Ellen DeGeneres’ longstanding reputation as one of TV’s nicest personalities has suffered a number of blows since 2019. Shocking rumors have also swirled across the internet regarding not only the daytime TV host herself, but also the alleged treatment of her staff. But in July 2020 the eponymous star of The Ellen DeGeneres Show responded by sharing a startling message with her production crew.
Things were particularly precarious for Ellen in the first half of that year. Indeed, the superstar dealt with a number of accusations from all corners of the internet and even from her fellow Hollywood celebrities. From claims of a toxic workplace culture on Ellen’s Emmy winning talk show to criticism leveled directly at her, these stories all seem to conflict with the image that she’s carefully cultivated for herself.
You see, The Ellen DeGeneres Show has long been regarded for the feelgood factor that it brings to daytime television. The program is famed for its celebrity guests, charitable donations and – until recently – the host’s signature post-monologue dance. It quickly became a ratings juggernaut after debuting in 2003, and it has racked up dozens of awards in the years since.
Ellen has built a reputation as the “Queen of Nice” over those nearly two decades that the show has been in air. She used to begin every episode with her trademark goofy dancing – instantly endearing her to audiences. The show often featured adorable kids meeting their real-life heroes, and she’d sign off each episode with, “Be kind to one another.”
But that warm, empathetic image has been frequently dented. While rumors have flown around for years, perhaps the earliest concrete example came in an interview that the presenter gave to The New York Times in 2018. The resultant article – titled “Ellen DeGeneres Is Not as Nice as You Think” – claimed that the host’s real-life personality differs to the one she presents in her show.
The star said that she reflected on her personality in the Netflix stand-up special Ellen DeGeneres: Relatable. She told the newspaper, “I wanted to show all of me. The talk show is me, but I’m also playing a character of a talk-show host. There’s a tiny, tiny bit of difference.”
But Ellen disagreed with the notion that her real-life persona is actually the direct opposite of her “Queen of Nice” reputation. In fact, she took the opportunity to quash those longstanding rumors, saying, “That bugs me if someone is saying that because it’s an outright lie. 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.’”
But the tables began to properly turn on Ellen in 2019 with three major events. The first involved Kevin Hart, who had recently stepped down from hosting the Academy Awards after suffering a backlash over old homophobic tweets. Ellen invited the actor and comedian onto the show in January – citing her belief in second chances.
Ellen told Hart to ignore the criticism he’d experienced and even asked the Academy to reinstate his hosting duties. But her defense didn’t have quite the impact Ellen was perhaps hoping for, and it simply prompted a second backlash. However, this time it was against the host herself, whose own coming out in 1997 had been a watershed moment for the LGBTQ community.
Nine months later Ellen was photographed with ex-POTUS George W. Bush at a football game. The pair could be seen laughing and chatting amicably – a notion that stoked fresh anger among the LGBTQ community. You see, while Ellen’s own career had stalled after she came out, Bush had once backed a constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage.
The idea that the TV host and former president could be friends, then, was appalling to many online commenters. A week later, Ellen explained on her show that she’s “friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs” as her. Yet this did little to soften the criticism, as one YouTube user accused her of “whitewashing the crimes of a war criminal…”
The floodgates truly opened in November 2019, however, when Fifty Shades of Grey star Dakota Johnson appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The host attempted to chide the actress for not inviting her to the latter’s 30th birthday party. Johnson countered that Ellen actually was invited – she simply hadn’t turned up.
Ellen continued to push her guest, saying, “Are you sure? How do you know? I don’t think so.” But Johnson refused to play ball with her host’s questions, replying, “Ask everybody. Ask Jonathan, your producer.” Her flat tone elicited an audibly shocked response from the studio audience, and the clip quickly went viral. In the aftermath, the Washington Post noted that Johnson was lauded for “standing up to [Ellen]…”
Johnson’s appearance on the show was described by The Independent as a “turning point” for Ellen’s image. Then in March 2020 the comedian Kevin T. Porter tweeted a request for “the most insane stories you’ve heard about Ellen being mean” and promised to match each one with a food bank donation. As a result, thousands of people then responded to the showman’s request.
