'ELLEN' ADS LIKELY TO RETURN WHEN SPOTLIGHT DIMS: NO PERMANENT DAMAGE PREDICTED IN WAKE OF EPISODE'S GAY THEME

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While some marketers are shying away from ABC's April 30 airing of a groundbreaking episode of "Ellen," media observers predict many will return later in the season, after the media spotlight has been turned down.

Although ABC said it expects the episode to carry a normal commercial load, it's not known at what rates, or to which national advertisers, those ads will be sold.

OPRAH ON EPISODE

The hourlong episode in which the lead character played by Ellen DeGeneres realizes she's a lesbian will feature guest appearances by stars Laura Dern and Oprah Winfrey.

"I think people will avoid one episode but come back after that," said Jean Pool, VP-executive director, North American media services, J. Walter Thompson USA, New York.

"Most companies don't want to bend to the pressure of splinter groups," added Ellen Oppenheim, senior VP-media director at Foote, Cone & Belding.

A number of advertisers that have run spots on the sitcom this season-including Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Clairol, Domino's Pizza, Burger King Corp. and Johnson & Johnson-will not run ads in the April 30 episode. But the marketers said that's because the episode was not on their schedules, not because of concern over the controversial subject matter.

J&J USES GAY MEDIA

Johnson & Johnson recently began advertising in gay media for the first time, in fact, for its home HIV test Confide.

A few of the show's leading spenders, including Chrysler Corp. and General Motors Corp., have bowed out of the episode.

Although a list of national sponsors isn't yet available, at least one agency media buyer said some clients are specifically asking to run ads on the show because they expect higher ratings.

"There are some taking the point of view that this will be one of the most-watched shows of the year," said Steve Grubbs, exec VP-national TV buying at BBDO Worldwide, New York.

With a better time slot and months of speculation about the character's sexual preference, "Ellen" has seen an increase in ratings among adults 18 to 49 this year, though numbers are still down considerably from 1994-95.

Though the episode is not likely to be available for preview sooner than a week in advance, few expect it to be overly racy.

"I wouldn't count on too much. There's not a lot of flashy sexual stuff on sitcoms in general," said Dave Mulryan, president of Mulryan/Nash Advertising, New York, which specializes in reaching the gay community.

LOCAL RATE INCREASES

Publicity surrounding the episode may have resulted in local ad rate increases at a few stations, according to gay organization Human Rights Campaign.

The group turned to 29 local affiliates after it was rebuffed by ABC to air a job discrimination spot and said prices went up at ABC affiliates in Minneapolis, Seattle and Grand Rapids, Mich.

Home Access Health, maker of home HIV tests, is also planning spot buys on ABC

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