The 'Ellen' Excitement

Dozens of newspaper articles, a Time Magazine story (cover, no less), media and review programs. Talk about the television show Ellen and it's upcoming (April 30/97) episode are all the news. At least, right now. But what's all the rage? This show will feature it's lead, Ellen DeGeneres, announcing that she's a lesbian (as she is in real life).

Movies have had numerous homosexual and lesbian characters -- the publicity has died out there . TV shows have featured homosexual and lesbian bit parts (try Melrose Place , Friends , Kids in the Hall , even Ellen ), and of course, made for TV movies. Nary a murmur these days. So why all the rage now? I'll tell you...

It's sweeps week and ABC, like any other profit motivated monolith in the media industry, will do anything to get publicity, ratings and, of course, the almighty dollar. Shock sells. And it's getting a lot harder to shock these days. Not much is left that hasn't been tried within the ever increasing permissiveness of our entertainment industry. Blood and guts -- 'been there, done that. Nudity -- max'd out, until the censors let up some more. Socially taboo subjects are about all that's left, and even then there's not much that hasn't been tried already (-- abortion, euthanasia, big yawn). Only the first to do it gets all that free publicity.

"But, we Christians are going to have our say, take a stand against this and make a difference." That's what a number of well-meaning Christians have said in recent days. Petitions are being signed, boycotts threatened and organized. Letters sent, phone calls made. Sure, this will make a difference! Won't it???

Perhaps. But not likely. Let's take a quick tour of the television industry's track record.

1972. The ground-breaking and aggressive show, Maude , rattled some viewers with her decision to have an abortion.

1989. Thirtysomething supposedly caused ABC to lose over $1 million advertising dollars when sponsors were spooked over an episode showing two gay men talking in bed.

1991. Murphy Brown chose to become a single mother creating a public debate over family values.

And don't forget NYPD Blue featuring well publicized nudity only a few years back.

All these shows created a fervor in their day. Cries of boycott, lost advertising dollars, all the usual hoopla. A few years latter, the stuff they were made of has become run-of-the-mill content today. You see, ABC can't lose on this. They'll always be known as the one that did it first... Ground breaking stuff, you know .

And what about those lost advertising dollars -- as occasional advertisers like J.C. Penney and Chrysler pull their support in the face of threatened boycotts? There's already a line-up of advertisers willing to take their place. Besides, ABC knows that even the few spooked sponsors will be back -- just give it some time -- these controversy's have a habit of going away.

Think back again to Thirtysomething, if ABC actually did lose $1 million dollars, do you think they would be risking this again? No, they know that the much ballyhooed lost million dollars is merely the number purported to be forfeited when advertisers pull out for the affected episode(s) . But the publicity and continuing series are where the real money is to be made.

Even if every advertiser pulled out of this Ellen episode, under pressure, ABC's increased viewer ship during this crucial sweeps week will produce them big bucks later -- both on this show and in related time-slots. That's what sweeps is all about. Viewership now , equals advertising dollars later.

Not one public outcry against a shock episode has made a long term difference. Why? Statistics show that even Christians watch the shows they claim offend them. Consistently, the shows that are most popular with the public-at-large, are also popular with professed Christians.

What will make a difference? Long term change and long term pressure supported by actions. If Christians will not only say they are against something -- but reflect it by their long-term actions, then we will see real pressure for change.

As for Ellen's coming out. Friend and foe alike will be watching. ABC's banking on it.

Written by Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 1997. Feel free to duplicate as long as the source is cited.