Ellen Working on a Sit-Com Featuring a Lesbian Lead
After a great summer for lesbians on television, Ellen DeGeneres is developing a comedy for NBC with a lesbian in the leading role.
As reported by Deadline's Nellie Andreeva, DeGeneres is developing a multi-camera comedy with NBC, written and co-produced by another lesbian comic, Liz Feldman, whose credits include "2 Broke Girls." For two years, Feldman worked with DeGeneres on her hit syndicated talk show and wrote for DeGeneres' first stint as an Oscar host.
The show will focus on a lesbian and her straight male best friend, who decide to have a baby -- only, she gets pregnant just as he meets and marries the love of his life.
"There's a lot to like about the surge of lesbian characters on television," said TV critic Willa Paskin recently in The Slate. First and foremost, it's not boring. There is very little that straight people can get up to, especially in the PG strictures of network television, that is new."
DeGeneres herself was the first out-gay, leading character on any network comedy or drama. On April 30, 1997, after much anticipation and skirting around the issue, Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet on her popular sit-com, "Ellen."
Though the coming out episode itself garnered huge ratings, the show failed to move forward and petered out, causing it to be cancelled the next season. Still, at the time, DeGeneres had substantial media attention: She was on the cover of Time magazine, and got herself condemned by Rev. Jerry Falwell as "Ellen Degenerate," proving that he was every bit as witty (as nasty) as any grammar school child.
Three years later, DeGeneres returned with a similar sit-com called "The Ellen Show," which was quickly cancelled.
DeGeneres truly found her niche as a daytime talk show host. "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" won four Emmys in its first year, including the honor of Best Host, and has been going strong ever since.
NBC has had some hits and misses with gay-themed comedies in the past. Although they produced the revolutionary hit "Will & Grace," their comedy "The New Normal," about two gay dads having a baby via a surrogate, ended up being cancelled. Meanwhile, the network has launched another comedy with a gay male lead; "Sean Saves the World" features "Will & Grace's" larger-than-life gay clown, Sean Hayes.
Though ABC's "Modern Family," with its gay fathers Cam and Mitchell, is an undisputed success, sitcoms haven't seen a lot of lesbians. That is changing, as the ever-enduring "Two and a Half Men" has added a new lesbian character, Jenny, Charlie's long-lost daughter, played by Amber Tamblyn. The character is envisioned to be a potential co-lead.
Though gay men have had more success so far in situation comedy, the portrayal of intimacy among gay people on television skews toward women. As Paskin said, "You only have to compare the prevalence of lesbians making out on television to the dearth of gay men doing the same to see that the medium is far from a bastion of open-mindedness."
"Moving forward, it would be nice to see more racial diversity and more body diversity," said Vulture.com critic Margaret Lyons, "but that's true of television in general, and true of roles for women in general. For now... this kind of feels like progress."