8. 'Ellen' (1994-1998)
Named Showtime's Funniest Person in America in 1982, Ellen DeGeneres scored another big break when her stand-up routine on the Tonight Show earned her a post-set conversation with Johnny Carson — making her the first comedienne in the show's history to receive such on honor. A sitcom deal seemed inevitable after that, and eventually led to These Friends of Mine, which revolved around DeGeneres playing a L.A. bookstore employee (and later owner). After its first season, ABC just changed the name to Ellen, letting her amiable persona take center stage.
The show gained a loyal audience and was a great showcase for DeGeneres' natural charm. Then, 11 years later after the Carson landmark, she achieved an even more momentous television first; two months after outing herself as a lesbian while on The Oprah Winfrey Show, DeGeneres's character on Ellen came out of the closet to her therapist (played by Oprah), thus becoming the first gay lead character in TV history. Though the revelation changed the direction of the show, Ellen's (and Ellen's) dry observational wit remained delightfully intact.