In her first on-air appearances since announcing the end of her eponymous daytime talk show, Ellen DeGeneres called the press cycle around allegations of toxicity at her workplace “orchestrated” and “misogynistic”, and elaborated on her reasons for stepping down after 19 years.
DeGeneres, 63, revealed to the Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday that the show’s upcoming 19th season, which will end in 2022, would be its last, saying the show was “just not a challenge any more”. The announcement came after months of negative press for the daytime host, following a July 2020 BuzzFeed report which detailed allegations of racial insensitivity, sexual harassment and bullying behind the scenes, based on interviews with 36 former staffers.
Asked about the allegations by Today host Savannah Guthrie on Thursday morning, DeGeneres denied that they factored into the decision to end the show. “If it was why I was quitting, I would have not come back this year,” she said. “I really did think about not coming back because … it was devastating,” she said of the report. “I am a kind person. I am a person who likes to make people happy.”
DeGeneres also revealed that she learned about the allegations from the press. “I had no idea, never saw anything that would even point to that,” she told Guthrie.
The BuzzFeed report did not allege toxic behavior by DeGeneres herself, but several former staff members claimed the host’s “be kind” motto was not genuine – a sentiment reflected by a widely publicized Twitter thread in which comedian Kevin T Porter crowd-sourced unsubstantiated stories about the host’s rudeness, which received more than 2,000 replies.
When Guthrie asked DeGeneres whether she felt she had been “cancelled” by the negative press, the talk show host responded that she “really didn’t understand it. I still don’t understand it. It was too orchestrated. It was too coordinated. People get picked on, but for four months straight for me.
“All I’ve ever heard from every guest that comes on the show is what a happy atmosphere this is and what a happy place this is,” she added.
Three executive producers were fired following the BuzzFeed report and a subsequent investigation by Warner Brothers which found “some flaws in the show’s daily management” and expressed disappointment in “deficiencies related to the show’s day-to-day management”.
During the show’s 18th season premiere in September 2020, DeGeneres made an on-air apology to viewers: “I learned that things happened here that should never have happened,” she said. “I know that I’m in a position of privilege and power, and I realize that with that comes responsibility, and I take responsibility for what happens at my show.”
On the Today Show, DeGeneres expressed disbelief about alleged toxicity behind the scenes. “I don’t know how I could have known when there’s 255 employees here and there are a lot of different buildings, unless I literally stay here until the last person goes home at night,” she said. “It is my name on the show, so clearly it affects me and I have to be the one to stand up and say, ‘This can’t be tolerated.’ But I do wish somebody would have come to me and said, ‘Hey, something’s going on that you should know about.’”
DeGeneres, who became one of the most prominent and groundbreaking LGTBQ+ media figures when she came out on the cover of Time magazine in 1997, also attributed part of the blowback to misogyny. “How can I be an example of strength and perseverance and power if I give up and run away?” she said, later adding: “I have to say if nobody else is saying it, it was really interesting because I’m a woman, and it did feel very misogynistic.”
True to DeGeneres’s stated mission of keeping the Ellen Show a positive space, the negative press did not garner a mention on Wednesday’s episode, the first since DeGeneres revealed her show’s endgame. The comedian offered the same reasoning as in the Hollywood Reporter – that as a creative person, she needed a new challenge, and would look to standup and original content on her video website ellentube – to daytime TV titan Oprah Winfrey, a decade out from ending her own eponymous talk show.
In a discussion about the daytime hosts’ deep relationships with audience and staff, DeGeneres also said she planned her exit a year in advance to give her crew time to adjust and plan. “I wanted to give them a year, I wanted to give them enough time … to celebrate with me and stay with me,” she said.