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Series / Ellen

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The cast of seasons 3-5. Clockwise from top left: Joe, Paige, Audrey, Ellen, and Spence.

"Susan... I'm gay."note 

Ellen (originally titled These Friends of Mine) is a U.S. television sitcom that ran on the ABC network from March 29, 1994 to July 22, 1998. It starred Ellen DeGeneres as Los Angeles bookseller Ellen Morgan. Notably, DeGeneres used the series to "come out" publicly.

Not to be confused with DeGeneres's daytime talk show which debuted in The 2000s.

The show provides examples of:

  • Accidental Public Confession: Ellen says "I'm gay" right into the airport PA system.
  • Adam Westing: Emma Thompson turns out to be not only gay but American.
  • The Alcoholic: Paige's mother (passed out at her wedding).
  • All Just a Dream: In "It's a Gay, Gay, Gay, Gay World!", Spence gets knocked out and dreams of what would happen if he lived in a mostly gay world. The final scene pokes fun of The Wizard of Oz when the secondary cast arrives home dreamed up as the characters from the film.
  • All There in the Manual: Holly‚Äôs last name is Jamison, although this was never mentioned in any of her 13 episodes.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents:
    • Ellen frequently feels this way about her parents, Lois and Harold Morgan, especially Lois.
    • Anita was embarrassed by how incredibly boring her parents were.
  • Analogy Backfire:
    • In "What's Up, Ex-Doc?", Ellen attempts to explain to Spence's father that Spence no longer wants to be a doctor; using the same elaborate baking analogy that Spence had used with her about leaving out a vital ingredient and having to throw out the entire mixture. However, Spence's father, who is a baker, points out that there is a very simple fix to the situation she describes that would save the mixture.
    • In "Ellen With Child," Ellen tries to explain sex to Matt's 9-year-old daughter, Mia, by comparing it to riding on a merry-go-round. Mia then comments on how fun sex sounds, forcing Ellen to come up with less favorable comparisons.
  • And Starring: Arye Gross received the "and" credit during the first 3 seasons.
  • Armoured Closet Gay: Ellen in the first three seasons, after Susan tells her she's into women and Ellen awkwardly has to defend herself, saying hilarious things like "straight people like ice" all while over filling a cup with ice.
  • The Artifact: Adam, the only other character to be retained beyond the first season, ultimately became this in season 3. After Spence was introduced by the new producers, Adam was relegated to the background until episode 5, which was devoted to his sendoff. The character was never mentioned again after departing.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Audrey made a single appearance in the first season, recurred throughout the second, and became a series regular come the third.
    • Peter, who appeared a few times in season two, became a recurring character come season three.
  • Bank Toaster: Referenced/parodied during the famous coming out episode. When Ellen's lesbian friend Susan casually comments on how she thought Ellen was gay, the (still-closeted) Ellen hilariously freaks out and accuses Susan of trying to "recruit" her.
    Susan: I'll have to call up national headquarters and tell them I lost you. Damn, just one more and I would've gotten that toaster oven!
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Spence and Paige throughout season 3.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ellen doesn't end up with Susan like she'd hoped after coming out as gay, but she gains a deeper understanding of herself, her friends and family still support her, and she falls into another loving relationship before series' end.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: In the first season we had Ellen (blonde), Anita (brunette) and Holly (redhead). The naturally blonde Holly Fulger said the producers insisted she dye her hair red to make this trope apply.
  • Breather Episode: "Neighbors" - a rare final season episode that made absolutely no mention or issue out of Ellen's sexuality, instead focusing solely (and heavily) on comedy and farce.
  • Brick Joke: Susan's joke about getting a toaster oven for "recruiting" Ellen to the gay community in "The Puppy Episode - Part 1". The final scene of the second part parodies this by showing Melissa Etheridge presenting Susan with a toaster oven after Ellen signed her lesbian contract.
