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“The talk show is me, but I’m also playing a character of a talk show host. There’s a tiny, tiny bit of difference,” Ellen DeGeneres told The New York Times in a rare interview to promote Relatable on Netflix. That has made headlines for one piece of information that was cleverly dropped. This is the piece where Ellen says that she is ready to leave her wildly successful talk show and explore other parts of her career. She's full of it, but she is trying to avoid the career transformation pitfalls of another lesbian talk show hostess, who never fully recovered from changing her image: Rosie O'Donnell.
To be clear, both Rosie and Ellen are smart ladies. And they both have the distinction of being called Oprah's heir apparent. Yet, when Rosie ended her talk show, it was little more than a blip on the radar. Once the crown jewel of talk shows, her show left with a whimper. A shadow of its former koosh ball throwing self. Many say the interview with Tom Selleck, where Rosie attacked him for being so staunchly pro-gun is what killed her show. Maybe so. For certain, it was a calculated risk that backfired. Ellen saw this and decided to go a different route when she wanted to transform her career.
Transforming her career is something that Ellen knows a little something about. For those that may have forgotten, even without her talk show, Ellen was known in the gay and lesbian community as a hero, a trailblazer that broke new ground. After a successful stand-up career, she was given her own sitcom, Ellen, in 1994. While never a breakout hit, it did well enough to continue to be renewed. Something happened in it's fourth season that changed everything we knew about TV and society's tolerance. Ellen came out. Both the actress and her namesake character. "The Puppy Episode" was the highest rated program of the week, won a ton of awards for the program, and led to a fifth season renewal for the comedy. Ellen had to carry a viewer discretion warning after that, but ratings were fairly stable, despite protests by certain groups. After the fifth season, the show came to an end. Ellen was supposed to crawl into obscurity and fade away from memory.
She didn't. After a memorable guest stint on Will and Grace, a show she helped pave the way for, she debuted her new sitcom The Ellen Show. While this didn't have the same cultural impact as the other sitcom, it proved that this was one feisty comedian that was not going to accept that her career was over. Her personal life was all over the tabloids, and that must have sparked the idea of launching a talk show. A show that would have as much, if not more impact on culture, than her sitcom. When The Ellen DeGeneres Show launched, it took its host in a whole new direction. She was beloved by more than just the LGBTQ community and the entire world was dancing with Ellen. Everyone loved her.
Being trapped in the sweet persona, the talk show hostess who has to dance everyday while staying silent about things that bother her can be one exhausting job. Haters began to spring rumors about Ellen being a diva behind the scenes. Kanye West was banned from her show because of an epic rant, which led to more rumors that the new "Queen of Nice" was anything but. Something that Rosie O'Donnell also had to deal with. Except Ellen took control of the narrative in The New York Times piece: "Ellen DeGeneres Is Not as Nice as You Think." For the first time, she addressed the rumors head-on. A candid quote from the Emmy-winner summed it up best, “The first day I said: ‘The one thing I want is everyone here to be happy and proud of where they work, and if not, don’t work here.’ No one is going to raise their voice or not be grateful. That’s the rule to this day.” Seems like a typical workplace. Why does Ellen have rumors of her being a nasty woman? Because, like the Presidential candidate who bore that title first, Ellen is successful and certain segments of the population don't know how to deal with that. It also goes against this view that Ellen is always happy and a joy to be around.
Which is where the Netflix special is coming into play. Ms. DeGeneres knows that her audience, the daytime audience, isn't keen on changes that come out of nowhere. There will be no declaration that she is the "slut of daytime" or that she is really the "Queen of Mean." Instead, she wants people to view her as being more human. She wants to be more relatable, as the title of her new stand-up special suggests. There is no reason to worry, though; she'll still dance and watch funny videos, but maybe sometimes she can have a bad day without breaking the internet.
Ellen has already done that by suggesting her talk show may be coming to an end. It probably is. When she announces that next season is her last, no one should be shocked. Nor should they be shocked when she announces that she is moving over to Netflix with an extremely generous package. This is the next phase of Ellen's career. Will she once again have a significant impact on culture? History says yes.