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American Television, Talk Shows  
 
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As Helene Shugart has pointed out, when O'Donnell came out as a lesbian in February 2002, it did not pose a significant challenge to her prior, solidly crafted mainstream identity. In fact, as O'Donnell noted in her interview with Diane Sawyer, her childhood--with a mother who died when she was young and an emotionally distant father--caused her more difficulties than being gay. Thus, by adopting and foregrounding a fairly neutral, "girl next door" persona prior to coming out, O'Donnell was able to avoid widespread controversy. In this way, according to Shugart, O'Donnell's strategy mirrored another notable star whose talk show debuted in 2003: Ellen DeGeneres.

Comedienne Ellen DeGeneres, who came out in a 1997 episode of her sitcom Ellen, debuted in a syndicated talk show in 2003. Eschewing controversial issues, including her lesbianism, and relying largely on her charm and comic riffs, DeGeneres scored a surprising hit. Indeed, the success of The Ellen DeGeneres Show marked what Jamie Skerski has called the most spectacular comeback in television history.

Featuring a mix of celebrity interviews, musical performances, "real people" segments, and audience participation games, as well as DeGeneres's monologues, the show earned critical praise and solid ratings. It was also honored with a daytime Emmy Award as "Outstanding Talk Show" in its first season.

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When producer Jim Paratore set out to reassure network executives in 2003 that The Ellen DeGeneres Show would be "determinedly lighthearted," he was met with widespread doubt and considerable trepidation. However, the low-key approach to controversial issues paid off. The Ellen DeGeneres Show has garnered fifteen Daytime Emmy Awards, including the award for Best Talk Show its first three seasons. Each season since its debut, the show has also become more popular. In addition, DeGeneres herself has become one of the most beloved public figures in television history.

In its first years, DeGeneres scrupulously avoided discussions of her coming-out narrative, her sexuality, or her long-term relationship with actress Portia di Rossi. Since then, however, especially as same-sex marriage and the bullying of glbtq youth have become mainstream topics, DeGeneres has become more open and more comfortable discussing queer topics.

For instance, on May 16, 2008--the day after the California Supreme Court overturned that state's ban on same-sex marriage--DeGeneres announced to her audience that she and Portia di Rossi were planning on getting married, and that parts of their ceremony would be aired on her show. The following week, DeGeneres invited presidential candidate John McCain to discuss his opposition to same-sex marriage. While McCain stated that he and DeGeneres had a "respectful disagreement on that issue," Ellen pointed out that "We are all the same people, all of us. You're no different than I am. Out love is the same."

Moreover, after the passage of Proposition 8 in November 2008, DeGeneres talked openly of her disappointment, and when a federal appeals court declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional in 2012, she took the opportunity to cheer the decision as well as to denounce a conservative group that was urging a boycott against JCPenney departments stores for hiring her as their spokesperson.

During the spate of youth suicides in 2010, DeGeneres spoke out forcefully against bullying. As NBC columnist Greg Wilson has observed, DeGeneres was devastated over the death of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after having been spied upon by his roommate. She noted to her viewers that "This needs to be a wakeup call to everyone that teenage bullying and teasing is an epidemic in this country, and the death rate is climbing. We have an obligation to change this."

Anderson Cooper, The View, Joy Behar, Sara Gilbert, Rosie Redux, Nate Berkus, and Suze Orman

DeGeneres has also brought the issues of bullying and suicide to wider audiences, including, most prominently, to CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees.

For example, in an October 29, 2010 broadcast, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper spoke to Clint McCance, school board vice president for Midland School District in Arkansas, who had posted on Facebook that he liked it when gay people died and stated that if his own kids were gay, he would disown him. DeGeneres, who was brought in to give her opinion of McCance's homophobic bullying, told Cooper that "If we allowed this to happen from someone like him, then we--what message does that send to a kid? What message does that send to a child in school that says 'Well, you know, he's saying it, why can't we say it? And we want them to die, too.' I mean, it sends a horrible message."

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