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What happened to Ellen DeGeneres? A deep dive into her fall from grace

The comedian has now announced she’s “done” with Hollywood and will soon retire.

Content Warning: This article touches on the topic of sexual assault which may be triggering for some readers.

There was a time when Ellen DeGeneres was on top of the world.

Her show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, was one of the most highly viewed daytime shows and was winning Daytime Emmy Awards left, right and centre.

Plus, she was hosting various prestigious awards ceremonies like the Academy Awards, the Grammy Awards and the Primetime Emmys.

Ellen also made history by winning the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress for Finding Nemo (it was the first time the award had been given to someone for a voice performance).

Not to mention the comedian literally broke Twitter when she posted a selfie that she took of herself, Bradley Cooper, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Jared Leto, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong’o and Angelina Jolie during the 2014 Oscars ceremony.

Yes, during the early 2000s and 2010s everyone loved Ellen; I myself pretended to be sick many, many times just so I could stay home from school and watch The Ellen DeGeneres Show

So, what happened to Ellen DeGeneres?

It all started in November 2019.

Actress Dakota Johnson appeared as a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and the interview began like any other – it seemed like Ellen and her famous guest were old friends having a casual catch up but, you know, on camera for all to see.

ellen degeneres

But this facade was quickly broken for the first time in the show’s 16 year run.

When Ellen playfully asked why she wasn’t invited to Dakota’s 30th birthday party, Dakota replied:

“Actually, no, that’s not the truth, Ellen. Ask everybody. Ask Jonathan, your producer.”

Off-camera, someone – presumably Jonathan – confirmed that Ellen had indeed been invited to the party.

The online backlash was imminent. People couldn’t believe that Ellen, whose career had been built on being authentic and kind, had ‘lied’ about not being invited to Dakota’s 30th.

Furthermore, people tried to figure out where Ellen was on the day of Dakota’s party to see if her absence could be explained.

The party was held on October 5, 2019, and while no-one could confirm where Ellen had been that day, the search drew attention to where Ellen had been on October 6, 2019.

She attended a Dallas Cowboys game where she sat next to former US President George W Bush.

Again, online backlash ensued. This time because she was caught being friendly with someone who’s administration supported anti-LGBTQ policies – Ellen is a lesbian – and did not take action in response to Hurricane Katrina – Ellen was born and raised in Louisiana.

Stories then began to swirl on Twitter; stories that claimed Ellen wasn’t that nice in real life…

dakota johnson on ellen's show

Flashforward to April 16, 2020, when the world was locked down due to Coronavirus.

Variety reported that while Ellen’s show was ‘shut down’ for the pandemic, the core stage crew – which consisted of more than 30 employees – received no written communication about the status of their working hours or pay for over a month.

I put shut down in inverted commas because the show continued to air throughout COVID. But an outside, non-unionised tech company was hired to help Ellen tape episodes remotely from her home in California.

According to Variety, the majority of the crew members were shocked to discover that Ellen had had a remote set erected at her residence and only learned that she was still taping episodes via social media.

They were then further incensed when they finally received word on their pay; it was going to be heavily reduced.

This Variety article caused many to once again question Ellen’s character. On The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Ellen was always donating money to those in need and her catchphrase was “be kind to one another.”

And yet, she didn’t retain her staff – many of whom had been working on Ellen’s show since the pilot first aired in 2003 – and took weeks to communicate to them what their salary would be during an incredibly turbulent time.

In comparison, Jimmy Kimmel paid Jimmy Kimmel Live! stagehands during initial COVID-19 shutdowns out of his own pocket.

The real catalyst for Ellen’s fall from grace kicked off in July 2020 though.

ellen degeneres

Buzzfeed News spoke to one current and 10 former employees of The Ellen DeGeneres Show and all of them claimed they’d witnessed and/or experienced racism, intimidation, unjust termination and an overall toxic work culture on set.

“That ‘be kind’ bulls**t only happens when the cameras are on. It’s all for show,” one former employee said.

“If [Ellen] 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,” another former employee said.

“I think the executive producers surround her and tell her, ‘Things are going great, everybody’s happy,’ and she just believes that, but it’s her responsibility to go beyond that.”

Following the accusations against Ellen and her show, some celebrities – such as Katy Perry and Ashton Kutcher – quickly came to her defence, stating they were always treated well and never witnessed any mistreatment.

However, other celebs – including Brad Garrett and Lea Thompson – claimed they too were treated poorly and were not surprised by the ex-employees’ stories.

A few weeks later, on July 30, 2020, The Hollywood Reporter obtained a letter Ellen sent to her crew that addressed and apologised for the allegations made in the Buzzfeed article.

“As we’ve grown exponentially, I’ve not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I’d want them done. Clearly some didn’t,” Ellen wrote.

