Should Ellen DeGeneres Talk About Upcoming Marriage to Girlfriend on TV Show?

This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," May 16, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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E.D. HILL, GUEST HOST: In the "Impact" segment tonight: Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres has an important announcement for the American public.


ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST, "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW": Yesterday, if you haven't heard, the California Supreme Court overturned a ban on gay marriage. So I would like to say right now for the first time I am announcing I am getting married. It's something that I, of course, we wanted to do. And we wanted it to be legal. And we're just very, very excited.


HILL: And Ellen is, of course, marrying her long-time girlfriend, actress Portia de Rossi. But is using her daytime TV platform to talk about such a highly charged issue a good issue? Remember, it almost killed her career once before.

Joining us now from Atlanta, Laura Ries, author of the book, "The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR." And here in our studio, Peter Shankman, author of the book "Can We Do That?" Both are marketing experts. Thanks for being with us.


HILL: Laura, let me start with you first. Is it a mistake bringing this onto her show? And if so, why?

RIES: This is great for gay marriage, but this is terrible for a talk show. Talk show hosts are best when we know little about them, when they put the light on the guest, not on themselves and not on their own issues. Think about Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Barbara Walters, even Oprah, all that kind of clean, neutral party.

HILL: I don't know, hold on. Think of Kathie Lee Gifford. The reason I fell in love with her show...

RIES: Kathie Lee Gifford?

HILL: ...I learned everything about her.

RIES: But she got — she had too much disclosure. We knew about Cody and Cassidy and the toilet training. And I think that sunk her career.

HILL: I hung on every word.

RIES: We've seen it for years.

HILL: Peter, people know she's a lesbian. Nothing's new there. The people who watch her know that. Does this change anything?

PETER SHANKMAN, MARKETING EXPERT: She built her entire show, 11 Emmy nominations, four wins in her first year, built entirely on the fact that she came out. This is all about an audience that understands her and wants to know more and more and more. She gets up in the audience, dances with them during commercials. This is an audience that loves her and lives their lives through her. The fact that she came out and then announced her marriage on the show is only going to help her totally.

HILL: Laura, certainly she's getting the PR. We're talking about it on "The O'Reilly Factor." But can some things be good for PR and bad for business?

RIES: Absolutely. Remember, this is a business. These are sponsors that are a little wary of a show becoming too controversial and too much a platform for her to talk about, let's face it, a very controversial polarizing idea.

Look at what happened when Oprah — Oprah basically has stayed out of politics, stayed out of race relations. She had a 78 percent approval rating. When she backed Obama, got into politics, put off a lot of her audience, her approval rating went down to 55 percent.

HILL: Hold on. Peter's just about jumping out of his chair right now.

SHANKMAN: Entirely different thing.

HILL: Isn't TV about carving out your niche?

SHANKMAN: Her niche is this exact, exact thing. So we're not talking about...

RIES: Gay women? Her niche is not gay women.

SHANKMAN: She's not talking — we're not talking...

HILL: We're being real.

SHANKMAN: We're not talking about a prominent political figure. This is her life that people want. And quite frankly, Laura, her career and her advertisers are not made up of the Christian right, OK. These are the people who for the past 10 years have known exactly what she's about and have come to her in droves. They're not going anywhere.

RIES: There's nothing, hey, there's nothing...

SHANKMAN: They're not going anywhere.

RIES: Hey, wait, there is nothing wrong with her being gay. I think that's great that she's gay. I think it's great she has a life. I think it's fine that she gets married. None of that is bad.

What's bad is talking about it too much. Again, too much on the talk show. When she was out there with Anne Heche, that's all the time and all the tabloids, that did little to help her career or Anne Heche's career.

SHANKMAN: I think that had a lot to do with Anne Heche.

HILL: But Anne switched sides.

SHANKMAN: Exactly. This is (INAUDIBLE) we're talking about.


SHANKMAN: I think we're talking about a little different — my bet six months from now, her advertising is actually up.

HILL: Do you think so?

SHANKMAN: Definitely. No question about it.

RIES: It depends on how much she talks about it. If she has a Star Jones-like wedding...

SHANKMAN: She didn't break the story.

RIES: ...where she talks about it everyday...

SHANKMAN: The Supreme Court did.

RIES:'s going to be a disaster.

SHANKMAN: The Supreme Court broke the story. What's going to happen is she's going to get married. And if she does it before they try to overturn it, it's a legal marriage. Life will go on.

HILL: And that movement is already underway. But let me ask you just about the gay community in general. Do you think that that stars on TV, such as Ellen, are pressured to take their, you know, their sexual relations and put them right out in front of people?

SHANKMAN: They're not pressured to do it but there are stars out there stay private constantly and still have a great career.

HILL: Well, you know, because you have those, you know, Web sites that are always trying to out people...

SHANKMAN: Of course.

HILL: ...and force them out.

SHANKMAN: Ellen outed herself and in turn created a carved audience that continues to grow and grow and grow. And quite frankly, it's growing just like the ad spend of the gay and lesbian community, which is growing just as much.

HILL: Laura, if she goes that tact, though, she has, you now, this wedding she says she will...

RIES: Yes.

HILL: ...right there on the TV show though. Does that sort of put it too much, perhaps, in the face? Because certainly, she's got a wide range of people watching her right now. They probably don't sit there and think about her sexual orientation every time they turn on her show, which is very entertaining.

RIES: No, no.

HILL: But could this hurt that way?

RIES: Well, again, it depends on how she handles it. Look, when she made that announcement, she didn't even mention Portia by name. I mean, I think she's going to take a relatively laid-back approach.

But there is a danger here. And like I said, if she talks about it constantly, if the program becomes more of a platform for her, her ideas, her opinions, on whatever topic it is, it is dangerous.

HILL: Here's what...

RIES: These shows are light entertainment. They should be about the guests. Think about who was successful.

HILL: No, this is what it should be about.

SHANKMAN: It should be about Ellen.

HILL: How did a 50-year-old woman get a 35-year-old woman?

SHANKMAN: There's the real...

HILL: You know, that's what we're missing here.

RIES: She's hot.

SHANKMAN: I wish I had an answer to that. She is gorgeous.

RIES: She is gorgeous.

SHANKMAN: She also, one last point, she didn't mention that she was — see, she mentioned in her talk today that California overturned — made it legal and that she's getting married. She didn't flaunt the flag. She didn't talk I'm getting married because I'm gay. Nothing like that. She said I'm getting married.


SHANKMAN: This is a focus on a wedding and on a wedding — it is not anything more than that.

HILL: First she joked about it. And I'll tell you in a who the lucky guy is.

SHANKMAN: Lucky guy is. Right, that was great.

RIES: The gay rights people are so excited, and they might keep it in the media. She might not have any say in that.

HILL: Laura and Peter, thank you both.

SHANKMAN: My pleasure.

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