  • Call-Back: When Ellen comes out to her friends in "The Puppy Episode," Audrey says that she thinks it's super before hugging Ellen. The following season, during the dream sequence in "It's a Gay, Gay, Gay, Gay World!", Audrey repeats the same line to Spence after he "comes out" as straight.
  • Camp Gay: Peter and Barrett.
  • Celebrity Paradox:
    • The tag scene for "Fleas Navidad" has Ellen and co. opening their Christmas presents, with each receiving a copy of "Taste This," the new comedy album from...Ellen DeGeneres.
    • Oprah Winfrey is mentioned just several episodes before guest-starring as the therapist in "The Puppy Episode."
  • Characterization Marches On:
    • Audrey was initially shown as a married woman with a very negative disposition. The following year, her husband was dropped without explanation and her personality was considerably more bubbly and good-natured. Come season three, she turns out to be a multi-million dollar heiress.
    • Ellen Morgan, arguably a huge example. When the show started she was a slightly neurotic single woman with a motormouth who essentially did the same things most single sitcom women did (hunt for men, scheme with friends, clash with her mother, etc.). By the end of the third season the character was even more motormouthed but had completely stopped dating, nor did she express any disappointment with being single. Season 4 presented a slightly deeper Ellen, going from therapist to therapist and dropping suggestive hints about conflicted feelings. By the end of the season, she'd had a personal revelation that she was gay, and began to live her life more openly than ever before. Though she remained similar in many respects for the final season, she was much more self-aware and confident and began a healthy relationship with another woman, which was still going on when the series ended. It's easily one of the best examples of a sitcom character developing over time while still remaining the same person.
  • Character Name and the Noun Phrase: "Ellen's New Friend," "Ellen's Improvement," "Ellen's Choice," "Ellen: With Child," "Ellen Unplugged," "Ellen's Deaf Comedy Jam," "Ellen in Focus," Ellen: A Hollywood Tribute"
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome:
    • Anita and Holly, two of Ellen's best friends in season one, disappear into thin air as of season two, without ever being mentioned again.
    • Rick, Ellen's socially awkward neighbor, was being set up as a recurring drop-in character in the first few episodes, but was unceremoniously dropped midway through season one.
  • Clip Show: Season four's "The Clip Show Patient." The timing of this episode was wise, as it was the last episode to air before the famous coming-out episode. Helped remind viewers that Ellen was still the same character she always was, just more self-aware.
  • Coming-Out Story: "The Puppy Episode," in which the character Ellen Morgan came out as a lesbian, shortly after Ellen DeGeneres came out publicly.
  • Commuting on a Bus: There were very few episodes during the final season which featured the entire credited ensemble, and even several where Ellen appeared solely with guest stars. Given the shift in direction the show had undergone this actually makes sense, as the bookstore which had linked so many of them together was no longer a part of the series; all the characters had basically gone in their own directions and, realistically, would not have spent as much time with Ellen as before.
  • Continuity Cavalcade: When Dan reconnects with Ellen in "Thirty-Kilo Man" (the season two finale), he asks her what she's been up to for the past six months. Ellen's response contains details from many previous episodes that season: Adam moving out, her brother's wedding, the spa trip with Paige, ballet lessons, the robbery, and dating an American Gladiator.
  • Couch Gag: The opening during seasons 3 and 4 were always different, with the excuse that they haven't settled on one yet.
    • In case you were wondering, they were different for each season...
    • Season 3 would have Ellen (and Joely Fisher one time) coming out and talking to the audience, usually apologizing that the title sequence wasn't ready yet.
    • Season 4 had Ellen interacting with a guest star, or a guest musician singing the show's theme.
    • Season 5 displayed a chair situated outside of the house Ellen had bought In-Universe, with the title card positioned on it and a different item displayed on the side table.
