The episode, in which Winfrey played a therapist, featured DeGeneres revealing her sexual orientation for the first time, a long-rumored plot twist that made for game-changing TV. DeGeneres did so off-screen as well, coming out publicly in a Time Magazine cover story titled, “Yep, I’m Gay,” and a sit-down interview on Winfrey’s since-ended talk show.
“I did it because she asked me to do it and I wanted to support her,” Winfrey told The Hollywood Reporter of her decision to be part of the “puppy episode,” as it was famously code-named, in this week’s cover story.
“It didn’t occur to me that there would be a backlash.”
After the episode aired on April 30, 1997, Winfrey was on the receiving end of vitriol-fueled letters and phone calls. “It always turns to race. I got all of the, ‘N—–, go back to Africa. Who do you think you are?’” she said of the venom hurled her way, noting that she had never experienced anything like it before.