Sunday, September 11, 2005

I'll Miss Ellen's Dancing!

DeGeneres Back, but Without the Dancing?
By LYNN ELBER, AP


LOS ANGELES (Sept. 1) - How Ellen DeGeneres spent her summer vacation: accepting a bouquet of Daytime Emmys and agreeing to host next month's prime-time Emmy ceremony. Oh, and reconsidering her trademark dancing on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

That last item could send DeGeneres fans reeling. The comedian's happy-feet boogie at the start of her syndicated talk show has turned into a big crowd pleaser. Too big, maybe.

"I love to dance and I know people love watching me dance. But at the same time it never was intended to be an everyday thing on the show," she said. "What people talk about more than the show itself is the dance."

But some kind of hoofing will be part of the show's third season, which starts Tuesday (check local listings for station and time) with guests Alicia Keys and Ray Romano. DeGeneres has figured out it's important to viewers, and why.

"I think it's sort of representative of a freedom that I have, and I know I have, and I think a lot of people don't have that," said DeGeneres, who swings easily from conversational banter to introspection.

"A lot of people stay contained and want to come off a certain way," she said. "I think that dance is an expression of freedom and I don't care how I look - this is just me being me. And I think that people tap into that and think, 'That's so much fun."'

And it is, DeGeneres said, who's reveling in the freedom of being herself. She considers the awards welcome - the show earned five Emmys in May, including best host and its second consecutive best talk show honors - but not proof she's on the right track.

"I think I let go of the need for approval," DeGeneres told The Associated Press. "It certainly feels good when you get it, but I used to be more desperate for it. Once I felt better inside about myself ... I could do everything based on how I want to do things."

The romantic notion of a Hollywood comeback is overused but clearly applies to DeGeneres, who seemed an unlikely candidate for the role of daytime television's newest sweetheart.

When her show from Warner Bros. Telepictures Productions was first pitched to TV station managers they viewed it with skepticism, she said. After all, consider her history: She came out as a lesbian while starring in a popular sitcom, lost that show when ratings fell and saw another comedy flop.

It seemed like a formula for disaster to those who couldn't look beyond DeGeneres' sexual orientation.

"Nobody thought I could do daytime and do well. Nobody thought that housewives would want to watch me. `Why would a housewife have anything in common with a gay woman?"' DeGeneres recalled hearing. "Like you're not going to talk about men, not talk about kids."

There was also the unfounded concern that "my show's going to have some kind of sexuality to it," said DeGeneres. That despite the fact that she's always "worked clean," avoiding raw topics or language even on cable specials lacking boundaries.

"The Ellen DeGeneres Show" has remained true to her brand of winsome observational humor, the sort in which toilet paper rolls that are hard to unravel or wildlife invading her garden become the stuff of shared recognition and laughs.

She's a charming everywoman whose sexuality is a non-issue, or one reserved for breezy comment, and who manages to get Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Meryl Streep, Kanye West and Cameron Diaz to drop by (all among the guests scheduled for the new season).

"She's in the mold of Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld," said industry analyst Bill Carroll, adding: "You can accept that Ellen could be like us."

DeGeneres, 47, acknowledges that she needed to put some time and distance between her overheated exposure as a show biz controversy du jour (which included attention to her dishy girlfriends, Portia de Rossi being her current one) and her television re-entry.

Now, she said, people can see her as she is.

"It's hard when you just get glimpses of someone or see snippets on the news or hear things and you think, 'Oh, she's being political,' instead of listening to me talk and seeing what kind of humor I have."

She's so content with the show and so focused on it that she's pushing aside movie scripts that come her way. (She was planning to star in a remake of the 1977 comedy "Oh, God!" but backed off because the script didn't meet her expectations.)

She's looking forward to a season of surprises. The plan is to take the show out of the studio (it's shot at NBC in Burbank) and onto the road, popping in unexpectedly on folks at their homes or offices or taking to the streets for a "block party," she said.

In her unfussy studio office - a forest photo triptych and a picture of her and fellow daytime queen Oprah Winfrey are among the few accents - DeGeneres is anticipating a busy month. Besides the show, there's her job as host of the Emmy Awards (Sept. 18, CBS).

Humor is always the goal but not necessarily a simple one.

"For me, it's that I contributed," DeGeneres said. "That I'm on this planet doing some good and making people happy. That's to me the most important thing, that my hour of television is positive and upbeat and an antidote for all the negative stuff going on in life."

EDITOR'S NOTE - Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber(at)ap.org

09/01/05 03:05 EDT

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.