Take It From Comic Ellen Degeneres: She's As Nice As She Seems

Posted: January 11, 1996

PASADENA, Calif. — Ellen DeGeneres is no Roseanne or Brett Butler, and she likes it that way.

Unlike her caustic ABC sitcom colleagues, ``I'm like a wimp,'' DeGeneres told TV critics gathered here yesterday. ``I really don't like to offend anybody or get a laugh at someone else's expense. I'm not saying that's bad.''

Roseanne and Butler ``don't pull any punches. I think that's great. I deal with that in therapy all the time, to try to get to that point. I just try to find humor in things we can all relate to instead of making fun of someone else.''

Being Ms. Nice Guy hasn't hurt DeGeneres, a one-woman entertainment conglomerate.

Ellen, in its third season and about its 100th time slot - 8 p.m. Wednesdays - is a hit. Her first book, My Point (And I Do Have One), is a best-seller. Her first movie, Disney's Mr. Wrong, with Bill Pullman, will open Feb. 16.

All in all, things are just ducky these days for the former stand-up. So how come she has the rep of a power-hungry tyrant, firing people right and left? (Deann Heline and Eileen Heisler, her third set of exec producers, joke that they're on ``hourly'' contracts.)

Despite reports to the contrary, ``I've never fired anybody,'' DeGeneres says. ``Whenever I read something like that, it's upsetting, and I can't really do anything about it.

``Sometimes people don't want to believe that things are actually fine on the set. It's boring to read that things are nice and that I'm a nice person. They want to believe that because people are leaving, it had to be because I'm firing them.''

Not a yeller or screamer, DeGeneres says she deals with stress ``by going home and getting on my Lifecycle for about three hours.'' Ultimately, she concedes, she can't control public opinion about her or her personal life, which she guards ferociously.

New World Entertainment chief Brandon Tartikoff, who launched a bevy of smash comedies while NBC Entertainment chief, credits Ellen's success to the comfort level of its star with her staff, which includes several women.

``It all comes down to writing,'' he says. ``It takes several passes to hook up with the right writers.'' As for a writer's sex: ``Can men write for women? Can women write for men? Can blacks write for whites? Can whites write for blacks? A good writer should have an ear and eye to write anything.''

On another note, Mary Tyler Moore will appear as herself on the Feb. 14 episode, DeGeneres says. The story line has Ellen, a vegetarian, trying to save a lobster from becoming someone's dinner. The segment will be shot Jan. 26, DeGeneres' birthday.

AFFAIR'S END. It's all over for A Current Affair, officials at Twentieth Television say.

Affair, in its ninth season, will run through the summer. The decision has nothing to do with ratings, a spokeswoman says. Still, the show, with new anchor Jon Scott, ranks third, behind Inside Edition and Hard Copy, among syndicated magazine shows.

Twentieth is pulling the plug because Affair was unable to get commitments for the fall in New York, L.A. and Chicago, the country's three largest markets, the spokeswoman says.

Affair, which began as a sleazy tabloid under KYW exile Maury Povich, had cleaned up its act this season with Scott, a former Dateline NBC correspondent. It stopped paying for stories, producers say, and changed to a more news-driven format.

CAUSE THAT REFRESHES. ``A hot, drastic crisis can be a bracing thing,'' said PBS boss Ervin Duggan, recalling the congressional threats last year to chop federal money from the PBS budget.

He said his troops were ``galvanized'' by the ``terribly distracting'' political battle. ``Whatever they throw at us in '96 can't be as bad,'' said Duggan. PBS prevailed (for now) when thousands of constituents told their senators and representatives to keep the money coming.

Duggan and his minions here spent a lot of time talking up creation of a trust fund to finance PBS and take congressional whims out of play; that was the original idea when the service was created in the '60s.

PBS put in big plugs for a passel of new shows, including Kratt's Creatures, a rollicking nature series for kids and grown-ups that premieres in June; Alien Empire, a three-parter on insects (February); and Chicano!, on the battle for Mexican American civil rights in the '60s (April).

In addition, Duggan announced four new mega-projects: Jazz, from Ken Burns, who did The Civil War and Baseball, may arrive before 2000. David Attenborough's 10-installment World of Birds is skedded for 1999. Bill Moyers has five hours with religion expert Huston Smith this spring, and 10 hours in the fall examining the book of Genesis.

NO DICE, INDEED. Another front-line casualty at CBS: Bless This House, the Andrew ``No Dice'' Clay sitcom that the network bravely envisioned as a Honeymooners for the '90s, will draw its last breath Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. As of Jan. 31, stand-up comic Louie Anderson comes off the bench with The Louie Show. He'll play a psychotherapist.

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