There’s a new lesbian in town this March and she’s a product of none other than probably the most famous lesbian in entertainment, Ellen DeGeneres.
In the new NBC sitcom, “One Big Happy,” lesbian Lizzy (“Happy Endings” alum Elisha Cuthbert) is BFFs with Luke (Nick Zano) and, since they are both unattached, they fulfill an early pact that if they were both single at 30, they’d start a family together. So, as often happens in the TV world, just as Lizzie finds out she’s pregnant, Luke meets the woman of his dreams (Kelly Brook) and a sitcom is born.
The cast, creator Liz Feldman and exec producer DeGeneres were present at the recent Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour to talk about the new series and how times have changed since Ellen broke barriers in her late 90s sitcom.
One big difference between the new series and “Ellen” is that on the earlier sitcom, the character, played by then-closeted DeGeneres, hadn’t realized she was gay but only came to that realization in the classic “Puppy Episode,” which aired in 1997. Now, said DeGeneres during the TCA panel, “we’re starting out with a lesbian as the central character this time around so there’s no surprises. People aren’t going to freak out, versus when I surprised everybody. No one had a clue I was gay so I think it’s obviously a more accepting world that we live in, for the most part. Obviously there are people that are still not on board. The show is not just about that, and it’s not just about coming out, which is what my show was about. This is about a lesbian who doesn’t have a partner, wants to have a baby, wants to have a family.”
Feldman, who openly admits the character of Lizzie is based on her life experiences, explained there is a lineage between the two sitcoms. "I think what we're trying to do is almost pick up where that left off in a way, except it's 18 years later, so I think the world is ready for it on a new level. The most important thing is that it's funny."
As for the naysayers who are still not accepting of homosexuals in any way/ DeGeneres said she doesn't give those people much thought. "I don't really think about it," she said. "First of all, it just happens to be a very funny show. It happens to have a lesbian character in it. It's not like I formed a production company and said, "Bring me all your lesbian scripts." I think, if anything, if that happened and I was like having to sift through them going, "I'm not just going to be a lesbian machine that just turns out stuff."
Lizzie's pregnancy is a part of the show from the pilot so what's the time frame of season one? "I sort of designed it so that it would be in real time, basically," Feldman explained. "So it's six episodes. It takes place roughly over 6 to 10 weeks. So, no, you will not see the baby at the end of Season one."
Do DeGeneres and Feldman or anyone in the cast think this is groundbreaking television? "If it happens to be groundbreaking, I really honestly don't think about things like that," said DeGeneres. "I don't wake up in the morning and think (stretching) 'I'm a lesbian.'" Feldman agreed, adding "I didn't set out to create a groundbreaking show. I set out to be honest and tell an authentic story that felt really true to me because it's based on my relationship with my straight best friend. We were planning on having a baby together. We've been friends our whole lives and then he met the love of his life and that changed the course of our lives."
Feldman, who said during the panel, “I was totally obsessed with Ellen growing up” is also drawing from her famous friend and former boss (Feldman wrote on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” before leaving for prime time work. “[She] went off to do ‘Two Broke Girls,’” explained DeGeneres. “ I was happy that she was moving on to do something that she loved doing, but I loved her working with me and writing with me every day. So I think probably she and I have the same sensibility as far as sense of humor, and that’s where that comes from”
The infamous "Ellen" episode was something that Feldman says altered her life. "When she came out on TV in 1997, it really changed my life, and I decided then that I really wanted to figure out a way to work with her. I've been really lucky. Actually, I met her a few years later in 1998, and I went up to her. She was doing a signing, and I went up to her and I said, 'You're Carol Burnett and I'm Vicki Lawrence, but you don't know that yet.'"
Feldman continued, remembering, "Her sitcom had just gone off the air and she was like, "I'm going to get another show and you'll be a part of it?" I was like,"Yep, sounds good. See you then." Which is really ballsy for a 21‑year‑old person to do, but I said that. Then, years later, she did hire me and we have been working together for 10 years. There's a reason, I think, why you probably hear some of her, is because I think she's just sort of part of my DNA at this point."
“One Big Happy” premieres March 17th at 9:30pm on NBC.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.