The Biggest Stars on TV #5: Ellen DeGeneres

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Yep, she’s a TV icon.

Which is an outcome few people were predicting when Ellen DeGeneres came out in 1997. That was 22 years ago — before Google even existed and back when public support for marriage equality hovered around 30 percent. When she informed the world — via her eponymous sitcom and a Time Magazine interview — that she was gay (and became something of a pariah), it seemed more likely that her career was coming to an end.

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Instead, she is one of the most popular talk show hosts of all time. For 16 years now, The Ellen DeGeneres Show has given the wonderfully unassuming lady from Louisiana the perfect platform to do what she lives to do: not just entertain, but relate. DeGeneres just keeps on yukking — and connecting — with superstar guests (loved when she literally leapt into Ryan Gosling’s arms), kid performers (hi, Bruno Mars’s No. 1 fan, Kai Langer!) and all-American heroes (lifesavers, animal rescuers).

Simply put, Ellen is our generation’s closest approximation of primetime variety gods like Ed Sullivan and Carol Burnett. Her humor: family-friendly and everyday-human. Granted, she was a bust as a judge on American Idol — because she had a tough time being, well, judge-y. But it was that very trait, along with her I’m-a-fan-too approach, that made her the only entertaining Oscars host in recent memory. No wonder, along with her 30 Emmys, she’s won a record 21 People’s Choice Awards — more than even her pal Oprah Winfrey.

(Credit: The Ellen DeGeneres Show)

At 61, the woman with 70.8 million Instagram groupies still has that make-every-age-laugh bug. Her recent Netflix special, Relatable — her first stand-up show in 15 years — proved so funny, it screams for another sitcom. Yep, we’re ready!

This is an abbreviated version of TV Guide Magazine’s latest cover story. For more, pick up the issue, on newsstands now.