  • Crossover: In 1997, ABC initiated a crossover stunt on this and the other Wednesday night sitcoms - The Drew Carey Show, Coach and Grace Under Fire. Titled "Viva Las Vegas," the idea was that characters from the four shows would be in Las Vegas for different reasons and encounter each other. Only a couple characters from each series did this, however, and they amounted to cameos at best. This series' contribution was "Secrets & Ellen." Notably, Ellen herself didn't support doing this, so her character did no crossing over. Paige and Spence went to Vegas instead.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most of Ellen's humor relies on her delivering a snappy, well articulated, elaborated and witty comeback for just about every remark.
  • Discriminate and Switch: After Laurie's daughter is standoffish to Ellen, she wonders if it's about not liking that her mother is gay. It's actually because of Ellen's reluctance to act like Laurie's girlfriend in public.
  • Disguised in Drag: In "The Fix-Up," Adam enters a photography contest and wins, but it was for women only. When he can't get a woman to accept the prize, he goes to the ceremony in drag. It goes badly - with him returning home complaining about the women seeing through his disguise and calling him a pervert.
  • The Ditz: Audrey.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • When Matt tells Ellen he wants to marry Paige soon, Ellen acts as if things are moving too fast between the two of them.
    • In the coming-out episode, Ellen jumps on her cute date, presumably trying to convince herself that she's straight. They fall onto the bed. . .and the scene fades back in to find her lamenting, "I'm sorry, this has never happened to me before," with him trying to reassure her, "It's okay, it happens to everyone." Basically a Gender Flip of a man not being able to perform and his partner trying to console him while hiding her disappointment.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The show evolved with each passing year, but the first season stands out as the most different. Originally aired as These Friends of Mine, with a long title sequence set to new-age music (with corresponding music cues), and a supporting cast that would eventually change completely. The show didn't ultimately settle into its most recognizable format until season three.
    • Within the first season, the initial seven episodes produced also differ from the later six. Besides the absence of the bookstore as a physical location, there's the presence of Ellen's friend Anita (Maggie Wheeler), her oddball neighbor Rick, plus a recurring restaurant hangout. All of these elements disappear halfway through the season.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Ellen's middle name is Inez.
  • Establishing Shot: Like most sitcoms of the time, every episode used them. Interestingly, when Anita was written out after the 1st season, the establishing shot of her apartment building was re-used in the 2nd season as Paige's apartment building.
  • Evil Matriarch: Paige's mother, never satisfied.
  • Flanderization: Audrey goes from a nagging, grumpy acquaintance to a pink-wearing ditzy drop-in with an annoying high-pitched voice.
  • The Faceless: Paige's mother, appeared in the Wedding Episode but passed out and only her legs were shown.
  • Fiery Redhead: Paige Clark fits very well. Holly, however, was a big exception.
  • Foreshadowing: So much in Ellen's coming out.
    • Many puns involving an actual closet door, stereotypical fashion or dates.
    • Ellen being uncomfortable around her guy dates.
  • Forced Out of the Closet: Ellen by one of her friends accidentally in season 4. "For God's sake, Ellen, tell them you're gay."
  • Friend Versus Lover: Paige threw a fit when Ellen (finally!!!) got a boyfriend in the end of season two.
  • Game Show Appearance: Ellen goes on American Gladiators.
  • Get Back in the Closet: In season 4, after Ellen Morgan came out as gay, every episode of the series received a TV-MA rating on television regardless of the actual content. DeGeneres complained bitterly about this, noting episodes of The Drew Carey Show and Spin City in which pairs of male characters kissed but didn't receive harsher ratings. She suspects it was because the actors involved in the kissing were known to be straight in real life.
  • Hilarious Outtakes:
    • In the season one episode "The Houseguest," the closing credits show outtakes from the book reading and theatre exterior scenes.
    • In the season two episode "Ellen's New Friend," the closing credits show outtakes from the camping scene, where Ellen and Audrey start cracking up.
    • In the season five episode "Gay Yellow Pages," the closing credits show an outtake of a scene from early in the episode between Ellen and Peter, in which both start cracking up.
    • In the season five episode "Escape from L.A.," the closing credits showed several takes of Laurie being splashed with water.