For instance, author Alison Freer claimed that Ellen once demanded that a production crew for a different show stop grilling steaks because “she doesn’t eat meat.” YouTuber Chris Farah, meanwhile, claimed that Ellen almost got her fired from her job as a waitress over her chipped nail polish.
By April 2020 global events had caused production on The Ellen DeGeneres Show to stop. A few weeks later the host then drew further ire after comparing quarantining in her California mansion to being imprisoned. And as a result, the show’s team quickly went into damage control.
A report in Variety subsequently claimed that the show’s crew were “distressed and outraged” over a lack of communication from producers. According to two anonymous sources, the more than 30 staff had been given no indication over their pay during the shutdown. That animosity only intensified when Ellen allegedly hired external, non-union employees to produce the program remotely from her home.
Everything came to a head that July, when BuzzFeed News published major allegations from the show’s staff members. Eleven apparent current and former employees speaking anonymously called out the production’s so-called culture of “racism, fear, and intimidation.” One former staffer claimed, “That ‘be kind’ bulls*** only happens when the cameras are on. It’s all for show.”
Other people claiming to be employees alleged their positions were terminated after they took bereavement or medical leave. And one black woman claimed she experienced intrinsic racism from senior producers and writers – including one who told her, “I’m sorry, I only know the names of the white people who work here.” According to BuzzFeed’s source, her colleagues simply “awkwardly laughed it off.”
Another apparent former employee alleged that they were fired after attending a mental health facility following a suicide attempt. The anonymous source told BuzzFeed News, “Some of the producers talk openly in public about addiction and mental health awareness, but they’re the reason there’s a stigma. They definitely don’t practice what they preach with the ‘be kind’ mantra.”
The show’s executive producers – Andy Lassner, Mary Connelly and Ed Glavin – responded to BuzzFeed News, “… We have strived to create an open, safe, and inclusive work environment. We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience. It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and [it’s] not the mission Ellen has set for us.”
The BuzzFeed News writer responsible for the original story then followed up at the end of July 2020 with a second piece – this time reporting accusations of sexual harassment. Krystie Lee Yandoli interviewed dozens of apparent former staffers from The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and they all requested to remain anonymous. Furthermore, the group alleged that sexual misconduct is rife among the talk show’s top executives.
For example, several people who were apparently former employees accused executive producer Kevin Leman of sexually assaulting multiple male employees and consistently making sexually explicit remarks in the office. Others singled out Glavin – alleging that he “had a reputation for being handsy with women.” Five individual ex-staffers also claimed that the producer had made them feel uncomfortable by touching them inappropriately.
In total, 47 alleged former employees corroborated accusations against Glavin – telling BuzzFeed News that he managed through fear and intimidation. One claimed that when they resigned, the exec screamed and flipped a table. And others stated that Glavin used “intimidation tactics” while reprimanding his staff, which included the use of a button that remotely closed his office door.
WarnerMedia actually launched an internal investigation after the first BuzzFeed article was published. A Warner Bros. spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter in July 2020 that the inquiry was intended to “determine the validity and extent of publicly reported allegations…” To achieve that aim, the company interviewed dozens of employees – both current and former – about the show’s work environment.
According to Warner Bros., the investigation managed to corroborate at least some of the accusations. What’s more, it found what a spokesperson referred to as “deficiencies related to the show’s day-to-day management.” The studio went on to say it will now take “appropriate measures to address the issues that have been raised…”
Among those changes is a planned reshuffle of key staff, but the organization didn’t specify which staff members were facing the axe. The Hollywood Reporter also published a letter reportedly written by Ellen at around the same time that the studio gave its statement. The missive was apparently sent to the entire crew of the star’s show, and it addressed the allegations head-on.
