Ellen DeGeneres should come out more often. Last night's history-making Ellen episode pulled a 23.4 rating and a 35 percent share of the TV audience in major cities. That's more than twice the show's normal audience. Forty-two million viewers tuned in to see the mysteriously-named "Puppy Episode," and while that figure didn't top "Who Shot J.R." or the final episode of M.A.S.H., it was better than executives had hoped for at beleaguered ABC.

Around the country, gays and lesbians celebrated the first homosexual lead character on primetime television. Absolut Vodka and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation sponsored parties in Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and elsewhere.

It was almost New Year's Eve all over again in West Hollywood's nightclub district. Official party central was the Love Lounge, where Industry types and average gays reveled at GLAAD's party/media event.

At 7 p.m., news reporters and a scattering of volunteers started milling about the lounge, buzzing about when Ellen DeGeneres and girlfriend Anne Heche might show up. One volunteer said he thought the episode "Will hit really hard but may not stick....Ellen should be concerned about her career," he mused. "Where will she go from here?"

By 8 p.m., the crowd had filled out--including both gay and lesbian couples dressed like they'd just come from work. Jack Plotnick, who plays a gay character on the show, talked about his love and support for Ellen. "Everyone cares for her so much. She's nicer than you'd expect, and I always thought she'd be nice." Nobody had seen her yet.

8:30 p.m.: The club was packed with wanna-sees. "There are 950 people in the house," Chastity Bono, Cher's daughter and a GLAAD official told a cheering crowd. "This shows how strong our community is in L.A....GLAAD just kicked ass on this!"

At 9:30, the show was in full swing on big-screen TVs. Everything Laura Dern did or said as the episode's love interest was greeted with cheers and whistles--and when Ellen announced her sexual preference, the yells were deafening. Meanwhile, in a back room, studio and network execs were having their private screening. "I worked on Jurassic Park. The violence in that movie was a lot worse than the outing of Ellen," said one publicist in the room, "and parents took their kids to Jurassic Park.

11:00 p.m.: Ellen never did show up--word was she stayed at a private party in Beverly Hills. By now, the action had moved up the street to Little Frieda's bar, where a health-club chain and Skyy Vodka were sponsoring another viewing party. It was a block party, really, with some people dancing to songs like Aretha Franklin's "Respect" and others still debating the impact of the show and the appearance of Ellen and Anne Heche on Oprah earlier in the day. Had Anne gone too far in talking about her instant attraction to Ellen?

Off to the side, a woman had arranged her stuffed animal collection on a table. They were all coming out, she explained.

(Updated 3:50 p.m. PT)

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