She already has more than 30 Emmy Awards, a star on the Walk of Fame, a Peabody, the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Now Ellen DeGeneres is adding another trophy to her list of accomplishments: the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s Carol Burnett Award.
The honor, which was created in 2019, is intended to pay homage to impactful achievement in television and will be given during the 77th Annual Golden Globes on Jan. 5. DeGeneres, who was previously nominated for three Golden Globes for her eponymous sitcom, will be the second recipient of the award after Burnett herself.
“The Ellen DeGeneres Show” executive producer Mary Connelly, who previously worked with Burnett on the sitcom “Mad About You,” says that DeGeneres is a natural successor. “These two women are both incredibly smart, incredibly professional,” she says. “Both know the importance of the audience in comedy and are well-prepared. And if something goes wrong, that was gold [too]. [They] have the ability to laugh at that. ”
DeGeneres has been a near-consistent presence on television since 1989, when she co-starred on the Fox comedy “Open House.” But it was the 1994-98 ABC comedy “Ellen” — known as “These Friends of Mine” for its first season — that changed things for the comedian, when her character famously came out weeks after DeGeneres acknowledged she was gay, too.
Connelly says if DeGeneres was only known for that moment in television history, “that would be plenty,” but of course things did not stop there. DeGeneres became beloved by a whole new generation when she voiced Dory in “Finding Nemo” in 2003, the same year she launched her self-titled talk show.
“The first year, I really wanted to do well, because I wanted to keep it going,” DeGeneres said on the Sept. 16 episode of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” “After a while I was like, ‘I know what I’m putting out there, I’m doing my best.’”
That confidence was key to establishing the talk show’s early tone.
“She had a very clear vision for what she wanted the show to be: She wanted to be funny. She wanted it to be caring. She wanted it to be news-making,” Connelly recalls.
A pivotal shift for the series came when Hurricane Katrina struck DeGeneres’ hometown of New Orleans in 2005. After learning of a woman who was displaced twice, the series gave her a new vehicle — something that would become a staple for the show. Rutgers student Tyler Clementi’s death by suicide in 2010 also touched DeGeneres and inspired her now-daily mantra, “Be kind to one another.”
DeGeneres is also a vocal supporter of wildlife conservation efforts; Portia de Rossi, DeGeneres’ wife, announced the creation of the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund on the talk show in 2018.
“Ellen has a way of helping people,” Connelly says. “There are plenty of other shows who try, but getting the combination of helping people and [making them] laugh while you’re doing it is the magic of Ellen.”
With the show’s success have come career highlights for DeGeneres and an expansion of her own brand. In addition to hosting Emmy, Grammy and Oscar telecasts, her production company, A Very Good Production, has been behind scripted (“Green Eggs and Ham,” “Splitting Up Together”) and unscripted (“Little Big Shots”) fare.
“The Ellen DeGeneres Show” has also expanded beyond the traditional daily episode. “Ellen’s Game of Games,” a primetime game show based on popular segments from the daytime series, is entering its third season on NBC. “Ellen’s Greatest Night of Giveaways,” a three-night special in December, was a supersized version of the annual holiday-centered “12 Days of Giveaways” segment.
“What Ellen is doing is making it cool to be kind,” Connelly says. “It’s important to have a place where you can turn on the TV for an hour and it’s just going to be fun. You can watch it with your kids, your parents or your grandparents. Everybody gets to have the same experience.”