    • The DVD releases for seasons 3 and 5 both include blooper reels containing additional outtakes.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: In season 1, which runs a full minute long, and then a different one in season 2, which runs a scant ten seconds. (DeGeneres hated the season one opening and demanded it be scrapped; half the cast departing between seasons meant a new one was needed anyway.)
  • Invisible Celebrity Guest: John Travolta in "Horshack's Law."
  • Ironic Episode Title: "The Puppy Episode" which has nothing to do with such, but rather with Ellen coming out.
  • Irrevocable Message: In the pilot episode, Ellen leaves a message on Holly's machine, just before going to meet her, warning about the guy she was dating. When they arrive they realize he was not so bad, so Ellen tries to prevent Holly from listening to the message.
  • Is This Thing Still On?: That page quote? It was meant to be said in confidence, but Ellen was leaning right over an active microphone at an airport desk.
  • It's All About Me: Paige is an excellent example.
  • I Want Grandkids: Ellen's mother.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Spence.
  • Lampshade Hanging: In "Two Mammograms and a Wedding," Ellen tells guest star Janeane Garofalo that she owns a shop that sells books and coffee. Garofalo comments that it's 'very hip, very "Friends"', to which Ellen quickly retorts "we were there first."
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: "The Puppy Episode's" opening scene, with Ellen preparing for a date in her office and the other characters wondering what's taking her so long in there:
    Paige: "Ellen, are you coming out or not?"
    Joe: "Yeah, Ellen. Quit jerking us around and come out already!"
    Ellen: "What is the big deal? I've got a whole hour!"
  • Lipstick Lesbian:
    • Ellen's love interests tended to fall into this category, especially Susan Richmond and Laurie Manning.
    • Ellen jokingly referred to herself as a "chapstick lesbian" for being somewhere between lipstick and butch.
  • Loony Friends Improve Your Personality: Ellen was not overly fond of Audrey early on, but as the years went on she became considerably more comfortable around Audrey and accepting of her quirks.
  • Love Epiphany: Spence and Paige have one during the two part season 3 finale just minutes before Paige is to be married to Matt - however while Paige was prepared to go through with the wedding anyway Matt called it off at the altar.
  • Make-Out Kids: Spence and Paige from season 4 onwards.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Audrey to Adam in several episodes.
  • Mockumentary: The show's final episode was one of these, treating Ellen as though she'd been on TV since the 1950's, claimed that her show originated several TV conventions (Two-Timer Date, Evil Twin, etc.) among other things.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Jeremy Piven (Spence) showed us several times what his chest looked like before discovering waxing.
  • No Bisexuals: Ellen Morgan showed exclusive interest in men for the first three seasons, then began "Switching Teams" in season 4, to coincide with actress Ellen DeGeneres coming out publicly. Although Ellen's coming out had a big build-up, the character didn't truly begin to re-examine her life until the 4th season.
  • Not What It Looks Like:
    • In one episode of season two, Ellen is trying out a pair of rollerblades. Adam comes in and she goes over to the counter to fetch a check for him. She starts slipping and Adam grabs her from behind and tries to help her back on her feet with several thrusts. Paige walks in and Ellen, now panting, thanks Adam and gives him the check.
    • In the last episode of season four, Paige wants to prove she's okay with Ellen's homosexuality and to prove it, she starts to change clothes in front of her. Ellen struggles with her to put her shirt back on when Joe and Audrey walk in.
    • The episode "Neighbors" of season five revolves mostly around this trope.
  • No Periods, Period: In "The Pregnancy Test" episode, Paige thinks she might be pregnant, so she takes a pregnancy test and Ellen and Audrey go one themselves for fun. One of the tests turns out positive but they can't figure out which. In the end everything gets resolves after Paige and Audrey get their periods.
  • One-Word Title
  • Pop-Culture Pun Episode Title: Many to list: "The Hand That Robs the Cradle," "The Bridges of L.A. County," "What's Up, Ex-Doc?," "Two Mammograms and a Wedding," "Ellen Unplugged" "Like a Virgin."
  • Prison Episode: "Three Strikes" revolves around her being arrested for participating in an animal rights protest and ultimately remanded to the custody of her parents.
