The Dethroning of Ellen DeGeneres
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Just as we thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, the world of television has now been severely altered by someone we thought couldn’t hurt a fly. “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” has had a great reputation, and DeGeneres herself was seen as a great person—“Be kind to one another” is how she ends every episode. Everything seemed to be going well as the show reached 17 seasons, over 2,700 episodes, and won 61 Daytime Emmy Awards. Its wholesome reputation, however, was recently shattered. From sexual assault allegations against its executive producers to the toxic work environment its employees have exposed, the “be kind” facade that DeGeneres so expertly crafted is crumbling to reveal the behind-the-scene ugliness of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
Buzzfeed News wrote a scathing article on the harmful work environment at “The Ellen Show” on July 16, 2020, citing anecdotes from one current employee and 10 former employees. A former Black female employee for a year and a half on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” recalled experiencing racism throughout her time working there: a writer told her that he only knows “the names of the white people who work here” at a party—and no co-worker came to her defense—in addition to receiving other racist remarks about her appearance. She was even called by executive producer Ed Glavin into a meeting where she was reprimanded for things we wouldn’t even expect to be in trouble for. For example, the employee asked to put an end to using the term “spirit animal” (which culturally appropriates the practice of Indigenous people), and suggested that the show implement diversity and inclusion training. These requests would have benefitted the whole workplace but unfortunately were rejected almost immediately.
But this was not the first time that employees unveiled mistreatment that has occurred on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Variety reported in April that the core stage crew of the show, which has around 30 employees, “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,” according to two anonymous sources. In addition to this lack of communication, the original stage crew was shocked when the show hired “an outside, non-union tech company to help DeGeneres tape remotely from her home in California.”
Employees have also filed a series of sexual assault allegations against two of the show’s top executive producers and one of the co-executive producers. Buzzfeed News talked to 36 former employees who confirmed that they had faced numerous incidents of sexual harassment and assault working at the “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Executive producer Kevin Leman, for example, consistently made sexually explicit comments and unwanted sexual advances toward his employees. Executive producer Glavin, former employees noted, “had a reputation for being handsy with women,” while co-executive producer Jonathan Norman was accused by a former employee of grooming him with perks and proceeding to make sexual advances. All of the employees discussed how these executive producers fostered fear and intimidation throughout the workplace, using tactics like throwing a table down and slamming office doors as a “power move” to establish the divide between the producers and employees at “The Ellen Show.”
So, what happens next? For starters, all three producers who were accused of sexual assault have been fired from the show, despite maintaining their innocence amidst the allegations. In a written, textbook response to staff from DeGeneres regarding the allegations, the talk show host discussed how she intended to foster a happy and respectful community on her show, but “obviously, something changed, and [she is] disappointed to learn that this has not been the case.” As for the employees, they are hopeful for a kinder, less toxic workplace after the dismissal of these producers, and that this is a “step in the right direction.” As for DeGeneres’s reputation and how her show will continue in the future, those are still up in the air. Fortunately, in a year that has called for change in how people are treated in both the workplace and daily life, it seems reasonable to believe that there will be some adjustments in the way that “The Ellen Show” is run. But it is important to remember that, as DeGeneres has proven to us all these years, looks can be deceiving.