During the week of April 7, 1997 TIME Magazine ran its famous "Yep, I'm Gay" cover story in which comedic actress Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian. Then three weeks later, on April 30, art imitated life as her TV character, Ellen Morgan, did the same on her ABC sitcom Ellen. Although it was somewhat anti-climatic after the coverage earlier in the month, it still had the aura of a "Must See TV" event.
Although no puppy appeared in the epiosde, it was referred to as the "puppy episode" due to an inside joke of the show's cast. Ellen's character comes out to a woman she was interested in (played by Laura Dern) and, befitting a sitcom, inadvertently announces it over a microphone in a waiting area at LAX (pictured). Besides Dern, other celebrities also made cameo appearances, including Oprah, Demi Moore and k.d. lang. The episode got a Nielsen household rating of 23.4, which was more than double Ellen's usual rating (and comparable to that season's #1 show, ER). At the time I worked in the media department at ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding and had coordinated a "guess the rating" contest. 40 staff members participated. The winner was announced the following day at a departmental presentation we had on the Gay & Lesbian Market.
After this high-exposure month, Ellen and her partner Anne Heche, were soon seen everywhere together - replacing Harvey Fierstein as the media's favorite token gay. The show bore a heavy burden the following season as some viewers thought it was too gay, others not gay enough, while others felt it just wasn't funny any longer. Alas, it flamed out and was cancelled at the end of the 1997-98 season. However, six months later the void was filled by Will & Grace, which debuted on NBC and had a very successful eight-season run.