July 16th, 8:29 pm, Krystie Lee Yandoli posted an article that would break the internet. It put Ellen DeGeneres and her team into silence and caused rumors to spread like wildfire. Yandoli’s story featured 11 former employees who claimed DeGeneres’ work culture was “toxic”.
“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,” a former employee stated.
As one of the most proclaimed and successful female talk show hosts, DeGeneres has a lot on the line. In total, 18 seasons of the award-winning NBC talk show have been released. Hundreds of celebrities have been interviewed, and extensions of the show, such as “Ellen’s Game of Games” have been produced. The show stands by its mantra “be kind to one another” and is known to give away tons of prizes and help people get back onto their feet. This visage of love, compassion, and harmony was abruptly shattered. In its place were rumors of discrimination, verbal abuse, unjustified termination, and a work culture dominated by fear.
“I remember feeling depressed and horrible and sad and just thinking that I can’t leave but I want to leave,” a former employee recalled.
If you were to trace this story back to its roots, it would lead to comedian Kevin T. Porter. Porter posted a tweet back in March asking fans to comment “the most insane stories you’ve heard about Ellen [DeGeneres] being mean.” The tweet quickly became trending and received over 2,600 responses. From there, more people came forward, mostly anonymous, but some co-hosts and even guests shared their experiences working with Ellen. Tony Okungbowa, former DJ on the show claimed he felt, and experienced, the toxic work environment and supports his colleagues to push for a healthier workspace. Okungbowa can be spotted in over 1,600 episodes. Popstar Mariah Carey also spoke out stating that she felt pressured to answer personal questions regarding her pregnancy.
“I wasn’t ready to tell anyone because I had had a miscarriage. I don’t want to throw anyone that’s already being thrown under any proverbial bus, but I didn’t enjoy that moment.” Carey said.
Even DeGeneres’ 2014 Oscars bodyguard recalled Ellen’s attitude towards others was “demeaning.” But many agree that the proclaimed host is not the issue.
“People focus on rumors about how Ellen is mean and everything like that, but that’s not the problem. The issue is these three executive producers running the show who are in charge of all these people [and] who make the culture [toxic] and are putting out this feeling of bullying and being mean,” A former employee stated.
It seems executive producers and senior managers are the ones to take the fall for daily toxicity. Direct bosses told workers to not speak to DeGeneres, questioned absences from desks to use the restroom, and ultimately fired workers for small inconveniences like missing work for personal, family, and emergency issues.
“I never felt like it was safe to go to my manager when I had issues — because this was the same person who would wait for me to go to the bathroom and then message me, asking me where I was and why I wasn’t at my desk.”
One employee created a Gofundme in attempts to pay for medical funds that their job didn’t cover. Later the employee was asked by top producers to remove the page in fear it may damage the show’s reputation.
“They discovered my fundraiser, then got mad at me. … They were more concerned about Ellen’s brand instead of helping me out.”
People who pushed back and spoke out to producers didn’t usually get renewed contracts. Instead, co-workers tended to distance themselves from the individual speaking out. The overall message executive producers spread was; if you didn’t like how things were run, just leave. The higher-ups implied that working at Ellen is “the best it gets.” If employees weren’t satisfied, there was another eager individual in line waiting to take their spot.
Although many employees got fired and claimed the producers are the ones to blame, others choose to leave due to the amount of racial injustice they felt daily. According to BuzzFeed, one employee left after hearing comments about her race one too many times. Others were reprimanded for asking for a raise, taking offense to terms such as “spirit animal”, and many recall being talked to in a derogatory or racist way. In Yandoli’s article, she reports a black employee who recalled being told very degrading and racist comments when she was hired such as;
“Oh wow, you both have box braids; I hope we don’t get you confused.”
This attitude wasn’t just spoken by senior producers, unfortunately, it was almost accepted by most employees. When such remarks were made, co-workers would “awkwardly laugh it off” instead of defending the target. This inexcusable behavior leads to employees simply walking off the job and not returning.
According to NBC News, former employees waited to speak due to fear of backlash or previously having signed nondisclosure agreements.
With all this being said and the show’s reputation going down in flames, it was time for the production team to respond. According to Vanity Fair, Warner Media opened an investigation after hearing claims against the show. This resulted in three highly ranked producers being removed for various reasons. Executive David McGuire stated the following in an email after the investigation came to a close
“We promised you change and a new culture, and we are absolutely committed to that.” He continued to promise better communication at every level.
Later the top three producers, Ed Glavin, who no longer works for the show, Mary Connely, and Andy Lasseterall joined and addressed the issue in a collective statement.
“We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience. It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and it is not the mission Ellen has set for us. For the record, the day-to-day responsibility of the Ellen show is completely on us. We take all of this very seriously and we realize, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.” This is a segment of the producer’s apology found in the original BuzzFeed article.
Ellen herself also came forward in July with a personal apology to the staff.
“On day one of our show, I told everyone in our first meeting that The Ellen DeGeneres Show would be a place of happiness—no one would ever raise their voice, and everyone would be treated with respect ….. Obviously, something changed, and I am disappointed to learn that this has not been the case. And for that, I am sorry. Anyone who knows me knows it’s the opposite of what I believe and what I hoped for our show.”
It seems time has given space to the production team and employees. The show is back to its “normal” production schedule, with the exception of COVID-19 protocols, and is releasing new episodes. Just a few weeks ago Tiktok star Addison Rae, was being interviewed by tWitch himself.