The Ellen DeGeneres Show has established a unique beachhead on syndicated television. It’s not as assiduously life-altering as Oprah, not interested in chasing controversy like The View, or in co-opting the Rachael Ray recipe of chat ‘n’ chew. Instead, Ellen’s show has become the destination for big-name celebrities who want to connect with an audience that may find Conan too absurdist, Chelsea too mean, and Jay too late. You may consider yourself too hip to admit to watching Ellen’s show; you also know damn well you catch it at least occasionally, because as comfort TV and as an afternoon party, it sure as hell beats Judge Judy and The Jerry Springer Show.
Ellen has created this safe haven where stars can go to either reveal small bits of news (Pink announcing she’s pregnant) or show off their I’m-just-like-you bona fides (Madonna saying she felt like a ”weirdo” and ”lonely” in high school while expressing her appalled reaction to reports of teen suicides due to bullying).
Ellen will lend her star power to causes such as teen bullying, which is admirable, but she scrupulously avoids preaching. She teases her audience about her private life — ”This is something I’ve never revealed because it’s personal and it’s new: Portia and I dim the lights and get a couple of glasses of wine, and we watch football” — and the fans love it because she’s neither hiding anything nor doing what her more conservative audience base might consider pushing an agenda.
One of the primary functions of Ellen?s show as it’s evolved is what might be called its ”Yes, You Are Still Hip” service. It started with Ellen dancing to the hits of the day at the start of nearly every episode and has since expanded to booking pop and hip-hop acts. Audience members — mostly female, many middle-aged — are up on their feet, wiggling in the DeGeneres manner (swivel hipped, finger-popping) to performers such as Nelly, Cee Lo Green, and Flo Rida. Indeed, these artists know the value of Ellen?s white girl nation: When Flo Rida appeared on her Nov. 30 show, he presented the host with three framed records, explaining, ”Every time I come on your show, I go platinum.”
Ellen’s resignation from the American Idol judges’ panel didn’t result in any loss in popularity for her. Quite the opposite, actually. When you scram mainly because you don’t want to make contestants squirm the way Simon Cowell or Kara DioGuardi did, you end up looking to criticism-averse middle America like a well-mannered hero. Back on her home turf, Ellen presides over audience participation variations on musical chairs, and an ”Ellen’s 12 Days of Giveaways” stunt. The Ellen DeGeneres Show is the generous show — the host keeps giving, even after she’s handed out all the prizes. B+