Whether she's freak dancing with John Travolta, shooting hoops with Britney Spears, or watching Jim Carrey pop a wheelie on a replica of his green childhood bike, Ellen DeGeneres is having fun on her daytime talk show -- and hopes viewers are too.
"It's a very important thing to get a sense of fun when watching TV, not a sense of doom," she said. "I wanted to do a light, entertaining show where you know that you will feel good at the end of it."
DeGeneres and the staff of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," which airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on WRC-TV, are feeling especially good these days: The show racked up 12 daytime Emmy nominations, the most ever for a freshman talk show. Emmy winners will be announced on Friday at 9 p.m. on NBC.
"I didn't really understand what a big deal it was," DeGeneres said. "They told me, you got nominations for every single category except the song, and I instantly said, 'What's wrong with our song?'
"But we're up against the soaps, and they have original songs every week. It's really just nice that I am surrounded by such good people. The show is a well-oiled machine and I could not have done this alone. I'm just so happy everyone is being acknowledged," she said.
The show, airing in 219 markets and recently renewed for another season, features celebrity guests, a monologue and segments that lean on viewer participation, from dance tips to "Fat Cats" to the new "Holla Awards.
"That's a shout out, or holla, to recognize something nice that someone has done," she said. "I really want to encourage random acts of kindness, and when people write in to tell about something, we need to show a dramatization of what happened."
In one example, a college student helped another who had
dropped her lunch tray in the cafeteria. A friend of the good Samaritan wrote to Ellen, and the reenactment included the note being written as well as cafeteria footage, complete with spilled food, embarrassed student and jeering classmates. "It's a little corny, but it's fun," she said.
In "Fat Cats," DeGeneres displays photos of enormous felines. Earlier this season, she had talked on the air about taking her own cat to the vet.
"The vet said he was too fat.
He weighed 14 pounds -- he's a big cat," she said. "So then we started getting all these pictures people sent in of their own fat cats," she said. "There are some huge cats out there. [Viewers] love it and can relate."
Other viewer-participation segments include "Why Aren't You on TV?" and a seemingly endless stream of video dance tips for DeGeneres, who bops and shimmies her way to the interview sofa.
The audience dances along to the beat and now, DeGeneres said, "as much as I'd like to stop, I just can't. I can feel how much the audience loves it. But I know I am a parody waiting to happen on 'Saturday Night Live.' "
DeGeneres, who began her career doing stand-up comedy and has starred in several sitcoms, said initially she did not have "a vision for this show other than that it should be as real as possible, and incorporate real people into it, not just celebrities.
"When I was growing up, there were Johnny Carson, and Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas," she said. "When celebrities do junkets on all these shows, if you're at home, you're flippin' around the channels and seeing the same story on every show.
"I wanted people to talk about different things on this show," she said. "To have a regular conversation, not just go to a bio." DeGeneres recently discussed exercise routines with Janet Jackson and talked about David Arquette's Bernese Mountain dog. The guests, she said, "enjoy the show because it's spontaneous.
"Right now I am in a place where I am doing fun things every day. People seem to like it, and I hope I do it for a long time."
For DeGeneres, the shift from sitcom or stand-up to sit-down talk-show host was an adjustment. "I needed the audience to find my rhythm," she said. "And this is something the guests comment on: This is a smart audience. They know what kind of humor it is -- not mean-spirited, and not off-color.
"This show is really all hands-on and it is also just being 'on' every day; it's the energy.
"And just when you want to just stop, there's another one [show] to do," she said. "I have compared it to what it's like to be a new mother. It has to be the most exhausting thing when the baby cries. This show is a crying baby that I don't mind holding and rocking."
12 Emmy Nominations for Ellen
The 31st Annual Daytime Emmy Awards will be presented live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City on Friday at 9 p.m. on NBC.
"The Ellen DeGeneres Show" is nominated for 12 Daytime Emmy Awards, more than any other talk show, and more than any other freshman talk show in the history of the Daytime Emmys.
DeGeneres previously won an Emmy for writing, and has been nominated for her sitcom and HBO specials.
Ellen's 2004 nominations are:
* Outstanding talk show
* Outstanding talk-show host
* Outstanding special-class writing
* Outstanding directing in a talk show
* Outstanding achievement in art direction/set decoration/scenic design
* Outstanding achievement in costume design/styling
* Outstanding achievement in multiple-camera editing
* Outstanding achievement in lighting design
* Outstanding achievement in main title design
* Outstanding achievement in make-up
* Outstanding achievement in live and direct-to-tape sound mixing
* Outstanding achievement in technical direction/electroniccamera/video control