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It's good to be Ellen. Not only is she a judge on American Idol, but her eponymous talk show continues to do gangbusters in the ratings. Now, with Oprah Winfrey's recent announcement that her own juggernaut talker will end its quarter-century run next year (the woman who desperately sought to be Oprah's heir apparent, Tyra Banks, is also getting out of daytime TV), DeGeneres is poised for even more success.
"There's going to be a real void," Cynthia Littleton, deputy editor of Variety, says of Oprah's daytime departure. "Oprah still has a very healthy audience, and those people are going to be gravitating to another show."
A world without The Oprah Winfrey Show is an opportunity not just for DeGeneres but also for Warner Bros., which distributes DeGeneres's syndicated talk show. Oprah's show, also syndicated, has long had the best time slots, Littleton says, and Warner Bros. executives will likely make a play for them if their affiliate contracts expire when Oprah steps down in September 2011. (Warner Bros. executives declined to discuss their plans for The Ellen DeGeneres Show.)
Even if DeGeneres nabs Winfrey's time slots, could she ever have a show as culturally significant? Would DeGeneres ever do episodes on the down low or pregnant men?
"Oprah has always been issue-oriented," Littleton says. "Ellen is a little more celeb-based and goofy... It'll be interesting if you see any subtle shifts in Ellen's show--if there's any kind of effort to broaden or make changes to attract the Oprah audience."
That prospect is doubtful, Littleton admits: "It would probably be foolish to change what's worked for her."
DeGeneres may also be discouraged from doing edgier episodes by her sitcom experience on ABC's Ellen. After the actress and her character, Ellen Morgan, came out during the show's fourth season in 1997, Ellen featured episodes on lesbian sex, homophobia, and a women's music festival--and it was canceled the next year.