The Ellen DeGeneres Show Controversy, Explained

Glamour

Ellen DeGeneres has built her public talk-show reputation on kindness, dancing, and friendly celebrity interviews. But new claims about a reportedly toxic workplace culture at The Ellen DeGeneres Show have led to an internal investigation by WarnerMedia, according to Variety

Sources who spoke to the outlet say the show’s production company (Telepictures) and distributor (Warner Bros. Television) “sent a memo to staffers last week, saying they have engaged WBTV-owner WarnerMedia’s employee-relations group and a third-party firm, who will interview current and former staffers about their experiences on set,” Variety reported. A rep for Warner Bros. Television declined to comment for Variety’s story, and another rep for The Ellen DeGeneres Show did not respond to a similar request from the publication. 

So what exactly led to this? Let’s break it down. 

Reports surface of issues in the workplace. In mid-July, BuzzFeed News published a report that included stories from current and former Ellen employees who said they were mistreated during their tenure at the show. (They all asked to remain anonymous.)

“That ‘be kind’ bullshit only happens when the cameras are on. It’s all for show,” a former employee told BuzzFeed. “I know they give money to people and help them out, but it’s for show.” One Black woman said she was subjected to microaggressions and racist comments, including remarks about her box braids. She also said one of Ellen’s senior writers confused her with another Black staffer at a work party and told her, “I’m sorry, I only know the names of the white people who work here.” 

None of the allegations were directed at DeGeneres herself. “If she wants to have her own show and have her name on the show title, she needs to be more involved to see what’s going on,” one of the employees said in the BuzzFeed report. “I think the executive producers surround her and tell her, ‘Things are going great, everybody’s happy,’ and she just believes that, but it’s her responsibility to go beyond that.” 

In a joint statement to the outlet, executive producers Andy Lassner, Ed Glavin, and Mary Connelly said, “Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes, and employing over 1,000 staff members, 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 not the mission Ellen has set for us.

“For the record, the day-to-day responsibility of the Ellen show is completely on us,” the statement continued. “We take all of this very seriously and we realize, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.”

Other former producers have come out with their telling stories, as well. 

There was also a dispute over pay during the pandemic. Like a lot of television production in the U.S., The Ellen DeGeneres Show had to shift the way it was filmed due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

According to an April 16 Variety story, members of the crew reported that they “received no written communication about the status of their working hours, pay, or inquiries about their mental and physical health from producers for over a month.” They were reportedly also upset that DeGeneres had hired nonunion crew members to help film the show from her home. 

The studio told Variety at the time that the crew had been paid consistently but at reduced hours. “Our executive producers and Telepictures are committed to taking care of our staff and crew and have made decisions first and foremost with them in mind,” a spokesperson for Warner Bros. Television told the outlet

Reports about DeGeneres’s behavior have also circulated on social media. In March a Twitter thread by Kevin T. Porter on the rumors that DeGeneres is not as nice as her public appearance may seem went viral. “Right now we all need a little kindness. You know, like Ellen Degeneres always talks about!” he tweeted. “She’s also notoriously one of the meanest people alive. Respond to this with the most insane stories you’ve heard about Ellen being mean & I’ll match every one w/ $2 to @LAFoodBank.”

DeGeneres has yet to comment publicly about these situations, and her show is currently on its normally scheduled summer hiatus. 

New allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced. A BuzzFeed News report published on July 30 included claims from a number of employees about head writer and executive producer Kevin Leman’s behavior. (The outlet said they spoke to 36 people.)

One former employee alleges that Leman asked him if he could give him a hand job or perform oral sex in a bathroom, and another claimed he grabbed a production assistant’s penis. There were other claims of groping as well. He allegedly frequently made sexual comments in the office like, “Are you a top or a bottom?”

“He’d probably do it in front of 10 people and they’d laugh because, ‘It’s just Kevin being Kevin,’ but if you’re in a position of power at a company, you don’t just get to touch me like that,” a former employee told BuzzFeed News.