“That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.”

the famous oscars selfie

However, the very next day, on July 31, 2020, Buzzfeed News published another article; this time, they’d spoken to a dozen former employees and many of them alleged that the executive producers of The Ellen DeGeneres Show – Kevin Leman, Ed Glavin and Jonathan Norman – had engaged in harassment, sexual misconduct and assault.

“One ex-employee said head writer and executive producer Kevin Leman asked him if he could give him a hand job or perform oral sex in a bathroom at a company party in 2013. Another said they separately saw Leman grab a production assistant’s penis,” the article read.

One former employee even claimed that Ellen herself was privy to the alleged sexual misconduct.

“She knows,” the former employee said. “She knows sh*t goes on, but also she doesn’t want to hear it.”

Kevin Leman released a statement after the Buzzfeed article went live and denied “any kind of sexual impropriety.”

“I am devastated beyond belief that this kind of malicious and misleading article could be published,” his statement said.

But an internal investigation swiftly commenced. And in August 2020, Warner Bros Television – the studio behind Ellen’s show – confirmed that Kevin Leman, Ed Glavin and Jonathan Norman had all “parted ways” from The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Furthermore, Ellen issued an on-air apology on September 21, 2020.

“As you may have heard this summer, there were allegations of a toxic work environment at our show,” Ellen said.

ellen degeneres

“And then there was an investigation. I learned that things happen here that never should have happened. I take that very seriously. And I want to say, I am so sorry to the people who were affected,” she continued.

“I know that I’m in a position of privilege and power. And I realised that with that comes responsibility, and I take responsibility for what happens at my show.”

So, why did the Ellen show get cancelled?

Well, after two years of being at the centre of multiple scandals, The Ellen DeGeneres Show’s ratings began to drop dramatically.

And that’s why, in May 2022, the show ended its 19 year run.

But the online hatred of Ellen continued.

In 2023, old interviews from Ellen’s show began to resurface, with many seeing them in a new, harsher light.

For instance, a clip of Ellen interviewing Taylor Swift on the show in 2012 went viral on TikTok.

During the original interview, Ellen said she’d show Taylor pictures of famous men and asked Taylor to ring a bell if she’d dated any of them.

taylor swift on ellen's show

“I don’t want to. They’ll send me angry emails and I don’t want to get them,” Taylor objected.

But Ellen continued with the game even though Taylor said she didn’t really want to play.

The pictures of the famous men were mostly of her rumoured ex-boyfriends like Joe Jonas, Taylor Lautner, John Mayer and Cory Monteith.

Taylor did not ring the bell at all during the game and so, Ellen grabbed it from her and began ringing it for every man shown.

“Stop it, stop it, stop,” Taylor exclaimed.

“This makes me feel so bad about myself. Every time I come here you put like a different dude up there on the screen, and it just really makes me question what I stand for as a human being.”

When the clip went viral last year, many said Ellen’s game was sexist and she should apologise to Taylor.

Model and actress Emily Ratajkowski even weighed in and commented on one of the many TikToks of the Ellen/Taylor interview, writing, “This is so f**ked up. She is literally begging her to stop.”

Following The Ellen DeGeneration Show’s cancellation and the growing infamy on TikTok, Ellen laid pretty low until April of this year when she embarked on a tour called Ellen’s Last Stand… Up, which she’s been using to address all of the accusations that were made against her and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

During the July 2 Santa Rosa show of Ellen’s Last Stand… Up, Ellen told the audience, “Let me catch you up on what’s been going on with me since you last saw me. I got chickens. Oh yeah, I got kicked out of show business for being mean.”

She went on to say:

“I can be demanding and impatient and tough. I am a strong woman. I am many things, but I am not mean.”

Ellen said something similar at the April 24 Los Angeles show before quipping, “For those of you keeping score, this is the second time I’ve been kicked out of show business,” referencing how Ellen, her 90s sitcom, was cancelled after she publicly came out as gay in 1997.

“It’s been such a toll on my ego and my self-esteem. There’s such extremes in this business, people either love you and idolise you or they hate you, and those people somehow are louder,” Ellen then added.

During a post-show Q&A on April 24, Ellen spoke specifically about The Ellen DeGeneres Show ending too.

“I just thought, ‘Well this is not the way I wanted to end my career, but this is the way it’s ending.’ … I just hated the way the show ended. I love that show so much and I just hated that the last time people would see me is that way,” she said.

It looks like the actual last time we’ll see Ellen though is later this year once she wraps up the Ellen’s Last Stand… Up tour and films a Netflix special for it.

When asked by a fan at the recent Santa Rosa show whether she’ll ever return to television or film, Ellen said:

“Um, no. This is the last time you’re going to see me. After my Netflix special, I’m done.”

If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, help is always available. Call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit their website.

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