Ellen DeGeneres insists that her upcoming CBS comedy The Ellen Show will be light on issues and heavy on laughs, a far cry from the final year of her politically-charged ABC sitcom Ellen. But a month before the new show's debut, the Emmy winner confesses that her comeback vehicle in which the out comedian once again plays it gay is already a bit of a groundbreaker.
"I think it's an interesting statement that I'm on at 8 o'clock on Friday nights," she tells TV Guide Online. "I mean, [ABC] had to move [Ellen] to a later hour before, and now I'm on earlier [and] on the family night. It's really interesting to me."
All things considered, The Ellen Show which sneaks Monday, Sept. 17 before moving to its regular Friday timeslot on Sept. 21 is a perfect fit for TV's family hour. In it, DeGeneres plays a jaded city slicker who moves back to her small Mayberry-esque hometown to be closer to her dysfunctional clan. And although her Ellen Richmond alter-ego is a lesbian, the character's dance card will be conspicuously empty.
Of course, that begs the question: Given Ellen's controversial legacy, did Eye execs demand DeGeneres sign a celibacy clause before they greenlit the project? "Nobody said anything to me like that," she maintains. "It wasn't even an issue when I said my character's going to be gay that was sort of a given. [But] the whole deal is, I did 12 to 15 years of stand-up before I did [Ellen]. Granted, I was not out, but none of my material ever came from dating. It was all just situations and life issues. And this time around I'm just trying to do a funny show.
"There's so much comedy in me just going home again and living with my mom and being in this [small] town," continues the 43-year-old New Orleans native, who recruited Cloris Leachman to play her mother. "There is going to be stuff that comes up once in a while as far as my sexuality, but I just think it's not as funny a situation as life in general. I just want to do a funny show about being home again."
But will America buy DeGeneres's makeover from flag-waving gay rights vanguard to squeaky clean, puritanical homebody? "I'm really not controversial," asserts the host of the 2001 Primetime Emmy Awards, airing Sept. 16. "I'm suddenly known as being controversial, but I'm really not. I'm actually pretty tame."
There was a time when such criticism would drive her to tears, the funny lady concedes. "Everything used to upset me," she shares. "I was so sensitive, this naive little person that thought, 'Well, how come everybody doesn't like me? I'm nice. Everybody should love me.' I'd look at other celebrities that are just tyrants
... nasty, mean people, and I'm like, 'How come they get away with that? I'm actually
a nice person. Just because I'm gay they don't [like me]?' I didn't understand it. And now I think I'm a little bit wiser, and I understand people are not going to like people sometimes, so I just have to let it go."