Leman released a statement after the story was published. “I started at the Ellen Show as a P.A. more than 17 years ago and have devoted my career to work my way to the position I now hold. While my job as head writer is to come up with jokes—and, during that process, we can occasionally push the envelope—I’m horrified that some of my attempts at humor may have caused offense,” it read. “I have always aimed to treat everyone on the staff with kindness, inclusivity, and respect. In my whole time on the show, to my knowledge, I’ve never had a single H.R. or interpersonal complaint made about me, and I am devastated beyond belief that this kind of malicious and misleading article could be published.”

Warner Bros. declined to comment on these specific new allegations, “citing an ongoing investigation.”

A leaked memo revealed DeGeneres’s apology to staff. According to People, a day after the internal investigation was announced, the talk-show host sent a memo to her staff. (People says it obtained a copy of said memo.)

“Hey everybody–it’s Ellen. 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. Obviously, something changed, and I am disappointed to learn that this has not been the case. And for that, I am sorry. Anyone who knows me knows it’s the opposite of what I believe and what I hoped for our show,” the memo says. “I could not have the success I’ve had without all of your contributions. My name is on the show and everything we do and I take responsibility for that. Alongside Warner Bros., we immediately began an internal investigation and we are taking steps, together, to correct the issues. As we’ve grown exponentially, I’ve not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I’d want them done. Clearly some didn’t. That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again. 

“I’m also learning that people who work with me and for me are speaking on my behalf and misrepresenting who I am and that has to stop,” she continued. “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. It’s been way too long, but we’re finally having conversations about fairness and justice.”

DeGeneres went on to say that she was glad the issues had been brought to light and that she hopes to “learn and grow.” 

“I am so proud of the work we do and the fun and joy we all help put out in the world. I want everyone at home to love our show and I want everyone who makes it to love working on it. Again, I’m so sorry to anyone who didn’t have that experience. If not for COVID, I’d have done this in person, and I can’t wait to be back on our stage and see you all then. Stay safe and healthy. Love, Ellen,” she ended the note.

How DeGeneres is reportedly feeling about the situation. A report published on August 2 by Us Weekly alleges DeGeneres feels “pissed that people have come forward to share these negative stories about her and feels betrayed,” according to a source. “She knows she can be tough at times,” the insider claims, “but believes she works hard and is extremely creative and that it’s a privilege to work for her and be around her.” Per this source, DeGeneres apparently feels like a “target” because of her success. According to The Sun, Late Late Show host James Corden is reportedly being considered to replace DeGeneres. 

A new People story from August 5 claims the talk show host is reportedly “crushed” by the allegations and is “personally going to be invested in making sure those things are properly changed.” Their source added, “She wants to just put out a great show that makes people happy and feel good. She’s very focused on that.”

Portia de Rossi is standing by her wife. The actor, who has been married to DeGeneres since 2008, posted in solidarity on August 3. “To all our fans....we see you. Thank you for your support,” she captioned the “I Stand With Ellen” graphic. She also made sure to include some pretty telling hashtags including, “#stopbotattacks,” “#IStandWithEllenDeGeneres,” “#IStandByEllen,” and “‪#IstandByEllenDeGeneres.” You know, in case you were still confused about where she stands.

DeGeneres isn’t going anywhere…for now. NBC News confirmed that DeGeneres will return to host the 18th season of her show. It’s slated to return on September 9. 

DJ Tony Okungbowa stands with his former colleagues. For many years, DJ Tony was behind the turntables, entertaining audiences on the talk show. While many celebrities are coming out in support of DeGeneres, he had something different to say on Instagram. 

“Hey Guys, I hope you are all keeping safe out there during these trying times. I have been getting calls asking me about the Ellen Degeneres Show and I would like to address the time I spent there,” he wrote. “I was on air talent from 2003-2006 and from 2007 -2013. While I am grateful for the opportunity it afforded me, I did experience and feel the toxicity of the environment and I stand with my former colleagues in their quest to create a healthier and more inclusive workplace as the show moves forward.”

This story may be updated as new details emerge. 

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