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Television: Tears, strike aside, Ellen shows go on

People Jenny McCarthy

Mike Rozman, Associated Press

In this image released by the "The Ellen DeGeneres Show", Jenny McCarthy, a guest on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show", left, is surprised by with pizza from Chicago's Lou Malnati's pizzeria to celebrate her 35th birthday, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007, in Burbank, Calif. The program will air on Tuesday, Nov. 6. (AP Photo/Warner Bros., Mike Rozman) ORG XMIT: NYET121

Ellen DeGeneres stays muzzled on the Iggy issue, but goes on the record about the return of the mullet.

Last update: November 16, 2007 - 4:07 PM

There was one instruction before last week's conference call with Ellen DeGeneres: No questions about the dog.

The irony is that the success of DeGeneres' daytime talk show and her overall likability hinges on the fact that she holds little back. While most comics put up a barbed-wire fence around their personal lives, DeGeneres is a tell-all open book, even if it means bawling on the air about improperly giving her hairdresser a puppy named Iggy.

Even her dancing, a cringe-inducing routine that suggests she's suffering from a bladder infection, comes across like a violation of privacy. So despite the fact that the interview was set up to promote her upcoming variety special, I had to ask: Is there such a thing as sharing too much?

"I don't worry about that. Maybe I should more," said DeGeneres, 49, from her Los Angeles office. "It's probably to my detriment, but it's exactly who I am. I have nothing to hide. It's real and honest. That's the kind of humor I do."

DeGeneres' approach has rescued her during the writers' strike, in which she's had to rely on her wits -- and little else. After going dark for only one day, DeGeneres returned with shows that have featured her measuring her coffee table, guessing how many cups go into a pint and playing charades with guest James Denton.

"I feel like we're close enough that I can share with you and you're not going to judge me," she said on Monday's show before reading mock entries from her diary.

One group that has judged her, and harshly, is the Writers' Guild, which has publicly criticized her for crossing the picket line, while other daytime programs that have continued production, like "Live With Regis and Kelly" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show," have avoided mass criticism.

"We find it sad that Ellen spent an entire week crying and fighting for a dog that she gave away, yet she couldn't even stand by writers for more than one day -- writers who have helped make her extremely successful," the Writers Guild of America, East, said in a recent statement.

In this case, DeGeneres' congeniality has backfired on her. Strikers feel more betrayed by a friend than a stranger.

"I'm in a bad, bad place," DeGeneres said, a few hours before taping her second post-strike show. "It was explained to me that no other daytime shows have shut down. I've got 135 employees that rely on me for a paycheck. But it's been the hardest thing in the world driving onto this lot."

The variety program, "Ellen's Really Big Show," won't be affected by the strike. Even though it was taped earlier this week, the bits were penned well before that.

DeGeneres promised an old-fashioned tent show, the kind Ed Sullivan used to preside over, with magicians (Lance Burton), pop stars (Sheryl Crow) and vaudeville cats (a pair of quick-change clothes artists).

"Everything is cyclical. I mean, game shows are hugely popular again on prime time," DeGeneres said. "I really feel like people are ready for variety shows, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say they also want to bring back the mullet."

When asked if she'd agree to compete on "Dancing With the Stars," DeGeneres makes clear that there are some places even she won't go.

"If you slow down the tape, you can see I only have four moves," she said. "Plus, they make the girls wear a dress. That would put me out right away."

njustin@startribune.com • 612-673-7431

 
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