Ellen Degeneres returns to the show to apologise for the production's toxic workplace culture, and we have some questions.
After a lengthy hiatus, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres returned to her plush LA studio to film the very first episode of the 18th season of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. In case you don't know, Ms DeGeneres has had quite the year. An exclusive from Buzzfeed News stated that the ethos of the show's workplace was less ‘be kind’ and more ‘make your staff miserable’, and it basically all kicked off from there. “That ‘be kind’ bullshit only happens when the cameras are on. It’s all for show,” one former employee told the publication about the work environment.
Reportedly, some staffers put up with a litany of racist nonsense behind the scenes of the hit show, while others were fired for taking medical leave or attending funerals. Later came a second report that included allegations of sexual misconduct. Have a squiz at our complete guide to everything you need to know right here.
And while Ellen has attempted other apologies before (first via an email and later via a zoom call to her staff), this is the first time she addressed the public about her allegations. Give it a watch below:
A lot to take in, right? The virtual audience, a pandemic eeriness of it all, Ellen's obvious discomfort. Just quickly, though... we've got a few questions:
1. What's Ellen Done to Make Her Workplace Safe?
"I learned that things happened here that never should have happened," Ellen began. "I take that very seriously and I want to say I'm so sorry to the people who were affected. I know that I’m in a position of privilege and power, and I realise that with that comes responsibility-" (-is that from Spider-Man?). "I take responsibility for what happens at my show. This is The Ellen DeGeneres Show. I Am Ellen DeGeneres".
Wise words. And while we’re not convinced that DeGeneres only just "learned" of the problems on her own show, it beats her first apology, which saw Ellen blame everyone for the state of her workplace but herself.
But it's when DeGeneres alluded to having waved a magic wand that she lost us. “We have made the necessary changes and today, we are starting a new chapter”, Ellen said before kicking off a round of applause for herself. Yeah cool, sorted. Hang on. What? What necessary changes?
We know a good chunk of the allegations were apparently tied to senior producers Ed Galvin, Kevin Leman and Jonathan Norman, who reportedly “parted ways” with the show on August 17. But allegations of a toxic work environment go right back to 2003, when The Ellen DeGeneres Show first aired, suggesting an entrenched cultural problem.
What is being done to make sure a workplace so chronically steeped in bullying, sexual harassment and racism is suddenly a safe place to work? And did mistreated staff get any compensation?
2. Why Did Ellen Make A Point Of Promoting Stephen "tWitch" Boss On-Camera?
Apart from DeGeneres herself, the only real-life human we could see on the set of the show's return to the studio is DJ Stephen "tWitch" Boss, one of Ellen's only staffers to say nice things about the show (and even they came with a caveat). "Obviously there’s some things to address, but from my standpoint and from countless others, there’s been love," the DJ reportedly told US Weekly on August 11.
Stephen said at a table behind Ellen throughout the show; applauding her apology supportively. But it was at the end of her speech when Ellen made a point of dragging Stephen into the limelight. "I want to start this new season by saying hello to my new friend Twitch", Ellen said to a cheering audience. Is this Play School, now? We can't keep up.
"We've actually being seeing each other and continuing our, y'know, friendship" Ellen said. "We did Game of Games, a month ago," DeGeneres added, referring to her other gig as a game show host. "Absolutely, and it was fun", the DJ said. It's unclear what DeGeneres was trying achieve, here. But the whole thing felt strange.
'See, I have friends!' the talk show host seemed desperate to point out. 'I'm FUN. Look at this one guy. He says I'm fun!'
Ellen went on to announce that Stephen was no longer her DJ but instead "[her] co-executive producer". Of course, this was already announced over a month ago. So what was the point of doing it on-camera, exactly? To flex her alright relationship with this one staffer? To make a point that only her most loyal DJs (not the meanies like DJ Tony Okungbowa) deserve nice things? Or was the intention to quash allegations of a racist workplace by showing off her Black friend?
We may never know. But we do know it was super weird.
3. Do We Really Need To Hear From Celebrities Right Now?
Much of Ellen's talk show is structured around interviews with celebrities. But let's be honest. Allegations or not... is that really what the world needs right now?
The pandemic has exposed how grotesquely privileged and irrelevant celebrities really are. It all started when actress Gal Gadot and her famous mates sang "Imagine" to us from their mansions, only to get worse from there. Later, it was Arnold Schwarzenegger telling us to stay home in between cigars in a hot tub, Kim Kardashian boasting about her 14 Friesian horses "on the ranch" and uhh... Ellen DeGeneres comparing quarantine to being in prison. As The New York Times Magazine bluntly asks, what is the point of a celebrity in a pandemic?
As Carina Chocano writes, the pandemic has exposed "the distance between ordinary people and the celebrities who pretend to relate to them." As the patina starts to fade, does anyone really want to see a (controversial) celeb interview another celeb at the moment?
4. Does Ellen Know She Doesn't Have To Do This?
I've seen enough of The Ellen DeGeneres Show to know that its host looked unusually uncomfortable and embarrassed throughout her speech. Every one of her smiles looked forced, and every joke fell flat.
But in the words of former US President Barack Obama: "You don't have to do this Joe, you really don't". To be fair, Obama was cautioning Joe Biden not to run for President for the 18th time. But you get it. Same kind of thing.
I mean, what's with this compulsion to push on, despite how uncomfortable this is for her? How uncomfortable it is for us? How expensive those weird digital audience members must have been?
Ellen DeGeneres has had a long, illustrious career. She's been a comedian, an actress, and a talk show host for 17 years. She was a pioneer for the rights and visibility of LGBTQIA+ people. She's probably got enough saved to pay her rent (ha, rent).
So why try to salvage something that probably can't be salvaged? If there's one thing that American TV is bad at, it's not knowing when to throw in the towel. DeGeneres said in her apology that she's a "work in progress". Maybe it's time for her to progress that project somewhere else.
Main Image Credit: Licensed By Getty