  • Promoted to Opening Titles: David Anthony Higgins (Joe) in Season 2 and Clea Lewis (Audrey) in Season 3.
  • Protagonist Title: The main character is Ellen Morgan.
  • Put on a Bus: Adam left for London to pursue his photography career and was never seen or heard of again.
  • Questioning Title?: "Trick or Treat - Who Cares?," "What's Up, Ex-Doc?," "Do You Fear What I Fear?"
  • "Rashomon"-Style: In "Not So Great Expectations," Ellen, Paige, Spence and Joe recount the same event from different perspectives: Ellen's mother being escorted outside by her date.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • "The Puppy Episode"
    • When Joely Fisher had to skip the bulk of a few episodes to film a Lifetime Original Movie, they explained her absence by having Paige travel up to Canada to produce guessed it, Lifetime Original Movie.
  • Remember the New Guy?:
    • Paige Clark was introduced in the second season as having a long history with Ellen and Adam, despite her not getting as much as a mention in the first season.
    • Spence, Ellen's cousin with whom she spent "all those summers with" - even though he was never mentioned before being introduced in season three.
  • Retool: The series underwent numerous changes during its five season run:
    • Originally titled These Friends of Mine, the series was initially presented as a gender-reversed Seinfeld, with three women (Ellen, Holly, Anita) and a man (Adam) making up the ensemble, though DeGeneres was the center of the show from the get-go.
    • Midway through the first season, production went on hiatus while changes were made. Anita was unceremoniously written outnote , and the bookstore Ellen worked at, which up to that point had only been referenced, was introduced as a new location for stories to take place in. A new character, Joe, was written in as the bookstore's barista.
    • More changes came for the second season, starting with the title becoming Ellen and her character now owning the bookstore. Holly was dropped from the cast like Anita had been, with her place being taken by another new character, Paige. Adam remained, but was given a steady job and a more clean-cut appearance in order to make the character more likeable. Joe was also promoted to series regular, while Audrey, a one-shot character from season one, was given a personality makeover and bumped up to recurring status.
    • For the third season, the bookstore set was redesigned following an in-universe earthquake. Ellen's cousin Spence joined as a series regular, while original male lead Adam was phased out after five episodes. Audrey was promoted to series regular as well. This ensemble would remain intact for the rest of the run, which led up to the famous "coming out" story arc involving Ellen's character in season four.
    • For the fifth and final season, Ellen had sold the bookstore to finance the purchase of a house, resulting in the bookstore and original apartment sets being done away with. More importantly, the character's being out of the closet resulted in many gay-themed episodes, giving the series an entirely different focus from previous seasons.
  • Revolving Door Casting: Three of the four actors named in the opening credits were gone by the end of the third season, and four new actors were added, with only DeGeneres appearing throughout.
  • Self-Deprecation: In the final episode, a mockumentary of Ellen's career, Linda Ellerbee interviews her about "The Puppy Episode," with Ellen noting how it broke TV taboo's by revealing that she was 35. Ellerbee then notes about her coming out in the episode, with Ellen saying the studio "spun it that way."
  • Shock Jock: Ellen finds unexpected success as one in Season 5 after quitting the bookstore (the big joke being that this is the last thing you'd expect from the easy-going, relatable DeGeneres).
  • Sidetracked by the Analogy: In "What's Up, Ex-Doc?", after Spence breaks the news to his father that he got thrown out of the medical profession and was going to enroll in law school, Ellen attempts to quell their disagreement with a baking analogy, as her uncle is a baker. However, in acting as a peacemaker between the two of them, she forgets parts of the analogy and worsens the situation.
  • Special Guest:
    • Martha Stewart (pre-scandal), Carrie Fisher, Trisha Yearwood, Mary Tyler Moore, Eddie Fisher.
    • Many celebrites made cameos in "The Puppy Episode - Part 2" - k.d. Lang, Melissa Etheridge, Billy Bob Thornton, Demi Moore, Gina Gershon and Dwight Yoakam. And, of course, Oprah Winfrey as the therapist.
    • A classic episode has Ellen discovering Emma Thompson is gay and encouraging her to come out. Thompson is worried as it might expose her even bigger secret: She's from Dayton, Ohio.