Ellen was asked to avoid speaking about the allegations until Warner Bros. had finished its investigation, according to an apparent source cited by The Hollywood Reporter. With that inquiry wrapped up, then, she was free to circulate the letter amongst her staff. And Ellen kicked off the note by addressing the irony of the claims – given her original intentions for the show.
The star began, “On day one of our [program], 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.” She then firmly apologized before continuing.
Ellen next acknowledged the vital contributions made by her staff and accepted responsibility for the show – at least insofar as it beared her name. She then referenced and reinforced Warner Bros.’ statement – noting that both her and the studio were “taking steps, together, to correct the issues.” The star also claimed that she relied on staff “to do their jobs as they knew I’d want them done.”
Ellen also claimed that people were speaking for the star and misrepresenting her as a result. Furthermore, she alluded to her own experience coming out, writing, “As someone who was judged and nearly lost everything for just being who I am, I truly understand and have deep compassion for those being looked at differently, or treated unfairly, not equal, or – worse – disregarded. To think that any one of you felt that way is awful to me.”
Ellen then expressed her appreciation at “finally having conversations about fairness and justice,” and at being alerted to the issues on her show. She also committed to pushing herself and her crew to “learn and grow” – noting that both her and Warner Bros. agreed that it was important that people feel safe speaking up.
The star capped off her letter by emphasizing that she wants her crew to enjoy working on the show. She again apologized to anyone who “didn’t have that experience” and said she wanted to deliver the message in person. But given the circumstances surrounding current global events, she had to put it in writing instead.
The letters from Ellen and Warner Bros didn’t go into specifics over the steps being taken. However, a pair of sources told The Hollywood Reporter that one of the staff members exiting the show is Glavin. That’s perhaps unsurprising given the executive producer is the focus of many of the allegations.
One of The Hollywood Reporter’s alleged sources told the magazine, “Once [Glavin’s] out, it will be like a new day.” According to them, Ellen herself was mostly unaware of the producer’s management of the show’s staff. Yet that claim conflicts with the account of one of the program’s former producers: Hedda Muskat.
Muskat told Inside Edition in August 2020, “We were in our production meetings, and Ellen would watch [Glavin] go off on people.” Muskat joined the show prior to its launch in 2003 but was fired the year after. She continued, “As a host, she’s amazing. But as a boss and someone running the show from behind the scenes, she’s a different person, [Ellen is] not the person people see in front of the camera.”
Furthermore, several of the show’s staff members have rejected Ellen’s apology. One apparent anonymous source told the Daily Mail in July 2020, “She’s only addressing this now because the publicity is so bad for her… Ellen can throw everyone else under the bus, but the buck stops with her. Whenever she’d tell viewers to choose kindness, I’d throw up a little in my mouth because she always chose the opposite.”
Ellen’s fellow celebrities have also pitched in on the subject. For instance, Everybody Loves Raymond actor Brad Garrett tweeted, “Sorry but it comes from the top at [The Ellen Degeneres Show]. Know more than one who were treated horribly by her. Common knowledge.” And when People magazine reported Garrett’s comments, Back to the Future actress Lea Thompson replied, “True story.”
Nevertheless, some A-list stars and former guests of the show have rushed to Ellen’s defense. Singer Katy Perry tweeted, “I know I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience besides my own, but I want to acknowledge that I have only ever had positive takeaways from my time with Ellen.” Kevin Hart, meanwhile, voiced his support for the host on Instagram, writing, “I have known Ellen for years and I can honestly say that she’s one of the dopest people on the f****** planet.”
Some sources have also claimed that Ellen may now call time on her series in the aftermath of the allegations. One supposed insider told the Daily Mail, “She feels she can’t go on and the only way to recover her personal brand from this is to shut down the show.” For now, though, Warner Bros. has only committed to making “staffing changes,” which presumably don’t involve the eponymous host.