Ellen DeGeneres’ Talk Show Is in Question Amid Accusations of Racism, Intimidation, and Sexual Misconduct

If you’ve been on Twitter at all in the last 72 hours, you know things aren’t looking good for Ellen. If you haven’t been on Twitter — first of all, teach me your ways; and second of all, the world’s most famous lesbian and former daytime TV sweetheart has been trending nonstop over allegations that the facade of niceness on her show masks a toxic workplace.

Ellen has been in hot water since last October when cameras spotted her laughing alongside — and then refusing to apologize for her “friendship” with — former president George W. Bush at an NFL game. A disastrous interview with Dakota Johnson followed in November. But dissent from behind-the-scenes of her show didn’t become public until the COVID-19 lockdown in California. Since then, it’s been an avalanche.

It started when over 30 employees spoke to Variety about the lack of communication on the “status of their working hours, pay, or inquiries about their mental and physical health from producers for over a month” after the lockdown started and Ellen’s show moved to filming at her home. Remote filming was set up by a non-union, outside tech company, and when Ellen’s staff was finally contacted about their jobs, they were told to expect a 60% pay cut. A few weeks ago, BuzzFeed followed up on that unrest with a deeply reported piece in which current and former employees say they experienced “racism, fear, and intimidation” while working on the show.

One Black employee said when she was hired, “a senior-level producer told her and another Black employee, ‘Oh wow, you both have box braids; I hope we don’t get you confused.’ And at a work party, she said, one of the main writers told her, ‘I’m sorry, I only know the names of the white people who work here.'”

BuzzFeed chased that story last week with one in which dozens of employees say Ellen’s executive producers engaged in “rampant sexual misconduct and harassment.” BuzzFeed reports that EP Ed Glavin “had a reputation for being handsy with women” and that EP Kevin Leman solicited oral sex at a company party and was also seen grabbing an assistant’s penis.

WarnerMedia has engaged their employee relations group and a third party firm to conduct an internal investigation into the allegations.

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Ellen issued an apology last week in a letter to her staff, which The Hollywood Reporter obtained: “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,” she wrote. “Obviously, something changed, and I am disappointed to learn that this has not been the case… I’m glad the issues at our show were brought to my attention. I promise to do my part in continuing to push myself and everyone around me to learn and grow.”

One repeated message in the reporting about Ellen’s show is that “That ‘be kind’ bullshit only happens when the cameras are on. It’s all for show.” After last week’s news broke, former Everybody Loves Raymond actor Brad Garrett tweeted “Sorry but it comes from the top. ⁦@TheEllenShow. Know more than one who were treated horribly by her.⁩ Common knowledge.” Lea Thompson responded to People magazine’s tweet about Garrett’s comment, saying, “True story, it is.” Similarly, writer and comedian Kevin T. Porter went viral in March asking for “the most insane stories” people had about Ellen.

Over the weekend, tabloids began saying that James Cordon would take over Ellen’s show, but EP Andy Lassner says “nobody is going off the air.”

Ellen’s refrain, starting from the Bush pal-ing around through these allegations of sexual misconduct and racism, has been that she’s a good and nice person who just wants other people to be happy. But what her statements and apologies (and non-apologies) consistently lack is an understanding that simply “being kind” isn’t an antidote to systemic racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and the effects of ubiquitous and compounded abuses by men in power — from U.S. presidents to the producers of her show.

With #ReplaceEllen trending on Twitter this morning, it seems that speculation about Ellen’s future isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior writer who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1059 articles for us.

43 Comments

  1. I am nervous that Ellen set too high of a standard for herself. The world has changed so much in the last 20 years, even the last 5. I hope she is able to shift, learn and grow through all this. She has done SO Much for all of us. It will be hard, as she has plenty of privilege and it is hard to see past that. Whatever happens, I will remember the joy of seeing the photos of her wedding with Portia.

    • I’m not really sure how she set too high of a standard for herself. Bullying, humiliating others, and leading a toxic work environment aren’t hard paths to avoid. If not doing so is that hard for her, she doesn’t deserve reverence.

      Personally, I’ve been completely turned off from her for years just from the humiliation and bullying she gets off on inflicting on her own show. There’s something so mean-spirited about guests begging her not to scare them because they don’t enjoy it and her doing it anyway while laughing at their screams. I almost threw up in my mouth after watching her try to bully a pregnant Mariah Carey into drinking champagne just weeks before Mariah ended up miscarrying. Her trotting Kevin Hart onto her show mid homophobia controversy for her to yell at and shame queer people who were offended was disgusting.

      We owe her major props and thanks for the doors that she kicked down and the representation that she provided, but that doesn’t give her carte blanche to do whatever she wants and still remain in the public’s good graces. Her responses to every single issue that has popped up has shown that she isn’t interested in learning or growing. We can wait to see what she does next, but I would imagine it will all feel disingenuous to most people at this point.

  2. a couple years ago I ended up in a baffling, I don’t know, feather-ruffling with my then-girlfriend because we’d just watched that David Letterman interview on Netflix and I said “there is something in Ellen’s eyes, I would bet money that she is secretly an abusive person” and that made her.. mad at me? legit upset.

    basically what I’m saying is, I want to submit this article as my entry to that ‘things we’d say to our exes’ piece from earlier this week.

  3. I am not that surprised to hear all this about Ellen, especially after following the story for several months, (seriously, how “kind” can someone be and love scaring people that much?) but I am not a big James Cordon fan. There are at least 10 other lesbians who can take over instead! Maybe Holland Taylor and Sarah Paulson can have it as recompense for Ellen making Sarah scream and hide under the table so many times.