      Thompson (in perfect Midwestern drawl): I learned the accent from Julie Andrews movies, ok?
    • The "Hollywood Tribute" finale was loaded with celebrity cameos - Cindy Crawford, Helen Hunt, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Julianna Margulies, Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Aniston, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Tim Conway, Phil Leeds and Bea Arthur.
  • Split-Screen Phone Call: In season one's "The Anchor" and in season four's "Ellen's Def Comedy Jam".
  • Stereotype Flip: Happens in season four's "Kiss My Bum" with typical gay vs. straight stereotypes. Spence, Joe, Peter and Barrett are all watching the football game on Thanksgiving. Peter and Barrett (the camp gay couple), display a hitherto unseen interest in the sport, complete with shouting accurate football terminology at the screen. Spence and Joe, meanwhile (two confirmed heterosexuals), ignore the game in favor of raving about how flaky the pie crust is, and discussing the proper methods for achieving ideal crust consistency.
  • Stripper/Cop Confusion: In "Go Girlz," during the slumber party, Ellen mistakes a cop for a stripper, who in turn enjoys the mix-up and plays along.
  • Take That!:
    • In "Break Up," Laurie warns her daughter not to carelessly flip through every channel on TV because she may come across something inappropriate. Ellen responds, "I'm sure if there's something objectionable on, there'll be a warning." This was an obvious jab at ABC, which displayed parental advisory warnings before many of the gay-themed episodes broadcast that season.
    • The episode of her coming out being titled "The Puppy Episode" is a blunt jab at an especially ridiculous piece of attempted Executive Meddling, where they suggested Ellen could get a puppy instead of realizing she was gay.
  • Thematic Theme Tune: The series' theme song (used in Season 3 onwards), "So Called Friend", is by Scottish band Texas. A running gag during the third and fourth seasons was that each episode had a distinct/different opening credits sequence (often with singing and dancing), resulting from Ellen's ongoing search for the perfect opening credits.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: In "The Apartment Hunt," Audrey moves in with Ellen for a while and starts driving her crazy. Ellen goes with her on an apartment hunt and tries to ditch her with the one furthest from her house.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Kaley Cuoco and Ashley Peldon played young Ellen and Paige, respectively, during flashback segments in "The Bubble-Gum Incident."
  • Transparent Closet: Throughout season four, hints were made to Ellen's sexuality and near the end of season 4 in "The Puppy Episode," Ellen announced she was a lesbian.
  • Trash the Set and Rebuilt Set: Ellen's bookstore is remodeled in season three after an earthquake.
  • Tyop on the Cover:
    • The season 2, volume 2 DVD menu refers to an episode as "Mrs. Kroger" instead of "Mrs. Koger". The packaging and disc label are correct, however.
    • The season 4, volume 1 DVD mislabels "A Deer Head for Joe" as "A Dear Head for Joe."
  • Unlucky Everydude: Adam.
  • Very Special Episode:
    • "Two Mammograms and a Wedding"; special guest star, Janeane Garofalo.
    • Almost every episode of the final season can be viewed as this.
  • Viva Las Vegas!: In "Secrets & Ellen," Paige and Spence go there to spend a romantic weekend. Wayne Newton guest stars as a doctor, while Drew Carey and Brett Butler make crossover appearances from their respective sitcoms.
  • We Should Get Another Tape:
    • Season 1's "The Tape" had Adam unknowingly record a documentary onto a sex tape of Anita's, then proceed to give a copy to her parents.
    • Season 3's "The Shower Scene" centered around Ellen taping an episode of thirtysomething over Paige's sister Heather's birth video.
  • Wham Episode: "The Puppy Episode"
    Therapist: "Has there ever been anyone you felt you clicked with?"
    Ellen: Nods
    Therapist: "And what was his name?"
    Ellen: "Susan."
  • Why Waste a Wedding?: Paige, even after being discovered kissing Spence, whom she admittedly has feelings for, wants to go through with her wedding to Matt anyway.
  • The X of Y: Most episode titles of season one and two: "The Anchor," "The Class Reunion," "The Refrigerator," "The Dentist," "The Sleep Clinic"


Video Example(s):


Ellen Comes Out

One of the most pivotal moments in US TV history.

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Main / ComingOutStory

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