Last week, 26 May 2022, marked the end of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. It seems that, in the end, despite the fact that Ellen DeGeneres’ openness about her sexual identity as a lesbian made history in a first for American talk shows at the time, after a 19-year run, its illusion of progressiveness wasn’t enough to save it from a 37 per cent viewer drop. On the contrary, from allegations against the show’s production team to countless netizens speaking out about the host’s interview tactics and treatment of her staff, DeGeneres’ TV talk show’s façade of friendliness began to slip, with fewer and fewer viewers tuning in.
Even for those of us who never really watched The Ellen DeGeneres Show, many have taken to Twitter to critique the comedian’s treatment of interviewees. Incredibly awkward moments have been caught on camera which led many to cringe at her tactics, such as the infamous Dakota Johnson interview in which DeGeneres (wrongly) accused the Fifty Shades of Grey actress of not inviting her to a birthday party. The “that’s not the truth Ellen” answer that resulted from such accusations was widely circulated at the time, with some even claiming the viral meme single-handedly ended the talk show.
While this moment is painful to watch, it is not the worst of DeGeneres’ hosting behaviours—more often than not, her probing is downright intrusive. In 2008, she attempted to coax Mariah Carey into admitting to pregnancy rumours by trying to force the singer into having a glass of champagne. When Carey hesitantly took a fairly small sip from the glass, DeGeneres announced on the show, “You’re pregnant!”
Carey has since opened up to Vanity Fair about the moment saying that she was pregnant at the time but wasn’t ready to broadcast the news due to a recent miscarriage and fears of losing another baby. Heartbreakingly, the singer miscarried not long after this insensitive experience.
It’s not just the TV personality’s interview tactics that have left many reeling, contributing to a downtick in the show’s viewership. In recent years, many of those who have worked on the show have come forward to speak out against DeGeneres. Although her show’s mantra is literally “be kind,” it appears (according to certain allegations) that this is not something she herself practices on set.
Past and current employees detailed an environment of “racism, fear and intimidation” and reported being instructed “to not speak to DeGeneres if they saw her around set.” Ever since sexual harassment allegations first came out against the show’s production team, it’s become clear that the TV host had a toxic quality both on and off-screen.
Back in 2020, an attempt to change this environment—or at least the way it was perceived by her audience as more accusations came out at the time—was supposedly undertaken by DeGeneres herself, who promised to make changes to better the workplace and fired three members on her production team. However, with the show’s end comes the realisation that this promise was nothing more than an empty one.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show’s final episode served as a somewhat forced reminder to viewers of its host’s marginalised sexuality with DeGeneres mentioning that when the show first aired, she couldn’t say the word “gay.’’ Then, during her goodbye monologue, the TV personality preached about compassion, telling her audience to be their “true authentic self”—a message that wouldn’t seem so disingenuous if it didn’t follow an onslaught of problematic allegations.
Sure, at the time, the talk show may have played a part in changing the TV landscape of the 2000s. But DeGeneres’ latest and poorest attempt at wrapping herself in a rainbow flag rather than allowing herself to be held accountable clearly demonstrates her unwillingness to accept the privilege and power she had that helped create an inhospitable working environment. One former employee told BuzzFeed that the comedian should be taking responsibility, “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.” Clearly, the ‘no talking to Ellen rule’ was the perfect deterrent that prevented staff from sharing their discomfort or issues—allowing the host to live in blissful ignorance of production conduct.
When the #MeToo movement erupted, media outlets across the globe rightfully platformed the stories and testimonies of harassment, abuse and sexual misconduct from survivors in film, music and television. Highlighting, along the way, the culpability of those in power who turned a blind eye to the insidious behaviour of the perpetrators of sexual violence in their respective industries. However, a shift is occurring once again, largely in part to the Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard trial, which has emboldened others accused of abuse to rally against their alleged victims—centring and victimising themselves instead in order to distort the narratives of their accusers.
As the show is being criticised for allowing toxic masculinity to run rampant, DeGeneres’ teary-eyed on-screen goodbye is fitting with the current trend of celebrities attempting to victimise themselves instead of shouldering the blame. Just as we witness Marilyn Manson taking a leaf out of Depp’s book by attempting to sue Rachel Evan Woods for defamation, could the comedy actress now be joining the victimisation bandwagon?
While DeGeneres hasn’t been accused of the same horrific crimes as the aforementioned men, the friendly mask she has been presenting for years is finally beginning to crack. Her show’s ‘be kind’ mantra and preaching of compassion while claiming to celebrate differences has not been practised behind the scenes. Meanwhile, her leaving speech was endemic to a pattern of tone-deafness—take her distasteful complaints about COVID-19 isolation in her mansion during lockdown—rather than genuine sincerity.
The host has, for many years, used her sexual identity as a marker of her marginalisation, and though her career began fraught with consequences as a result of her queerness, her current immense wealth and celebrity status (not to mention cis and whiteness) shield her from the oppressive obstacles so many others face. Hopefully, a break from the show will help her put her words of kindness into action—prioritising the experiences shared by employees and guests above her own.