Ellen DeGeneres: NBC's 'One Big Happy' Isn't Just About Coming Out

Plus DeGeneres responds to the Supreme Court taking on same-sex marriage: "It's about time."
Eric McCandless
"One Big Happy"

NBC brings LGBT families front and center with midseason comedy One Big Happy, a multicamera entry from exec producer Ellen DeGeneres and loosely based on the life of out writer-comedian Liz Feldman.

Elisha Cuthbert (Happy Endings) stars as a single lesbian who gets pregnant just as her straight male best friend (Nick Zano) meets and marries the love of his life (Kelly Brook).

"This show wouldn't be possible if Ellen hadn't come out in 1997," said Feldman, whose credits include CBS' 2 Broke Girls and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. "We're trying to pick up where [ABC comedy Ellen] left off — except it's 18 years later and the world is ready for it on a new level."

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DeGeneres — who joked during Friday's Television Critics Association panel that she doesn't wake up thinking, "I'm a lesbian!" — said One Big Happy is incredibly different from her ABC sitcom.

Ellen's landmark "The Puppy Episode" — which featured her character coming out in tandem with DeGeneres' famed Time magazine public declaration that "Yep, I'm gay" — aired 18 years ago. It created a public tidal wave across both pop culture and the world at large when advertisers started pulling out from the series. The show helped ushered in a wave of LGBT-themed programming including Showtime's Queer as Folk and The L Word and paved the way for Modern Family, Glee and, more recently, NBC's short-lived The New Normal.

"We're starting out with a lesbian as a central character this time around, so there's no surprises, people won't freak out vs. when I surprised everybody. No one had a clue I was gay," she said in her classic deadpan delivery. "It's a more accepting world we live in, for the most part, obviously there are people that are still not on board. The show, it's not just about that and 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 and basically Liz's life."

Feldman, meanwhile, noted that DeGeneres' coming out in 1997 changed her life and she approached the comedian at a book signing in 1998 and told her that "You're Carol Burnett and I'm Vicky Lawrence, but you don't know that yet." Feldman recalled that the "ballsy" move jump-started their friendship and DeGeneres, years later, would come to employ her on her talk show as a writer. "She's just part of my DNA at this point," she said.

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While producers said the six-episode comedy will not see another gay series regular character, the show will see her interact with her ex-girlfriend in episode two.

"Right now she's too dysfunctional to be in a relationship," DeGeneres said, adding that in the "year 2030 we'll have an entire lesbian cast with one heterosexual, but we're not there yet."

DeGeneres, who noted she tries not to think about people who don't accept or criticize her, stressed that her Warner Bros. Television-based production company doesn't exist purely to make LGBT fare.

"It just happens to be a funny show and happens to have a lesbian in it," she said, noting it would be a plus if the show's gay-themed family and multiracial married couple opens people's minds. "It's not like I formed a production company and I said, 'Bring me your lesbian scripts.' I'm not just going to be a lesbian machine that turns stuff out. Yes, there's a lesbian character, but it's a really funny show and that's all I wanted to do: put out funny material and thought provoking material."

"I didn't set out to create a groundbreaking show; I set out to be honest and true," Feldman said, noting the series is based on her relationship with her relationship with her best friend, who met the love of his life when the duo were planning to have a baby. "It was so difficult when that happened that the only thing I knew to do about it was write about it. It wasn't what I can I do to put another lesbian on television; it's about what I can do with the truth."

During the panel, news broke that the Supreme Court will hear four cases challenging same-sex marriage bans. DeGeneres compared LGBT equality to the Civil Rights movement and stressed that the more people who can be on the side of equality, the more likely the gay will earn the same rights as everyone else.

"Yay! It's about time," DeGeneres said. "I don't know if you've seen Selma, but the thing that changed the Civil Rights movement is when white people got involved and started marching. … We need everyone on our side. We're trying to do this march and we need people that believe in equality and fairness and love and so if we have people that will join us and give us that which is only fair to have the same rights that everybody else has, then it's a wonderful world."

One Big Happy premieres Tuesday, March 17 at 9:30 p.m. on NBC. Watch the trailer, below.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
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