“ABC silenced (Ellen), but with this tale of self-empowerment, it’s Ellen who gets the last word.” Entertainment Weekly
THE REAL ELLEN STORY is an in-depth documentary detailing the story behind the historic “coming-out” episode of Ellen. The program takes a unique behind-the-scenes approach in encapsulating the time-line detailing the conception of the episode, the rumours, the controversy and Ellen DeGeneres’ own declaration in Time magazine.
It takes an up-close and personal look at the thoughtful and complex decision-making process required to create and bring this episode to air. Following the intense media speculation around the episode following a series of leaks, evangelists and right-wing groups organized boycotts of Disney products and dubbed Ellen ‘Ellen Degenerate’. While gay and lesbian groups organized support campaigns, the program writers continued to put together a shoreline that was locked in a safe at the end of each day.
In THE REAL ELLEN STORY, Ellen recalls the months of negotiations behind the scenes that began to take their toll on her personal life. As the time slot for the show moved to a later time, Ellen found herself in the midst of a publicity tour promoting her new CD, while sensationally denying the gay rumors that were threatening to engulf her.
By the time the green light was given to film the episode, the Ellen team were at a breaking point. Crew members recall the feeling on-set: “Ellen just burst into tears every time they filmed the coming out scene – it was so emotional for everyone.” Even Dean Valentine, Disney head at the time, admits to having tears in his eyes. “Everyone who was there that night – we all knew something huge had just happened…it was a huge party, little did we know it would turn out to be a huge party for the world,” Ellen says.
The documentary also follows the aftermath of the filming. As Christian fundamentalists in Alabama refused to transmit the episode on their local network, over 5,000 screening parties were being organized in support of the event. Ellen also began a personal struggle to come out publicly.
A fundamental factor was her across-the-room meeting with Anne Heche at an Oscars party which hit the headlines. The couple admits the backlash to their much-publicized meeting with President Clinton at the White House shocked them. “People have to find something wrong with love, that is what this all boils down to – people are crazy,” Ellen says.
Ellen DeGeneres provides us with a deeply personal account of her struggle making this episode possible and the ripple effect it has had on her career and love life.
The documentary is peppered with other interviews from people such as Anne Heche, Betty DeGeneres, Diane Sawyer, Laura Dern, Melissa Etheridge, Disney Executives and remarkable footage that surrounded the whole media feeding-frenzy.
In a candid interview with Ellen and Anne at Ellen’s home, she talks about the decline in the sitcom’s ratings since the screening of ‘The Puppy Episode’. She holds the network responsible and blames their reluctance to publicize the program. She is also outraged at the parental warning placed at the beginning of later Ellen episodes.
Yet she remains philosophical and is clearly proud of what stands alone as an incredible achievement. “I may not have gotten support and I may not have got the ratings because they did not promote the program, but I did get to do my art…and change the world.”
THE REAL ELLEN STORY aired on Channel Four in the UK, Bravo and PBS in 1998. It was centerepieced around a day of programming dedicated to National Coming Out Day and also preceded the historical Ellen “Puppy” episode which had never before been seen in England.
Directors: Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato
Producer: Leslie Klainberg
Editor: Paul Wiesepape
Running Time: 60 minutes