Yep, she’s back.
After taking an unplanned detour into tabloid hell, Ellen DeGeneres is getting ready to return to her regularly scheduled career as a sitcom star/all-purpose funny woman.
She’s even landed a high-profile gig to help her come out (again): Hosting the 53rd annual Prime Time Emmy Awards.
The next night, DeGeneres’ new laffer, “The Ellen Show,” will bow on CBS in a special sneak preview before moving to its regular Friday time slot. The show marks the comic’s first stab at series television since her ground-breaking ABC sitcom exited in 1998.
DeGeneres has no regrets about her much publicized coming out or her decision to have her sitcom alter ego do the same in 1997. And while her character on “The Ellen Show” will be a lesbian, the new series won’t spend much time exploring gay issues.
“I’ve done that,” DeGeneres says. “Now I just want to come back and be funny.”
She’ll get a chance to do just that when she hosts the Emmys – a gig DeGeneres admits is one of the toughest in town. “It’s not about you, yet you have to set a tone for the entire evening.
“The great thing is you’re performing in front of all these people who are brilliant,” DeGeneres continues. “The scary thing is you’re performing in front of all these people who are brilliant. You can’t expect the response you get when you’re onstage in front of fans.”
DeGeneres believes Emmy auds view comedy in a different way than the typical home viewer.
“They appreciate good comedy but when something’s funny, they nod their heads and say, ‘That’s funny,’ instead of laughing,” she says.
DeGeneres speaks from experience as she is no award show amateur.
She hosted the Grammys in 1996, trying (unsuccessfully) to get the phrase “booty slap” into the national lexicon. She also shared Emmys emcee duties with Patricia Richardson in 1994.
DeGeneres has already started training for this kudocast – albeit not in traditional ways.
“I started with jumping jacks,” she says. “I’m also starting endurance training and reading a lot of Buddhism books, so I can be in the moment. And I’m watching ‘Oprah’ every day.”
Despite her pop culture savvy, DeGeneres is not a heavy viewer of traditional television.
“I watch HBO and Animal Planet a lot,” she says. “I watch ‘Frasier’ and ‘Will & Grace’ but I don’t watch a whole lot of sitcoms. And I love the Game Show Network.”
As for “The Ellen Show,” DeGeneres says her new character – a dot-com exec who moves back to her small-town home when her Web biz crashes- will be comfortable with who she is when audiences meet her for the first time: Sexual orientation won’t be a primary focus.
Because of that, “some people are going to say it’s not gay enough, and some people are going to say it’s too gay,” DeGeneres predicts. “I just want to make the best show possible.”
Deciding to return to series television wasn’t too hard.
“It’s my job. It’s what I do,” she says. “I love the schedule of a TV show and the fact that you get to do something new and challenging every week. Why shouldn’t I do another show?”
In addition to overcoming what DeGeneres calls preconceived notions of what “Ellen Show” will be about, the new series has another hurdle to overcome: a not-so-hot timeslot.
With the Eye’s Monday comedy block firing on all cylinders, CBS decided to sked “The Ellen Show” Fridays at 8 p.m.- traditionally a death slot for the net. But DeGeneres is surprisingly upbeat about the scheduling.
“If there’s a show people want to watch, they’re going to find it,” she says. “And if they have to go out, they’ll tape it.”
She also knows that CBS will no doubt move her skein if it demonstrates any sign of Nielsen life, much as it shifted “Everybody Loves Raymond” from its original Friday slot.
What’s more, DeGeneres thinks the pressure to perform will be much lower Fridays, giving the show time to find its voice.
“Now it’s up to me to be funny, move on and show people what got me here in the first place,” she says.