Ellen DeGeneres, someone who is synonymous with warmth, laughter, and celebrity interviews, has been a fixture of American television for decades. From her early days as an actor on the sitcom “Ellen” to her courageous public coming out as gay, DeGeneres has left an indelible mark on the entertainment industry.
Yet, in 2020, the beloved talk show host found herself at the epicenter of a controversy that shook her image as an icon of kindness and inclusivity. As she prepares to bid farewell to her long-running talk show, it’s time to unravel what led to this moment and what lies ahead.
The Ellen Empire
Ellen DeGeneres, now 63, has built an impressive media empire, with the crown jewel being her weekday talk show. For nearly two decades, she has welcomed A-list guests, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Kim Kardashian West, often sharing the stage with close friends.
Her contributions to the entertainment world have been acknowledged with prestigious awards, such as the Carol Burnett Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2020 Golden Globes and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2016.
DeGeneres’s legacy extends beyond the world of entertainment. She has been celebrated as an LGBTQ+ icon, a trailblazing woman in media, an outspoken activist, and a symbol of kindness. Her show featured generous audience giveaways and substantial charitable donations, reflecting her commitment to improving the world.
The Shockwaves of 2020
The year 2020 marked a tumultuous period for DeGeneres. A Buzzfeed report in July detailed accusations of sexual harassment, racism, and bullying within “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” While the allegations were primarily directed at executive producers rather than DeGeneres, they still overshadowed her reputation.
Former employees claimed to have endured microaggressions, disrespectful comments, and unfair dismissals for taking sick leave or attending family funerals. Some employees even alleged they were instructed not to speak to DeGeneres during production. The accusations called into question DeGeneres’s awareness of the toxic work environment on her own set.
DeGeneres’s Response and Internal Investigation
DeGeneres expressed her heartbreak and sorrow in an internal email to her staff in response to the allegations. She acknowledged that the show had grown beyond her ability to oversee every detail and committed to ensuring such issues would not recur.
Warner Bros initiated an internal investigation into the allegations and working culture to uncover the truth behind the claims. Three top producers, Ed Glavin, Kevin Leman, and Jonathan Norman, left the show amid this investigation.
In August 2020, DeGeneres held a virtual Zoom meeting with her staff. She apologized for allowing a divide to grow between her and her team and emphasized the importance of acknowledging the humanity of those working behind the scenes.
A Turning Point
When DeGeneres returned for the 18th season of her show in September 2020, she directly addressed the allegations in her opening monologue. She took responsibility for the negative experiences some staff members had endured and pledged to make necessary changes. While her message was intended to convey sincerity and commitment, it was met with mixed reactions, with some feeling that humor didn’t belong in such a serious context.
Support and Criticism From Celebrities
DeGeneres received support and criticism from her celebrity friends and former colleagues throughout this challenging period. Her wife, Portia de Rossi, expressed gratitude for the support from fans. Katy Perry, Kevin Hart, Diane Keaton, Ashton Kutcher, and polo player Nacho Figueras supported DeGeneres, emphasizing her contributions to equality and inclusivity.
However, some, like the show’s former DJ Tony Okungbowa and actor Brad Garrett, shared their experiences of a toxic work culture on the show. Garrett even suggested that the behavior stemmed from DeGeneres herself.
The End of an Era
Fast forward to May 13, 2021, when DeGeneres announced that the upcoming 19th season would be the final one for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” She tearfully expressed her gratitude to her audience and emphasized that her decision to end the show did not directly result from the controversies surrounding it.
As Ellen DeGeneres prepares to bid farewell to her iconic show, her journey through the turbulence of 2020 serves as a reminder of the complexities of fame and the responsibility that comes with it. Her legacy, once untarnished, now includes a chapter of self-reflection, change, and the enduring quest for kindness in an imperfect world.