to change compared to eye color, nose shape, or cheekbone structure. We also have a very personal feeling about our hair style. A bad hairstyle can make or break our day. Most of us can relate that if we think our hair looks sloppy, it can make us feel dowdy no matter how well dressed.

Hair, along with clothing styles, can easily date a look. Take a glance at the photos below. Most of us will be able to immediately recognize the time period they represent.

 

 

I thought it would be fun to give out some hair style awards to deserving tv celebrities. There are a ton of television stars who inspired us to change our looks. Before we get to the awards, I wanted to recognize some honorable mentions.  These people are stars, but they are not necessarily television stars; however, they have all appeared regularly on television.

Honorable Mention 1: Tiny Tim.  If you grew up in the 1960s, you probably remember Tiny Tim marrying Miss Vicki on the Tonight Show, playing his ukulele and singing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”

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Honorable Mention 2: Dorothy Hamill. When Dorothy Hamill appeared in her new wedge haircut, it created a national sensation. I can’t tell you how many people rushed to their salon to mimic the look.

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Honorable Mention 3: Fabio.  Parents were appalled when their sons grew their hair long in the 1960s, but by the 1990s when Fabio came along, it was considered sexy.

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Honorable Mention 4: Clay Matthews. After Fabio, long hair began showing up on sports stars. One of the athletes who commanded a lot of attention for his hair was our own Green Bay Packers’ Clay Matthews.

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So, let’s get on with the awards.

Award 1: The Elegant But Fun Look – Carol Burnett. Carol always kept her red hair, and her style typically featured a shorter cut. I’m sure this worked well for her show, so she could easily don a wig to appear as different characters in skits. However, she always managed to look elegant no matter what type of pratfall she was taking to get a laugh.

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Award 2: The Natural Look – Keri Russell. Keri inspired many copycats on her show, Felicity, with her curly locks.

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Award 3: The Most Recognized Cartoon Hairstyle – Marge Simpson. Her look truly is unique. I don’t know of anyone else sporting a bright blue beehive hairdo.

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Award 4: Best Bad Boy Haircut – John Travolta. During his time as a sweathog, John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino looked exceptionally handsome  . . . until he opened his mouth. Looks aren’t everything, but apparently, they are something, because he sold a lot of posters.

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Award 5: Most Unique Hairdo Worn With Confidence – Katey Sagal. Ok, I admit, this one did not inspire a lot of look-a-likes, but Peg carried off her style with flair.

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Award 6: Best Short Male Style – George Clooney.  There is a reason that George Clooney was chosen Sexiest Man of the Year numerous times. His haircut helped in that choice.

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Most Recognizable Female Star’s Hairstyle: Whoopi Goldberg. Whether her hair was long or short, whether she was appearing in a movie, a television series, a talk show, or a commercial, Whoopi was always recognized by her hairdo. She varied it a bit, but was pretty loyal to her look.

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The Character Whose Hair Continued to Evolve with the Role: Marlo Thomas. As That Girl, Marlo changed her hair style each season. You can see just by looking at the two photos, she started life on her sitcom a little naïve and expectant of great things and ended the show more sophisticated and wiser. She still expected great things, but she now understood she had to work hard to get them.

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The Television Character Whose Hair Was the Talk of the Water Cooler: Jennifer Aniston. Jen, as Rachel Green on Friends, had a lot of cute hairstyles, but the famous “Jennifer cut” in this photo was discussed ad nauseum and copied by thousands.

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The Television Character Whose Hair Created the Biggest “Buzz”: Kaley Cuoco. When Penny in The Big Bang Theory cut her long hair, everyone had an opinion. Some loved it; some hated it.

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The Television Cast With the Best Haircuts for Everyone: The Partridge Family. Yes, people loved Marcia Brady’s hair and lots of people wanted Laura Petrie’s style, but the entire Partridge family  had a cool haircut.

 

The Star Who Had the Most Different Styles: Oprah Winfrey. During the decades her talk show was on the air, Oprah featured many different looks. Here are a few of them.

 

The Cast With the Most Beautiful Hair of All Time: Charlie’s Angels. While Jaclyn Smith, Kate Jackson, and Cheryl Ladd all had beautiful hair, the addition of Farrah Fawcett to this cast, meant it is the runaway for best hair on any show. John Travolta may have sold a lot of posters, but his are not in the Smithsonian. Farrah had the best hair of anyone featured on television, no comparison.

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I realize there were a lot of stars left out of this blog, but I only have so much room. Share your thoughts on your favorites who did not make the “cut.”

One thing I realized putting this topic together was the lack of style occurring on television currently. I could not really find a star whose haircut stood out the way a Rachel Green or Jill Munroe did. Most decades seem to have that look that parents abhorred and kids loved, but I don’t see that style in the 2010s. Everyone seems to have similar hair. I’m still trying to decide if that is good or bad, but it is fun to look back at television history to see what was popular at different times.