One of the most significant lightning rod moments in the history of American television happened in 2002, when stand-up comic and sitcom star Ellen DeGeneres announced to TV audiences thatshe is gay.

“When it happened, it was hugely important,” says Andy Lassner, exec producer of DeGeneres’ talkshow “Ellen.” “She didn’t just break down a wall, she created a whole new era of acceptance. I think we’re going to continue to look back on that as one of the most monumental things in the movement of human rights.”

“Coming out on the sitcom was maybe one of the gutsiest moves anyone has done on television,” adds “Ellen” exec producer Mary Connelly. “It truly shows what a difference one person can make.”

As Connelly also points out, DeGeneres is “a hundred things before you get to gay,” and that includes comedian, Emmy Awards host and voiceover actress in the Disney Pixar classic “Finding Nemo.”

“Andrew Stanton wrote the part of Dory for her,” notes Connelly, who credits “Nemo” director John Lasseter and “Ellen” producer Jim Paratore with having championed DeGeneres when nobody else would. “Ellen has such a relatable voice. That character was perfect for her. Everybody got to see a whole new side of Ellen.”

But stand-up will always remain DeGeneres’ true love, says Connelly.

“Ellen would talk about traveling the country doing stand-up and joke that she wished the audience would come to her instead,” she says. “On ‘Ellen,’ where she gets to perform her monologue every day, that joke has finally become a reality.”

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