The rise and fall of The Ellen DeGeneres Show
Inside Ellen’s meteoric rise – and her swift fall from grace: How TV host found fame as one of the industry’s friendliest faces, landing dozens of A-list interviews and celebrity pals, only to crash land amid claims of ‘horrible’ behavior and workplace bullying
- Ellen, 63, announced that she will end her daytime talk show in 2022 after more than 3,000 shows
- Since debuting in 2003, the show has won 61 Daytime Emmy Awards and maintained very high ratings — until recently
- Famous guests have included Jennifer Aniston, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and the Obamas
- The show lost more than a million viewers since September, down to an average of 1.5 million viewers from 2.6 million last year
- Ellen has been plagued by controversy, including numerous claims that she fostered a toxic work environment
- She has been accused of being ‘notoriously one of the meanest people alive,’ with social media users sharing their own negative stories
- Ellen has also faced criticism for befriending former President George W. Bush and comparing being home in the pandemic to ‘jail’
- Criticism has come from her former DJ, Tony Okungbowa, as well as Brad Garrett, Lea Thompson, and YouTuber NikkieTutorials
After 19 years on the air and more than 3,000 shows, Ellen DeGeneres has announced that her daytime talk show will coming to an end next season — following over a year of unflattering headlines, damning accusations, and declining viewership.
Ellen, 63, no doubt broke boundaries when she became the host of her own show in 2003, six years after publicly coming out as gay and just months after returning to the spotlight as the voice of Dory in the hit Pixar film Finding Nemo.
But while she has built a reputation as a ‘nice’ comic who doesn’t use profanity or make jokes at the expense of others, rumors have swirled in Hollywood for years that she’s not nearly as warm and friendly as her public persona suggests — and those rumors came to a head last year in a stream of negative press, with stars, crew, and non-Hollywood types alike coming forward to share their stories about the host.
The growing backlash appears to have contributed to a ratings decline that resulted in her show ending, and has stripped her of her status as one of comedy’s most beloved stars.
Over: Ellen DeGeneres has announced that her talk show is coming to an end — following over a year of unflattering headlines, damning accusations, and declining viewership
Barriers: Ellen, 63, no doubt broke boundaries when she became the host of her own show in 2003, six years after publicly coming out as gay
Star power: Over the years, she has had countless big-name celebrity guests, including Rihanna (pictured)
Success: In its first season alone, the show was nominated for 11 Daytime Emmy Awards, and won four, including Best Talk Show (pictured with Zac Efron)
A-list: Ratings continues to rise, and all of the biggest stars in Hollywood stopped by to be interviewed (pictured with Oprah and Reese Witherspoon)
Impressive: She’s hosted presidents and first ladies — including President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and Laura Bush
Ellen began her career doing standup and made waves with her first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
She began earning parts on TV, and in 1994, she landed her own sitcom called ‘Ellen.’ The show was a hit, and at the height of its popularity in 1997, she did something few celebrities had done at the time: She publicly came out as gay, as did her on-screen alter ego.
While the move was monumental for the LGBTQ community — and was one of the highest-rated episodes of the show — it led to rough times for Ellen, whose sitcom was canceled a year later.
Ellen had few roles after the show ended, though she did host Saturday Night Live and the 53rd Primetime Emmy Awards in 2001.
But things started to look up in 2003: She voiced the beloved forgetful fish Dory in the Oscar-winning animated film Finding Nemo, and a few months after it was released began headlining her own talk show.
The talk show started off with a bang, with Jennifer Aniston — then starring in the final season of Friends — appearing as her first guest. That first season alone, the show was nominated for 11 Daytime Emmy Awards, and won four, including Best Talk Show.
Ratings continues to rise, and all of the biggest stars in Hollywood stopped by to be interviewed.
Over the years, she’s welcomed on the Kardashians numerous times — sometimes all together — as well as Oprah, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt, Kevin Hart, Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Bradley Cooper, Zac Efron, Will Smith, Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg, Drew Barrymore, Adele, Victoria Beckham, Halle Berry, Matthew Broderick, Bon Jovi, Pierce Brosnan, and Carol Burnett.
She’s hosted presidents and first ladies — including President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and Laura Bush — as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Other stars who have appeared include Steve Carell, Mariah Carey, Cher, George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, Ted Danson, Patrick Dempsey, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Neil Patrick Harris, Janet Jackson, One Direction, Dolly Parton, Meryl Streep, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Ivanka Trump, John Travolta, Serena Williams, Reese Witherspoon, Carrie Underwood, and Sofia Vergara.
