Monday, May 24, 2004

Daytime Emmy Award caps
DeGeneres' comeback

By Lynn Elber
The Associated Press

If Ellen DeGeneres is carrying heavy baggage these days, it's only because she's stuffed it with Emmys.

Crowning a successful first season for The Ellen DeGeneres Show, DeGeneres accepted the best talk show trophy at Friday's Daytime Emmy Awards in New York.

Ellen DeGeneres
Ellen Degeneres kisses her Emmy after winning for "Outstanding Talk Show" at the 31st Annual Daytime Emmy Awards Friday, May 21, 2004 in New York.
(AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)
The syndicated series also received three Emmys for technical achievement, making it this year's most-honored talk show.

Not bad for a woman who feared her career suffered permanent damage when she came out as a lesbian on Ellen. All it took was a family-friendly hit movie (Finding Nemo), an HBO special and the daytime show to give DeGeneres back what she wanted - humor without agenda.

"I'm a comedian. I want to make people laugh," she said in a recent interview. "Somehow, I was viewed as political when I just want to be a comedian."

With her determinedly lighthearted show, DeGeneres is getting her wish. It's one of the handful of new daytime talk shows to score with audiences in the past decade.

Tom Selleck, who co-starred with DeGeneres in 1999's The Love Letter and was set to appear on her show Thursday, finds her success deserved. "She's a sweet person. You see the heart and soul of her," he said.

DeGeneres is enjoying the ride - a far tamer one than her last TV adventure.

In 1997, she and her sitcom character came out as lesbian on Ellen. Before Will & Grace, before Queer as Folk, before Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, it fell to DeGeneres to serve as the TV focus for the issues of gay visibility and acceptability.

The sitcom lasted just one season more after a drop in ratings, and DeGeneres found her career in a slump. She tried resurrecting it with another sitcom, The Ellen Show in 2001, but it was short-lived.

Then came her endearing voice performance in 2003's Finding Nemo, and an HBO standup special in which she pointedly avoided politics in favor of whimsical observational humor.

But when producers set out to sell her talk show, it found reluctance among some station owners and managers. "We knew there was baggage," said Jim Paratore, president of Warner Bros. Telepictures Productions. Concerns over controversy had to be addressed.

"In daytime, the audience doesn't want to be preached at by anybody. They don't want Oprah preaching spirituality or Rosie (O'Donnell) preaching politics or Ellen preaching lifestyle," he said.

DeGeneres is grateful viewers have responded to her show, which combines the usual celebrity interviews with a monologue, comic bits and much interaction with her studio and at-home audience.

After DeGeneres displayed a picture of her overweight cat, "suddenly people sent in pictures of their fat cats," she said.

She continues on in her meandering, charmingly Ellenesque fashion: "Some of them we don't even show because I feel like, 'Oh, my God, this animal's going to blow up in a second.' "

Despite the career rough patch, she "wouldn't change one single thing that happened," DeGeneres said.

"I feel like the success is even sweeter. I'm so grateful I have another chance. I can relax, and not have any secrets."

Emmy winners

Winners of Daytime Emmy Awards, presented Friday at Radio City Music Hall in New York:

Supporting actor, drama series: Rick Hearst, General Hospital

Supporting actress, drama series: Cady McClain, As the World Turns

Special class special: 77th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Game show: The Price is Right

Younger actor, drama series: Chad Brannon, General Hospital

Younger actress, drama series: Jennifer Finnigan, The Bold and the Beautiful

Performer, children's series: Jeff Corwin, Jeff Corwin Unleashed

Drama series directing team: General Hospital

Talk show: The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Game show host: Bob Barker, The Price is Right

Performer, children's special: Gena Rowlands, The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie

Drama series writing team: As the World Turns

Service show host: Suze Orman, Suze Orman: The Lessons of Money, The Lessons of Life

Lead actress, drama series: Michelle Stafford, The Young and the Restless

Talk show host: Wayne Brady

Lead actor, drama series: Anthony Geary, General Hospital

Drama series: The Young and the Restless

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