''In the beginning, it was more similar to Seinfeld,'' Ellen DeGeneres admits, referring to her new ABC sitcom, These Friends of Mine. But later episodes will move in another direction, she says: ''It's not so much of an ensemble anymore it's kind of following my character. Now people are comparing it to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Pretty soon it'll be Flipper.''
As a stand-up comic, DeGeneres, 36, has long been likened to Jerry Seinfeld. But aside from their mutual passion for fruit drinks (Seinfeld favors Snapple, DeGeneres pitches Veryfine juices), ''I don't think Jerry and I are anything alike,'' she says. ''(We both) do observational humor, but that's basically his whole thing, and that's a very small part of mine.''
Friends was tailored to DeGeneres' wry onstage persona by cocreators Neal Marlens and Carol Black, who had cast her in a supporting role as a nurse in their 1992 ABC flop Laurie Hill, a show the comic doesn't remember fondly. ''I had so little to do it was almost ridiculous,'' DeGeneres says. ''I was praying for it to get canceled.''
Before committing to Friends, she explored numerous other sitcom options, including the lead in Cafe Americain, which ultimately went to Valerie Bertinelli. DeGeneres notes this is a new level of competition for her. ''It's usually more like me and Gary Coleman,'' she jokes. '' 'You again?' 'What you talkin' about?' ''
DeGeneres confirms that Marlens and Black are now ''in the background'' on the show, but she dismisses reports that on-set clashes with her hastened their retreat: ''I've heard all kinds of rumors about that, but we're all still good friends.'' Now she's focusing on Friends' future, which she's certain is bright. ''I don't know why, but whenever I've had this gut feeling, I've always been right,'' she says. ''Now if this is printed and I fail miserably, I'll be embarrassed.''