Tinker Belles and Evil Queens: The Walt Disney Company from the Inside Out

By Sean Griffin | Go to book overview

5
You've Never Had a Friend Like Me
Target Marketing Disney to a Gay Community

IN SEPTEMBER OF 1996, when rumors about the lesbian storyline developing on Ellen were first reported in the mainstream press, they were met with a certain cynicism by some industry insiders. Some seemed to think that the revelation of these discussions going on at Touchstone Television were purposefully leaked as a means of assessing the public reaction from both audiences and advertisers. “You can't help but think that they're testing the waters, waiting to see if advertisers will balk,” an unnamed rival studio executive told TV Guide. “The timing is ideal. If the public supports this, they can move ahead with the storyline. If not, they can just shelve their plans and say it was all a rumor.”1 Certainly, divulging that the show's producers were considering having Ellen Morgan come out created instant and widespread publicity for the series, making it one of the most talked about shows of the year. Countless newspaper and magazine articles and columns devoted themselves to the topic, providing publicity that Disney did not have to pay a cent for. Furthermore, only a month before the rumors were reported, Touchstone Television had sold the syndication rights to the Lifetime cable network, and such an enormous awareness of the series had the potential to increase its profitability. While some have theorized that having a signed contract created more security to tackle this volatile subject, it is also quite possible to see how such rumors could provide incentive for viewers to tune in to reruns to find all the “clues” that they might have missed from previous seasons.2 After all, DeGeneres' manager, Arthur Imparato, told reporters during the period that “If you look hard at the whole series, there are a lot of elements over the years that could be laying the groundwork for that storyline.”3 Consequently, while the brouhaha over whether or not Ellen Morgan was lesbian made the typically divergent homosexual reading the dominant

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