The Ellen DeGeneres Show: Timeline of talk show’s biggest controversies

From awkward interviews to unpopular friendships, DeGeneres has experienced her fair share of controversy

Louis Chilton
Wednesday 12 May 2021 18:06
Ellen's First Monologue of Season 18
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For years, The Ellen DeGeneres Show was one of daytime TV’s biggest success stories.

The talk show, hosted by comedian and actor Ellen DeGeneres, debuted on 8 September 2003 and ran for nearly two decades, winning 61 daytime Emmys out of a staggering 171 nominations.

However, in July 2020, the series was rocked by allegations of toxic workplace behaviour, and Ellen found itself at the centre of a scandal involving claims of sexual harassment and misconduct by producers.

DeGeneres’s own reputation was dented by the reports, with the presenter who had once been famed for her affable demeanour facing criticism from all sides – despite not being accused of on-set bullying herself.

Earlier today (12 May), it was announced that The Ellen DeGeneres Show will be coming to an end after its 19th season, scheduled to conclude in 2022.

Though reports have claimed that the decision has been years in the making, some have linked the decision to stop the programme to last year’s controversy, and the drop in viewership ratings that followed.

In March, it was reported that the show had lost more than a million viewers in a year.

Here’s a brief timeline of the controversies surrounding The Ellen DeGeneres Show...

December 2018: Profile in the New York Times

In 2018, the New York Times published a profile of DeGeneres under the headline “Ellen DeGeneres Is Not as Nice as You Think”. In the interview, the presenter was asked about rumours that her real-life behaviour was at odds with her “nice” on-camera persona. “That bugs me if someone is saying that because it’s an outright lie,” she responded.

“The first day I said: ‘The one thing I want is everyone here to be happy and proud of where they work, and if not, don’t work here.’ No one is going to raise their voice or not be grateful. That’s the rule to this day.”

Ellen DeGeneres on The Ellen DeGeneres Show

January 2019: Interview with Kevin Hart

Back in 2018, Kevin Hart was set to host the Academy Awards, but stepped down amid criticism over homophobic tweets and jokes he had made years earlier. In January 2019, the comedian appeared on DeGeneres’s talk show.

DeGeneres, one of the highest-profile lesbians in the US, prompted a backlash from some viewers when she called on the Oscars to re-hire Hart, and advised him to ignore negative comments online.

October 2019: Photo with George W Bush

Former president George W Bush was photographed laughing with DeGeneres in the autumn of 2019, at an NFL match between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. Bush remains a controversial figure, particularly among left-wing Americans, and DeGeneres was scolded for being so chummy with a politician whose administration launched the war on Iraq and was seen as supporting anti-LGBTQ policies.

The host addressed the scandal on her talk show, stating: “Here’s the thing: 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. We’re all different, and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s okay that we’re all different.

“When I say: ‘Be kind to one another’, I don’t only mean the people that think the same way that you do,” she continued. “I mean be kind to everyone.” Her comments did not appease many viewers, however.

November 2019: Dakota Johnson interview

An interaction between DeGeneres and the actor Dakota Johnson became an internet meme back in 2019. The conversation, stemming from an interview on the talk show, saw DeGeneres ask Johnson about her 30th birthday party, claiming: “I wasn’t invited”.

Johnson responded with the now-famous comment: “Actually, no, that’s not the truth, Ellen. You were invited.” She went on to say that DeGeneres had expressed disappointment at not being invited to her previous birthday party, so had made sure to invite her this time around. “I didn’t even know you liked me!” Johnson said. “But I did invite you and you didn’t come, so...”

“Are you sure? How do you know? I don’t think so,” Ms DeGeneres replied, before Johnson told her to “ask everybody.... Ask Jonathan, your producer.” The unusually combative clip went viral on social media.

April 2020: Pandemic uncertainty

In April last year, during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, DeGeneres shared a YouTube video in which she joked about being bored during quarantine, comparing the experience to being imprisoned. The joke was accused of tone-deafness by viewers; a tweet containing the video was deleted from the show’s official account and the video was made “private”.

A report in Variety published that same month claimed that employees at The Ellen DeGeneres Show were concerned because they had not been informed about their future, including whether or not they would continue to be paid. The report also alleged that non-union workers had been hired to produce Ellen remotely from her house. Per the Variety report, the production company initially blamed the uncertainty on “chaos” resulting from the pandemic.

July 2020: Toxic workplace allegations

On 16 July, BuzzFeed published a story in which former employees of The Ellen DeGeneres Show (and one current employee) accused the programme of having a toxic workplace environment of “racism, fear and intimidation”.

Another story by Buzzfeed was then published a fortnight later, containing claims from Ellen employees that “the office is a place where sexual harassment and misconduct by top executive producers runs rampant”.

DeGeneres posing with her Carol Burnett Golden Globe award in January 2020

Other claims about the series, and unverified allegations about DeGeneres’s personal conduct, came to light throughout July and August, including the claim that DeGeneres did not allow staff to “look her in the eye” (a rumour the presenter denied).

Warner Bros initiated an investigation into the series following the allegations, saying in a statement: ““Though not all of the allegations were corroborated, we are disappointed that the primary findings of the investigation indicated some deficiencies related to the show’s day-to-day management. We have identified several staffing changes, along with appropriate measures to address the issues that have been raised.” DeGeneres apologised to former staff after the investigation’s findings were released.

September 2020: DeGeneres addresses allegations on-air as series returns

When the series returned from its Summer hiatus, DeGeneres used the first episode to address the “toxic workplace” claims directly. She began her monologue by joking: “Oh boy, welcome to season 18 of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. If you’re watching because you love me, thank you. If you’re watching because you don’t love me, welcome. How was everybody’s summer? Good? Mine was great. Super terrific.”

She continued: “I learned that things happened here that never should have happened. I take that very seriously, and I want to say I am so sorry to the people who were affected.”

Claiming that The Ellen DeGeneres Show had entered a “new chapter”, she said: “I know that I am in a position of privilege and power and I realise that with that comes responsibility, and I take responsibility for what happens at my show.”

October 2020: Show suffers ratings decline

In October of last year, it was revealed that The Ellen DeGeneres Show’s viewership had taken a serious hit after the controversy, with over a third of the show’s audience reportedly calling it quits.

This was followed several weeks later by unverified reports that the series was struggling to attract high-profile guests in the wake of the scandal.

May 2021: DeGeneres announces the series is going to end

On 12 May, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that The Ellen DeGeneres Show is set to end after its forthcoming 19th season, which will air in 2022.

The presenter told the outlet: “When you’re a creative person, you constantly need to be challenged – and as great as this show is, and as fun as it is, it’s just not a challenge anymore.”

DeGeneres, as seen on a recent episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show (dated May 12 2021)

DeGeneres told The Hollywood Reporter that the claims of workplace toxicity and personal misconduct had previously made her want to quit the show, and that they formed part of a “tsunami” of bad news that affected her last year – which also included a home robbery and the deaths of four of her animals.

“When it started, with that stupid ‘someone couldn’t look me in the eye’ or whatever the first thing was, it’s like a crest of a wave,” she said. “Like, ‘This isn’t going to be that big of a wave.’ And then it just keeps getting bigger and bigger until it was out of control. And I really, honestly, felt like, ‘I don’t deserve this. I don’t need this. I know who I am. I’m a good person.’

DeGeneres will discuss the show’s conclusion with Oprah Winfrey on an episode of Ellen airing on 13 May.

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