To celebrate the 20th anniversary of coming out on her sitcom Ellen on April 30, 1997, Ellen DeGeneres will air a reunion with several of the stars who helped bring the episode to life. The hour-long anniversary special that will air on her talk show this week pays tribute to "The Puppy Episode," in which DeGeneres's character Ellen Morgan came out and became the first-ever gay or lesbian lead character on television. In a sneak peek at the reunion show, Laura Dern, who played DeGeneres's love interest in the episode, articulated lovingly about being there for that piece of LGBT history.
Speaking with Dern and Oprah Winfrey, who played her character's therapist, DeGeneres recalled a scene from the episode where she comes out to Dern's character Susan and, accidentally, to an airline gate full of strangers. Having realized that she has a crush on Susan, DeGeneres's character Ellen follows Susan to the airport to tell her she's gay, which she does by leaning into a microphone. What wasn't obvious to viewers watching the watershed moment at the time was that DeGeneres was not accustomed to saying the words out loud under any circumstances, let alone to a set full of people.
"You were so comforting in that scene," DeGeneres told Dern. "For those words to come out of my mouth for the very first time, even rehearsing it, I would burst into tears every single time."
Dern, who's just come off of an excellent turn on HBO's Big Little Lies, told DeGeneres that she was honored to play the role.
"I have to say, just watching the clip made me so emotional, because of all the things I feel privileged to experience in my life, as a human but also as an actor, there's no greater gift than being the person that was with you and looking in your eyes as you said those words," Dern said.
"And when we did rehearse, you even whispered to me at one time, 'Maybe I'm not going to say it because I haven't said that out loud,'" Dern recalled.
"Watching you have this catharsis, or ritual, and the audience's support, and us sort of holding each other, literally kind of holding each other up, for this very emotional moment ... it was so profound," Dern said. "And I feel so blessed that I got to be there and witness that."
The tribute to "The Puppy Episode" airs Friday and will include guests Oprah Winfrey (who appears in the clip below), along with members of the sitcom's cast Joely Fisher, Clea Lewis, and David Anthony Higgins. The episode will also feature celebrity messages and testimonials from fans and LGBT people who were impacted by the episode, according to TVLine.
(Video) Ellen DeGeneres Reflects on 20th Anniversary of Her Coming Out: