On April 30, 1997, Ellen DeGeneres changed TV for the better.

At the tail-end of her successful ABC sitcom Ellen's fourth season, after months of speculation and coming just weeks after the comedy legend appeared on the April 13 cover of Time magazine emblazoned with the words "Yep, I'm Gay," the seminal two-part episode known as "The Puppy Episode" aired, yanking DeGeneres' character Ellen Morgan out of the closet with her.

For the first time in television history, an openly lesbian character—the lead, no less!—was being played by an openly lesbian actress. And on a network owned by Disney!

While the two-part episode was met with criticism and condemnation from the usual conservative suspects, it was much more widely celebrated, pulling in 42 million viewers (the highest in the show's history), winning the Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, a Peabody Award and a GLAAD Media Award in 1998 for DeGeneres.

The price of progress, though, proved to be steep. While ABC renewed Ellen for a fifth season, it began airing a parental advisory warning prior to each episode. "It was like this voice like you're entering some kind of radiation center," DeGeneres told Entertainment Weekly, criticizing the network's decision. "It was very offensive, and you don't think that's going to affect ratings?"

Sure enough, it did. Ellen was canceled at the end of season five. 

DeGeneres retreated to stand-up comedy, where she'd gotten her start, before attempting a TV comeback first in 2001 with the short-lived The Ellen Show, a CBS sitcom in which her character was openly lesbian from the stars, before landing her true renaissance as the host of long-running and beloved talk show The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2003. 

Laura Dern, who guest-starred in the episode as the woman Ellen develops feelings big enough for to come out of the closet, admitted in 2007 on DeGeneres' talk show that she faced backlash over her appearance and didn't work for a year-and-a-half afterwards. 

Ellen, Ellen DeGeneres, The Puppy Episode

CBS

"It was significant because I was doing successful independent movies, and, only months before that, I was in Jurassic Park, the most successful movie ever. So it was like, you're being offered this, you're being offered that — and it just stopped. Which is kind of wild," Dern told Vulture about the time in 2019. "By good fortune of the long path of a career, you can look back and say, how great to have it be felt, how backward we are."

Nevertheless, she described the role as the "greatest thing" and an "incredible honor."

Speaking about the momentous occasion in her life in a 2008 interview with TelevisionWeek, DeGeneres noted, "It was a huge step in my life. I think people sensed the honesty in it. I think it helped a lot of people, and still to this day I hear about parents and children being able to have an honest conversation through watching that show. That's ultimately what television can be: It can get conversations started."

In honor of DeGeneres' groundbreaking coming out, take a walk down the rainbow-colored memory lane with a look back at all the LGBTQ firsts on TV before it and since that similarly got conversations started in houses across America.

All In The Family, LGBT TV History

CBS

That Certain Summer, LGBT TV History

ABC via Getty Images

An American Family, LGBT TV History

ABC via Getty Images

Hot L Baltimore, LGBT TV History

YouTube

Diana Canova, Billy Crystal, Soap, LGBT TV History

ABC via Getty Images

Robin Tyler, LGBT TV History

YouTube

Thirtysomething, LGBT TV History

ABC

ROC, LGBT TV History

FOX

L.A. Law, LGBT TV History

NBC

One Life to Live, LGBT TV History

ABC via Getty Images

Sandra Bernhard, Roseanne, LGBT TV History

ABC via Getty Images

My So Called Life, LGBT TV History

ABC

The Real World, LGBT TV History

MTV

Friends, LGBT TV History

NBC

Ellen, LGBT TV History

ABC via Getty Images

Lisa Edelstein, Relativity, LGBT TV History

ABC

Will & Grace, LGBT TV History

NBC

Dawson's Creek, Kerr Smith, LGBT TV History

WB

Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, LGBT TV History

WB

The L Word, LGBT TV History

Showtime

Alexandra Billings, LGBT TV History

ABC

As The World Turns, LGBT TV History

CBS

Rachel Maddow, LGBT TV History

CBS

Chris Colfer, Lea Michele, Amber Riley, Cory Monteith, Jenna Ushkowitz, Glee

Carin Baer/FOX

Tamara Braun, Eden Riegel, All My Children, LGBT TV History

ABC

THE NEW NORMAL

Trae Patton/NBC

Good Luck Charlie, Mia Talerico

Bob D'Amico/Disney Channel via Getty images

Laverne Cox, Orange is the New Black, LGBT TV History

Netflix

Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, The Normal Heart

HBO

Transparent, LGBT TV History

Amazon

How to Get Away with Murder, LGBT TV History

ABC/Craig Sjodin

Neil Patrick Harris, 2015 Academy Awards, Show

A.M.P.A.S./Michael Yada

Glee, Dot Jones

Adam Rose/FOX

Transparent, Golden Globes

Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Laverne Cox, SAG Awards

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Caitlyn Jenner, Bruce Jenner, Vanity Fair, Magazine, Iconic Celeb Photos

Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair

Andi Mack, Sofia Wylie, Joshua Rush, Peyton Elizabeth Lee, Asher Angel

Disney Channel

Star Trek: Discovery, Anthony Rapp

CBS

Pose

FX

Instinct, Alan Cumming

CBS

American Idol, Ada Vox, Katy Perry

ABC

Nafessa Williams, Black Lightning

CW

Supergirl, Nicole Maines

The CW

Grey's Anatomy

ABC

Special

Netflix

Arrow, Batwoman, The Flash, Supergirl

The CW

Are You the One?

MTV

Jake Borelli, Niko Terho, The Thing About Harry

Freeform

Happy anniversary, Ellen!

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