Synopsis by Mark Deming
Comedian Ellen DeGeneres made the jump from standup to television stardom with this hit situation comedy. Ellen (which debuted in 1994 under the short-lived title These Friends of Mine, which lasted for the first 11 episodes) starred DeGeneres as Ellen Morgan, an employee at a book store who each week deals with the misadventures of her oddball friends, including sweet but brassy Paige (Joely Fisher), squeaky-voiced busybody Audrey (Clea Lewis), large-egoed barista Joe (David Anthony Higgins), neurotic photographer Adam (Arye Gross), and her sharp-witted cousin Spence (Jeremy Piven, who joined the cast in the third season). (Two other regulars -- Anita, played by Maggie Wheeler, and Holly, played by Holly Fluger -- vanished without explanation after the first season, doubtless banished to the same dimension where Richie Cunningham's brother Chuck now resides.) In the show's second season, Ellen's parents, Lois (Alice Hirson) and Harold (Steven Gilborn), began dropping by occasionally, and a year later, Ellen went from working at the bookstore to owning Buy the Book. But the show's biggest and most controversial change came later, in season four, when in a special one-hour episode Ellen (like DeGeneres in real life) decided to come out of the closet as a lesbian. After the show's brave fifth season, with Ellen's sexual preference dealt with to some extent in most episodes, Ellen was canceled in 1998 due to declining ratings, though DeGeneres would bounce back with her successful talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, in 2003.