The 20th anniversary of her coming-out episode isn't just a big deal for Ellen DeGeneres, it's a big deal for society.
With the help of Oprah Winfrey, Laura Dern, and even Michelle Obama, DeGeneres is spending the entirety of today's show reflecting on the historic two-part "Puppy Episode" which aired on April 30, 1997.
"I'm Ellen and I'm gay," DeGeneres starts her tribute to the moment that changed her life. "20 years ago I said that—it was a much bigger deal then."
"This was before Facebook, so if you wanted to announce something, you had to get a sitcom. That's how we did it back then," she jokes and goes on to explain that, since it was the first time a TV character was coming out, the name "The Puppy Episode" helped them to keep it a secret. "And because 'Ellen Throws Her Career Away' seemed too on the nose," she adds. "Puppy" was also a reference to the studio's suggestion that DeGeneres's character get a puppy instead of a same-sex relationship in the show.
"At the time, it was so controversial," she says. "Which is why I thought this was important to celebrate the anniversary and to remember what it was like back then and to appreciate how far we've come."
In remembrance of the television moment, DeGeneres invited Dern, Winfrey, and the rest of her former castmates, including Joely Fisher, Clea Lewis, and David Anthony Higgins, for their first on-air reunion since Ellen ended in 1998.
"You would not be who you are ... you wouldn't be able to open hearts and touch hearts and change peoples' minds and make a difference in the world had you not had the courage to do that," Winfrey tells DeGeneres in an emotional one-on-one moment. "And 20 years ago, you had no idea it would put you in this seat."
DeGeneres replied: "It really did teach me, no matter what the cost is at the time, it is always important that whatever you believe, whoever the essence of us is, we are born, we are all individual, we are all unique and we are supposed to be that exact person."
Watch Ellen discuss the "coming-out" episode with Oprah and Laura Dern in the above videos (and also catch Michelle Obama's special appearance!).