By Kevin Isom
It's over. "Ellen, the Episode" has come and gone. The build-up was intense, the heightening of desire intentional. The actual show was screamingly funny, leaving us breathless at times, relentlessly pushing our buttons, exceeding even our wildest expectations. Then, finally it ended, leaving us spent, but satisfied, basking in the afterglow. Who knew coming out could be so much fun?
Who knew it could take an hour or less?
Now that the hype has died down a bit, I find myself wondering--now that Ellen's out--who might be next?
Maybe Brooke Shields' character could come out in a half hour format and bring a whole new meaning to "Suddenly Susan." Or perhaps "The Single Guy" could finally explain why he can't maintain a relationship with a woman. Hasn't it been obvious all along? He wants the doorman, played rather fetchingly by Earnest Borgnine, who has a certain something.
"Murphy Brown" has been the most evident choice for a lesbian character since the show debuted. The screen doesn't lie about the sexual tension between Murphy and Corky. Besides, sensitive, womanizing Frank Fontana is probably in love with the very -- ahem -- upright Jim Dial.
On another network, Jeff Foxworthy could liven up his sitcom if he came out as a Southern gay man. "You might be a gay redneck if you carry your chew in a Louis Vuitton pouch." "You might be a gay redneck if the phrase 'uncle-daddy' reminds you more of your last family reunion than of fantasy role playing with your partner." "You might be a lesbian redneck if you work on your Harley's muffler to ENHANCE the noise." Or, "you might be a lesbian redneck if your 'tattoo' is really a smudge of 10W-30 motor oil." Gives the Foxworthy trademark humor a whole new angle, doesn't it?
In dramatic television programming, "Xena, Warrior Princess" could finally forget Hercules and concentrate on that cute little gal-pal Gabrielle she has with her in every episode. They've got their own spears already, right? Speaking of babes in arms, what about phaser-toting Captain Janeway of "Voyager"? She can fix a bumpy warp drive and fend off mean aliens without ever mussing up her hair. Couldn't she complete her crew with a happening space chick for herself? "Make it so" could be sexy in the right circumstance.
Meanwhile, in cartoon land, Lisa Simpson has always seemed like proto-lesbian material. If her brother Bart Simpson were to come out, he could give a whole new meaning to the phrase "eat my shorts!" And in the cartoons played by humans department, Dean Cain's Superman could finally get over Lois Lane and show Jimmy the adoring photographer what "man of steel" really means.
In late night TV, Conan O'Brien is another good coming out candidate. Perhaps a queer sensibility might make his show less puerile. (That means juvenile, Conan.) Heck, it might even make the show funny. Look what it did for "Ellen." Maybe Conan and his faithful sidekick Andy could boost ratings by having a live commitment ceremony, with David Letterman guest-officiating.
And that's only television. Imagine the movies: Tom Cruise and Antonio Sabato, Jr. locked in a steamy embrace after they blow up a bad guy. Or Linda Hamilton and Sigourney Weaver fleeing aliens and terminators--in a very tight escape pod.
I'd really like to see Meg Ryan in a femme lesbian role: "When Harry Met Sally -- Who Was Really In Love With Carol." If the story had been about two women, "Endless Love" might have been both sexually and emotionally more realistic.
The creative possibilities are practically limitless. It's a shame this didn't happen many years ago, to shows we know now through re-runs. Lucy and Ethel could have dropped Ricky and Fred. Laverne and Shirley could have been honest about their relationship. For that matter, so could Bert and Ernie. And Richie Cunningham could have finally admitted his deep-seated feelings for the Fonz. But alas, "Ellen, the Episode" is a 90s kind of thing.
Many thanks, then, to Ellen DeGeneres. Whatever her motives might have been, her coming out as a character and a person were ultimately good things. She has, with a little help from well-planned media hype, raised awareness about sexual orientation throughout America. As icing on the cake, her new girlfriend is -- egads -- a leading lady movie star. Though I think a number of Georgia Bubbas may secretly be turned on by that fact.
Yes, "Ellen, the Episode" has come and gone. But with a little luck and a lot of smarts, the future may be looking a whole lot funnier.