The Hell(en) show: the downfall of Ellen DeGeneres

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In the past few months, The Ellen DeGeneres Show (along with Ellen) has been redefined in the public eye as the epitome of a toxic workplace in the entertainment business.

This uncovering of a darker side of an overly positive talk show and its host was not a surprise and happened gradually. Over the past year, the kindness bubble started to burst and compilations of Ellen making guests uncomfortable for ten minutes straight started to be uploaded on Youtube. 

Ellen has made her mark, but these allegations reveal the need for new ideas and leaders in the industry to emerge. 

In April, concerns were raised by employees of the show regarding the impact of Covid-19 on their salaries and the suspicious lack of communication from the executives of the show regarding this matter. These concerns proved more than valid after the employees were informed some of them would be suffering pay cuts of up to 60%, whilst Ellen would still continue to enjoy her estimated $50 million salary. 

As suspicions of the stability of the show as an employer started to emerge, Buzzfeed released two articles in July uncovering the toxicity of the show as a working environment. The first article revealed the experiences of past employees including racism, feeling that they were unable to complain about problems on the show and being needlessly reprimanded for sensitive issues. One alleges that after working on the show for a year they had to take a month of medical leave following their suicide attempt. When they returned to work, they discovered that they had been fired. This lack of compassion and understanding for employees started to become the defining trait of working on the show. 

All these revelations beg the question of how America’s sweetheart Ellen DeGeneres allowed this to happen on her own show.

The second article included dozens of allegations of sexual misconduct against producers  and the true scale of abuse in The Ellen Show became apparent. These allegations involved a number of producers in positions of seemingly untouchable authority and range from making inappropriate comments and making employees feel uncomfortable to inappropriate touching. One former employee describes how executive producer Ed Glavin had a button on his desk that would lock the door, used as an “intimidation tactic” during reprimands. Clearly, basic workplace rules were not being followed and a hostile hierarchical environment thrived. 

All these revelations beg the question of how America’s sweetheart Ellen DeGeneres allowed this to happen on her own show. The accounts have suggested that she was mostly sheltered from this toxicity by producers. However as one employee suggested, the sheer number of allegations mean that at least rumours of this behaviour would have reached her. The issue is that when they did, Ellen was described as having an ‘I-don’t-want-to-know-about-it’ attitude. 

Clearly, basic workplace rules were not being followed and a hostile hierarchical environment thrived.

Presumably, if you were to create a talk show and slap your name on it, you would do everything in your power to prevent this abuse from happening. However, Ellen seems to be dodging responsibility; as before the second article was published she wrote a letter to her employees which took minimal accountability and did not offer an explanation of exactly how this was all allowed to happen. This was disappointing, considering she is some who has experienced sexual abuse herself and has been heavily discriminated against at work.

Despite this, a few celebrities came to Ellen’s defence. However, their experiences are not representative of the average person or an employee of the show. Some celebrities notably supported the allegations of a toxic workplace. DJ Tony who was publically a significant part of the show for eight years acknowledged the “toxicity” of the show, confirming this was known by senior staff. 

The issue is that when they did, Ellen was described as having an ‘I-don’t-want-to-know-about-it’ attitude. 

In response to these allegations, Warner Media launched an internal investigation on July 27th. Ultimately however, The Ellen Degeneres Show is unlikely to see any actual impact on production, as the profit that the show and Ellen (even now) as a public persona create for the company is too valuable for it to be cancelled. 

As the only successful queer talk show host Ellen Degeneres has undoubtedly impacted many individually and the entertainment industry as a whole. However, her ignorance with which she led the show is reminiscent of a time before the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements. Ellen has made her mark, but these allegations reveal the need for new ideas and leaders in the industry to emerge. 

Photograph: ronpaulrevolt2008 via Flickr

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