In 1997 the show Ellen on ABC aired an episode where Ellen Morgan, played by Ellen Degeneres, came out as gay. Making her the first person who starred as an openly gay character on prime-time television. The episode was deemed controversial when it first aired and although the show itself was popular for a time, later that year Ellen was canceled due to low ratings. A few years later when it seemed as though her career was over, Ellen Degeneres started The Ellen Degeneres Show and quickly defied the stereotypes of who a talk show host could and “should” be. 

The show has thrived over the years, going from something that network executives thought would never work, to a show that averaged 4.4 million viewers in one week, according to Variety. Now things are changing with recent revelations about the show. Pre-quarantine Degeneres was thought to be the kind talk show host. The one that told jokes, danced and gave money to those in need, but if 2020 has shown us anything it’s that people can fall off of pedestals just as quickly as they’re put on them. 

Under Investigation

As talk shows across the world moved from doing shows on big sets and having multiple guests a week to interviews over Zoom, there was almost a silent competition going on. Who would do the best in their at-home settings? Was a question that loomed over each episode, like any big move in entertainment there were winners and losers during this time. Jimmy Fallon ended up winning the hearts of many as he had his wife tape his episodes and his daughters popped up whenever they decided to during any part of the show. While Degeneres found her show losing viewers instead of gaining them.

With her show adjusting to this virtual format, they were hit with another whammy as accounts of workplace problems became public knowledge, now a few months into quarantine The Ellen Degeneres Show is officially under investigation by WarnerMedia. Problems came to the surface once the show was shut down due to Coronavirus. Crew members were upset with the treatment they received from top producers because they did not receive written communication about their pay status or working hours for over a month, according to Variety. The crew members were also upset over the fact that no one made an inquiry about anyone’s mental or physical health. 

Degeneres only put fire to the flame when the show decided to hire a non-union tech company to help with the remote tapings. Crew members had to rely on higher-ups phone calls for tidbits of information. Then once they finally heard what would be happening it was revealed that the staff should, “brace for a 60% reduction in pay, even as the show continues to air.” Keeping crew members in the dark continued on as they became more and more nervous about whether they would be furloughed or worse

An Ongoing Issue

Through these mistreatments, crewmembers started to divulge information to the press that The Ellen Degeneres Show has had a toxic work environment for quite some time. In their eyes, the message of “be kind” that permeates the show and branding was false and only was true when the cameras were on. 

According to Buzzfeed, current and former employees of the show revealed that senior managers were often to blame for the toxic environment but that Degeneres is at fault as well. It’s her show and employees believe she should have put more work into creating a welcoming environment.

A Black woman who worked on the show for a year and a half shared that she dealt with racist comments and microaggressions. As she spoke up about the discrimination she faced instead of it being dealt with, her colleagues distanced themselves. She ended up leaving the show completely.

Another former employee took medical leave after a suicide attempt and instead of returning to a supportive environment at work was told that their position was being eliminated. This employee is someone who believes that the show does not practice what they preach. They revealed that “some of the producers talk openly in public about addiction and mental health awareness, but they’re the reason there’s a stigma.” 

The Future of The Show

We’re living in the era of cancel culture. If enough people disagree with how a public figure acts then you can expect a hashtag on Twitter the next day. With a larger issue like this and a beloved figure like Degeneres at the center, it will be curious to see what happens next.

If her show continues on and does not get canceled it will surely take time for her to rebuild the trust of her audience. There is no guarantee people will want to tune in and support someone who isn’t exactly who they say they are.

Online, social media users are commenting under Degeneres’ posts wondering when the talk show host will release a statement or say something about the investigation that’s going on. If they are continually met with radio silence there’s a sure chance they will get fed up and unfollow the host altogether. 

In 2020 authenticity is key and if Degeneres is kind only in front of the cameras, eventually those cameras will be shut off. 

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Carol Wright

By Carol Wright

Editorial Fellow