Ellen became known for dancing on the show, and brought on countless guests who’d earned online fame with viral videos — including, most memorably, Sophia Grace and Rosie, who performed Nicki Minaj’s song Super Bass.
The show had plenty of viral moments of its own, including the time Kristen Bell shared a clip of herself breaking down in happy tears over a sloth.
Ellen won more Emmys for Outstanding Talk Show and Outstanding Talk Show Entertainment — 11 — than The Oprah Winfrey Show, which won nine (pictured with Brad Pitt)
The whole gang: In addition to having Justin Timberlake on the show, she also hosted an NSYNC reunion
Return guest: Her first guest in 2003, Jennifer Aniston, kept coming back
Funny stuff: The show had plenty of viral moments of its own, including the time Kristen Bell shared a clip of herself breaking down in happy tears over a sloth
Ellen’s career skyrocketed. In 2005, she hosted the 57th Primetime Emmy Awards, followed by the 79th Academy Awards in 2007 and the 86th Academy Awards in 2014.
She judged season nine of American Idol in 2010, put out a new standup special in 2018, and served as executive producer on such shows as Bethenny, Little Big Shots, and The Masked Dancer.
She’s also racked up lucrative ad campaigns with American Express, CoverGirl Cosmetics, and J.C. Penney, and has sold her own products on QVC and at Walmart.
And since her talk show premiered, it has received a total of 171 Daytime Emmy Award nominations, with 61 Daytime Emmy Award wins.
In fact, she won more Emmys for Outstanding Talk Show and Outstanding Talk Show Entertainment — 11 — than The Oprah Winfrey Show, which won nine.
The show has averaged around 4.2+ million viewers per episode, and for years was the third most highly viewed daytime show behind Live with Kelly and Ryan and Dr. Phil.
Good sport: Over the years, she’s welcomed on the Kardashians numerous times
Family affair: Sometimes she’s had multiple women of the family on at the same time
Hobnobbing: She’s hosted several award shows, too, including the Oscars in 2014 (pictured)
But Ellen faced her first whiff of backlash in October of 2019 when she took in a Dallas Cowboys football game in a luxury box — where she sat next to former President George W. Bush.
Cameras showed the pair sitting side-by-side and seemingly enjoying each other’s company, which led to a flood of criticism online.
Critics pointed out that while Ellen has been a trailblazer for the LGBTQ community, Bush has backed several policies that were hurtful to gay people — including a proposed constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Bush was also against classifying crimes against gay people as gate crimes, and, as many pointed out, brought the US into a long, costly, and deadly war in Iraq on the basis of hidden weapons of mass destruction which were never found.
Ellen later addressed the backlash on her show, saying: ‘I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have.
‘Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say, “Be kind to one another,” I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean, “Be kind to everyone, it doesn’t matter.”‘
Friends: Ellen faced her first whiff of backlash in October of 2019 when she took in a Dallas Cowboys football game in a luxury box — where she sat with former President George W. Bush
At odds: Critics pointed out that while Ellen has been a trailblazer for the LGBTQ community, Bush has backed several policies that were hurtful to gay people
Not impressed: One of the first critics to speak out was Nikkie de Jager, who said Ellen was cold and distant when she was on the show
But it was that refrain — ‘be kind to everyone’ — that would come to mean more trouble for Ellen, who has since been accused of being a hypocrite and not being kind to many people.
One of the first critics to speak out was Nikkie de Jager, a trans beauty blogger who goes by NikkieTutorials. She had appeared on Ellen’s show in January of 2020 to talk about coming out as trans, but the next month admitted that the experience wasn’t what she had hoped.
‘Let me say that there’s a big difference between this show and Ellen DeGeneres, and I’m saying that in favor of this show,’ she said on the Dutch talk show ‘De Wereld Draait Door.’
‘It’s nice that you say “hi” before the show. She didn’t,’ she added, agreeing with an assessment that she was ‘cold and distant.’
Whispers about Ellen’s behavior grew into shots in April when comedian Kevin T. Porter tweeted a plea for stories about the star.
‘Right now we all need a little kindness. You know, like Ellen Degeneres always talks about!’ he tweeted
‘She’s also notoriously one of the meanest people alive. Respond to this with the most insane stories you’ve heard about Ellen being mean & I’ll match every one w/ $2 to @LAFoodBank.
Unhappy people: Whispers about Ellen’s behavior grew into shots in April when comedian Kevin T. Porter tweeted a plea for stories about the star
Commenters who thought he was kidding were quickly proven wrong, as stories alleging Ellen’s bad behavior quickly poured in.
