The unlikely rise of Ellen DeGeneres to become the most powerful woman in daytime television is chronciled in a comprehensive new profile in The Hollywood Reporter.
In less than a decade, the now-54-year-old DeGeneres's hit talk show has become an afternoon party for viewers, many of whom are middle-aged straight women, something that suprised executives who initially found that demographic beyond the comedian's appeal. "They said, 'Who is going to watch a lesbian during the daytime?'" DeGeneres remembers. "'You know these are housewives and mothers, right? What does she possibly have in common with them?'"
Apparently, commonality is irrelevant. According to the Reporter, last year the program earned $87 million in advertising, which makes it the second-highest-earning syndicated series after Oprah Winfrey's during her final season. The show's annual profits are reported to be in the $20 million range.
Since her program premiered in 2003, DeGeneres "has managed to strike a remarkable balance by being agenda-free without shying from who she is, as evidenced by frequent mentions of (and occasional visits from) her wife of four years, Portia de Rossi."
The Reporter notes that DeGeneres does occasionally use her show as a forum to draw attention to issues that are important to her as a lesbian entertainer. She has raised awareness of the bullying epidemic faced by many LGBT children and even went to battle with the notorious One Million Moms group, who felt that department store chain JCPenney would lose customers with "traditional values" by hiring DeGeneres. "I usually don't talk about stuff like this on my show, but I really want to thank everyone who is supporting me," she announced on air last February. "Here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values."
The pioneering role of DeGeneres isn't lost on fellow out comic Wanda Sykes. "Ellen took the bullet for everyone else," Sykes says. "When you come out now, it's a celebration, not a kiss of death, and we have her to thank for that."
DeGeneres also notes that publicists frequently advise their celebrity clients to not reveal too many personal details. "I know that every time I list something that I am, I am potentially alienating a whole group of people," DeGeneres states. "Publicists and managers will encourage you not to say what political party you belong to, what you eat, what you don't eat, who you sleep with and all that stuff," she says, pausing to think through what will come next. But this doesn't sit well with her. "I just think it's dangerous. People need to have all kinds of examples and heroes on television who stand for something."