  4. Not really surprised, I’ve heard from people she wasn’t a kind neighbor. I don’t know if it’s true, but I heard she & her wife knocked on a neighbor’s door to get the neighborhood to sign a noise ordinance cause she didn’t like the loud ethnic music(it’s a neighborhood with a lot of Persians). People didn’t want to sign it so instead she tried to buy the cul-de-sac they lived in, but moved instead.

    • All of these allegations seem incredibly weird and vague to me. “There’s something abusive about her eyes?” Really?

      One time Ellen, a wildly rich and famous person, made Mariah Carey, another wildly rich and famous person, possibly slightly uncomfortable in an interview? (Publicists negotiate these bits in advance, you guys)

      Sometimes Ellen doesn’t greet random employees in the hall?

      One time Ellen tried to get her neighbors to stop playing loud music?

      The Ellen Show cut staff pay by 60% in the middle of the pandemic, like thousands of other organizations?

      Sometimes her jokes and skits aren’t funny?

      One time a beauty vlogger came to the Ellen show and was mad she didn’t have access to a private bathroom?

      Ellen once went to a baseball game with George W. Bush and then refused to apologize? (Michelle Obama is supposedly friends with him, and no one seems to care)

      All this “Did you know Ellen is EVILLL?!” hysteria and then you try to find some details and it’s all this weird petty stuff. The only genuinely concerning thing I’ve read is that her producers made some racist comments. The offenders should be fired, for sure. But the rest of it sounds like run-of-the-mill celebrity gossip.

      • I think it’s definitely true that people in the public spotlight can be subjected to intense and sometimes unfair scrutiny and gossip, and none of us really know the full picture here, etc etc. Having said that, a random nasty rumour or two is very different from a consistent pattern of similar complaints over a number of years, and those complaints being “petty” doesn’t really mean much, because toxic people can be really good at hiding/covering up their worst behaviours in public. When you combine such a pattern with a demonstrably toxic workplace, where it’s at the very least clear that she willfully disregarded what was going on, I’d say it’s completely reasonable to question her character.
        Also fwiw, other famous people being friends with a terrible warmongering oppressor isn’t exactly an exoneration, especially when those other people happen to be political figures whose job it is to be diplomatic.

        tl;dr: While in general it’s good to think critically before jumping on cancel bandwagons, there are an awful lot of red flags here that shouldn’t be dismissed.

  5. My abusive father was/is a big fan of Ellen which should have been my first warning sign. I felt I was supposed to like her because she’s gay and did break down barriers for some of us, but I’ve always felt uneasy watching her. The energy she gives off does not match her “happy, kind” mask. I remember watching her show years ago when I was very depressed and it felt really off, but I couldn’t figure out why. I thought my feelings were just due to me being depressed. But damn!!! It turns out the kinds of pranks and scaring people which made my dad laugh…are actually not funny or okay? And if that’s what she does on camera, it makes sense she’s a terror behind the scenes. Fck her. I hope she is very swiftly removed from power.

    • Her pranks really set my teeth on edge. As small as it seems now, when I was 11 and attending a summer camp, some older girls in my cabin decided to “prank me” while I was asleep and I felt humiliated. Haven’t been a big fan of pranks since. Add on that so many of her pranks involved low-level customer service employees who may not have felt like they had the option to walk away from that situation.

      When the show first came on, I loved it, but then she broke the writers strike in 2007 and the tone shifted.

  6. I was waiting for someone on autostraddle to address the issue. I’m kind of heartbroken, but I’m also one of the people that have waiting for this since some time ago. When there were rumors of Portia and her separating some years ago, I started to notice something on Ellen’s demeanor, and in her eyes as other people has said. I remember thinking that it was similar to a former boss I had who was abusive and controlling.
    As youcancallmecaptain said, she set herself to an impossible standard in the public eye, and I had the feeling she has lost contact with reality long time ago. I hope she can reflect and grow from this because I still think she has done a lot. Unfortunately, as with many other people, we have found that lights and shadows go hand in hand.

  7. The allegations about abuse at the Ellen show are serious and need to be fully addressed.

    At the same time, I’m not taking any pleasure in this. And the two stories from last fall, forgetting about an invite & saying she was friends with George W Bush, seem different to me. Michelle Obama has talked about being friends with Bush, too — I’m not sure that’s the either/or situation it’s been made out to be.

  8. honestly they should hire my neighbor across the street named Ellen in south brooklyn-she is kind- she is gay- she has a hot kind wife and they have 3 children and they work hard for the local community. Way better than hollywood Ellen.

  9. This article (from Jan 2019-forever ago) is really interesting and gets at many angles of Ellen’s story that folks are articulating here. In particular, this quote from Who? Weekly’s Bobby Finger jumped out at me:

    “One reason celebs like Ellen have become as insufferable as they are is because the rise of no-hate cultural/entertainment journalism has made famous people less capable of handling criticism. When all the most viral pubs do is call you a kween and make you hold puppies, you probably lose the ability to recognize the fact that you… make mistakes?”

    The whole article is very worth a read right now. It helped me sort through some of my complicated feelings around Ellen, especially the way she handled the Kevin Hart situation and basically chose to one swoop elevate him and accept a non-apology that wasn’t hers to accept.

    http://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/shannonkeating/ellen-degeneres-kevin-hart-relatable-netflix-lgbt-advocacy

    • Thanks for the article, really interesting. Some of the rumors addressed in it had me thinking about an OCD personality, which I have observed some people develop after experience some kind of trauma. Thinking about all what she went through and the pressure of a life on the spotlight, it kinds of makes sense. Which is not an excuse, of course, but I think could explain part of her actions. That, and our current need of transform people into icons/idols, when they are just people.

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