‘Was wrking on a show @ WB that was next to her stage,’ wrote Alison Freer. ‘Was our showrunner’s 50th Bday. Caterer grilling steaks outside for special fancy lunch. Ellen sent someone over to demand they stop, as she doesn’t eat meat. She’s the worst.
She later added: ‘She polices her crew’s lunch orders, nobody allowed to eat fish etc. They would come hide on our stage to eat what they wanted away from her.’
‘A friend of mine worked as a grip on her show and if any of the crew made eye contact with her she would report it and they’d be reprimanded as a group,’ tweeted another commenter.
‘Working for her, I was instructed that I can’t look her in the eye and never ever say hi to her first. “But don’t worry, she definitely won’t be saying hi to you in the first place.” She creates the most toxic environment for her staff,’ said Maggie Klaus.
Others shared stories about dealing with her in their service industry jobs.
‘I worked @RealFoodDaily, served her & Porsha at brunch,’ wrote Chris Farah. ‘She wrote a letter to the owner & complained about my chipped nail polish (not that it was on her plate but just that it was on my hand). I had worked till closing the night before & this was next morn, almost got me fired.’
Cozy: More criticism came Ellen’s way after her April 6 show, which was filmed from home at the start of the pandemic
Yikes… Speaking to the camera from inside her multimillion-dollar mansion, Ellen jokingly compared her plight to that of prisoners in jail
Called out: Commenters quickly took to Twitter to criticize the star for being tone deaf and out of touch
More criticism came Ellen’s way after her April 6 show, which was filmed from home at the start of the pandemic.
Speaking to the camera from inside her multimillion-dollar mansion, Ellen jokingly compared her plight to that of prisoners in jail.
‘One thing I’ve learned from being in quarantine is that people — this is like being in jail, is what this is,’ she said. ‘It’s mostly because I’ve been wearing the same clothes for 10 days, and everyone in here is gay.’
Commenters quickly took to Twitter to criticize the star for being tone deaf and out of touch, pointing out that in addition to people dying from COVID-19, most Americans watching her show were doing so from much smaller and less luxurious homes.
What’s more, critics said, making light of the challenges facing the imprisoned population was particularly ill-timed given their increased risk of contracting COVID.
The backlash against Ellen continued to grow, with social media users pointing to old clips with celebrity guests that, in retrospect, hinted at bad behavior.
In one particularly viral moment from 2019, Dakota Johnson shared a tense, awkward exchange in an on-air interview.
Flashback: A 2019 interview with Dakota Johnson went viral again last year. Dakota called Ellen out for lying in an awkward exchange
When Ellen asked Dakota how her birthday party was — adding with a straight face that she ‘wasn’t invited — Dakota firmly pushed back, saying: ‘Actually, no, that’s not the truth, Ellen. You were invited.
‘Last time I was on the show, last year, you gave me a bunch of s*** about not inviting you. But I didn’t even know you wanted to be invited — I didn’t even know you liked me… but I did invite you, and you didn’t come.
When Ellen questioned her, doubting what Dakota said, she replied: ‘Ask everybody. Ask Jonathan, your producer.’
Things began looking even worse when, in April, crew members for The Ellen DeGeneres Show publicly complained about the treatment they were enduring during the pandemic.
Two sources told Variety said that the core stage crew for the show had received no written communication and only sporadic phone calls about their hours and pay, and didn’t know how much or even if they would be paid in lockdown. Many were worried that they would be furloughed but said that they weren’t being notified either way.
While Ellen filmed remotely from home, she hired an outside company to help her.
Then, in July, BuzzFeed published a report in which former employees blasted the ‘toxic’ work culture dating back to well before the pandemic.
‘That “be kind” bulls*** only happens when the cameras are on. It’s all for show’ said one. ‘I know they give money to people and help them out, but it’s for show.’
‘I think it is a lot of smoke and mirrors when it comes to the show’s brand,’ said another. ‘They pull on people’s heartstrings; they do know that’s going to get likes and what people are going to go for, which is a positive message. But that’s not always reality.’
Toxic workplace: Executive producers (left to right) Jonathan Norman, Kevin Lenman and Ed Glavin were accused by over 30 former employees of sexual misconduct and were all fired
Mea culpa… ish? Ellen, meanwhile, sent a memo to staff in which she wrote she was ‘taking steps… to correct’ issues with her employees
Most of the accusations were about the workplace in general, including other senior employees besides Ellen. Ten former employees specifically accused three executive producers —Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly, and Andy Lassner — of ‘bullying.’
Among the allegations was one made by a Black woman who claimed she suffered a number of ‘microaggressions,’ her request for a raise was ignored, and she was accused of ‘walking around looking resentful and angry’ after asking for staff members to undergo diversity and inclusion training.
Glavin, Kevin Leman and co-executive producer Jonathan Norman were all fired from the popular talk show following the accusations leveled against them.
Keeping busy: In addition to racking up awards while on air, she also picked up other hosting gigs and sponsorship deals
But several pointed out that the culture of a workplace comes from the top.
As more complains poured in, Variety reported that WarnerMedia, which distributes Ellen’s show, had hired ‘a third party firm’ to launch an investigation into the show’s workplace culture.
Ellen, meanwhile, sent a memo to staff in which she wrote she was ‘taking steps… to correct’ issues with her employees.
‘On day one of our show, I told everyone in our first meeting that The Ellen DeGeneres Show would be a place of happiness — no one would ever raise their voice, and everyone would be treated with respect. Obviously, something changed, and I am disappointed to learn that this has not been the case. And for that, I am sorry,’ Ellen said in the memo.
‘As we’ve grown exponentially, I’ve not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I’d want them done. Clearly some didn’t,’ she added. ‘That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.’
His say: Even Ellen’s former DJ, Tony Okungbowa, posted about the talk show host on Instagram, calling out the ‘toxicity’ of the workplace
‘I did experience and feel the toxicity of the environment and I stand with my former colleagues in their quest to create a healthier and more inclusive workplace as the show moves forward,’ he said
Condemnation: Brad Garrett of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ fame said he knows ‘more than one who were treated horribly by her,’ and Lea Thompson agreed
Even Ellen’s former DJ, Tony Okungbowa, posted about the talk show host on Instagram, calling out the ‘toxicity’ of the workplace.
‘I have been getting calls asking me about the Ellen Degeneres Show and I would like to address the time I spent there,’ he wrote.
‘I was on air talent from 2003-2006 and from 2007 -2013. While I am grateful for the opportunity it afforded me, I did experience and feel the toxicity of the environment and I stand with my former colleagues in their quest to create a healthier and more inclusive workplace as the show moves forward.’
That same month, more celebrities spoke up as well. Brad Garrett of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ fame tweeted: ‘Sorry but it comes from the top @TheEllenShow. Know more than one who were treated horribly by her. Common knowledge,” Garrett tweeted on July 30.
When People magazine shared a tweet about his remarks, Back to the Future star Lea Thompson replied: ‘True story. It is.’
Australian radio host Neil Breen also opened up about his experience with Ellen when he was an executive producer on the Australian Today show in 2013.
‘Because it’s “The Ellen Show,” they controlled everything,’ he said. ‘They controlled the interview seats, the lights, how it would work, everything.
‘The producers called us aside and said, :This is how it’s going to work here this morning. Ellen’s going to arrive at 10:15, and she’ll be sitting in this chair here. And Richard, you’ll be sitting in this chair here.”‘
They also told him that ‘no one’s to talk to Ellen’.
Staying strong: Plenty of celebrities also came to Ellen’s defense, and her wife, Portia, also posted in support on Instagram, writing: ‘I Stand By Ellen’
Declining ratings: The show lost more than a million viewers since September, down to an average of 1.5 million viewers from 2.6 million last year
‘You don’t talk to her, you don’t approach her, you don’t look at her. She’ll come in, she’ll sit down, she’ll talk to Richard, then Ellen will leave,’ they said, according to Neil.
Of course, plenty of celebrities also came to Ellen’s defense. Among them were Ashton Kutcher, Katy Perry, Scooter Braun, and Kevin Hart.
Ellen’s wife, Portia, also posted in support on Instagram, writing: ‘I Stand By Ellen.’
But that hasn’t been enough to save the show’s ratings. According to a March New York Times report, the show lost more than a million viewers since September, down to an average of 1.5 million viewers from 2.6 million last year.
That’s a 43 per cent viewership decline, and puts her at a million fewer viewers than Dr. Phil and 1.2 million less than Live: With Kelly and Ryan.
DailyMail.com broke the news today that Ellen will end her show after the upcoming 2021-2022 season, which Ellen and the network later confirmed.
‘Although all good things must come to an end, you still have hope that the truly great things never will,’ Mike Darnell, President, Warner Bros. Unscripted Television, said in a statement.
‘The Ellen Show started as the little program that could and became an absolute phenomenon. Over the years, it established itself as the premiere destination for both superstars and incredible heartfelt human interest stories.
‘The show and Ellen brought comedy, joy, happiness, comfort (and dancing!) to countless millions every day for 18 years. It was and is an indelible piece of the television landscape, and it will be sorely missed.’
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