When California's coronavirus lockdown began in March, Ellen DeGeneres humored her Instagram followers by calling her A-list pals when she got bored and posting video of their conversations on social media. Some thought it was gratuitous flaunting of her celebrity relationships, but by and large it was well received. That was a rare bright spot for the host of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," because she had no idea that the following months would be among the most difficult of her life, full of allegations of demeaning behavior, falling ratings and even a home burglary — until things started to turn around in the fall. Keep reading to learn more about all the highs and lows of Ellen's 2020…
The call went out on March 20. Comedian and podcast producer Kevin T. Porter wanted to help out a local food bank, but he took down Ellen DeGeneres in the process, essentially mocking the phrase "Be kind to one another" — something Ellen DeGeneres says during every episode of her talk show. Kevin alleged that Ellen is far from kind. "Right now we all need a little kindness. You know, like Ellen Degeneres always talks about! She's also notoriously one of the meanest people alive," he tweeted. "Respond to this with the most insane stories you've heard about Ellen being mean & I'll match every one w/ $2 to @LAFoodBank." The responses came pouring in — more than 2,000 people responded. Kevin was overwhelmed by the number, tweeting, "Well this got out of hand! It's now hard to tell which stories are real or not, so I've rounded up to 300 and donated $600!" Keep clicking to read a few of the tweets people shared about Ellen and her show…
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Some of the tweets critical of Ellen DeGeneres and her show that emerged in March? TV writer Ben Simeon tweeted, "A new staff member was told, 'Every day she picks someone different to really hate. It's not your fault, just suck it up for the day and she'll be mean to someone else the next day.' They didn't believe it, but it ended up being entirely true." Costume designer-author Alison Freer tweeted, "Was working on a show @ WB that was next to her stage. Was our showrunner's 50th Bday. Caterer grilling steaks outside for special fancy lunch. Ellen sent someone over to demand they stop, as she doesn't eat meat. She's the worst." Comic Josh Levesque wrote on Twitter, "Another friend of mine was a PA on her show and when Russell Brand came into the employee break area to chat with the crew and hang out, Ellen came in and got mad at him — saying he didn't have to interact with these people, that's why guests have their own area backstage."
While Ellen DeGeneres filmed her talk show from her house amid the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing was missing: her regular in-studio crew. Variety reported in April that many of Ellen's employees — there were more than 30 among the core staff — were livid that the show hired an outside non-union tech company to help the comedian remotely tape "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" from one of her California homes. Further, Variety reported, the show's 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." Some allegedly didn't even know that a remote set had been built at Ellen's house until they saw it on social media.
While still reeling from the bad press, Ellen DeGeneres continued to film her talk show while quarantining at home amid the coronavirus pandemic. Her sense of humor, though, got her in trouble in April when she compared isolation in her multimillion-dollar mansion to being in prison. "One thing that I've learned from being in quarantine is that people – this is like being in jail, is what it is," she said, lush greenery visible in the background. "It's mostly because I've been wearing the same clothes for 10 days and everyone in here is gay." Although Ellen laughed at her own joke, it didn't exactly go over well. At the time, prisons had become a petri dish for the coronavirus and several prisoners had died (plus Ellen's home is spectacular). Granted, Ellen praised medical workers and first responders, but the prison joke was all that anyone remembered. Cue more backlash.
Through much of the spring and summer, it was open season on Ellen DeGeneres. In an early May interview with Fox News, former bodyguard Tom Majercak — who was assigned to protect Ellen, her mother and wife Portia de Rossi at the 2014 Oscars — described the comedian as "very cold" and said "the way that she treats people other than those who are in her circle" is "actually kind of demeaning." The word "dehumanizing" was also used. Tom, who described Portia as "very pleasant," also claimed that "Ellen is the one person that I've been assigned to — and I've been assigned to quite a few celebrities — that has never taken the time to say hi to me."
In May, Ellen DeGeneres had had enough of her name being dragged through the mud. Us Weekly reported that, according to a source, Ellen was "at the end of her rope" regarding the claims that her super-nice public persona is all a sham. "She thought this was all just sour grapes from a few haters. But it's not a passing thing — the hits just keep coming," said the source. Yet Ellen did not speak up publicly to address all the rumors and reports.
Ellen DeGeneres again caught backlash following the death of George Floyd in late May. In social media posts, she said she was frustrated that another unarmed Black man died at the hands of police. However, she referred to the Black community as "people of color," which was harshly criticized. "Like so many of you, I am angry and I am sad," she wrote according to screengrabs. "People of color in this country have faced injustice for far too long. For things to change, things must change. We must commit ourselves to this change with conviction and with love." She has since deleted the post. She later tweeted, "I support the protestors who are exercising their rights and standing up against the horrible injustices that Black people in America face everyday." In her mea culpa, Ellen noted that she would be making donations to the George Floyd Memorial Fund, the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, Black Lives Matter and the American Civil Liberties Union.
On July 1, producers of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" felt compelled to deny cancellation rumors. "Telepictures can confirm it's untrue," a statement said. The denial came after The Sun published a story claiming lagging ratings had producers worried. At the time, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" reportedly had fallen 14 percent to a new season 17 low rating of 1.2, according to TVNewsCheck. That rating put her show behind "Live with Kelly and Ryan," which had a 2.0 rating, and "Dr. Phil," which got a 1.5 rating. On Aug. 4, The Wrap said Ellen's weekly rating had dipped to an "all-time low" of 1.0, a 29% drop from the same week last summer. The 1.0 rating tied her with the "Steve Wilkos" show.
Ellen DeGeneres and her wife, Portia de Rossi, weren't celebrating on the Fourth of July — their mansion was burglarized. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office confirmed that someone broke into the couple's Montecito, California, home on July 4 and stole valuable watches and jewelry. Ellen and Portia were inside the house at the time of the break-in, but it's not known if they had any contact with the thief or thieves. The women were not harmed during the crime. Ellen and Portia massively upgraded their home security afterward. A later report indicated the burglary was likely an "inside job."
In late July, there was a lingering question in the media: Can Ellen DeGeneres' reputation ever rebound? There was even speculation that her Hollywood pals had appeared to desert her, at least publicly. "Ellen has gained a reputation as a friend to the stars, but A-listers would have to take great risks to publicly defend the show," a source told The Sun. "The explosion of the #MeToo movement has really shone a light on workplace conduct in Hollywood. Studios are under pressure to change the culture." In late July, BuzzFeed News spoke to one current employee and 10 former staffers from "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" — all of whom alleged that Ellen didn't do enough to build a comfortable work environment. Her overtly kind image only "happens when the cameras are on," an ex-employee said, adding that "it's all for show." Another said she needs to "take more responsibility" for the workplace climate, which many described as hostile and toxic. A Black former employee alleged that she experienced racist comments, actions and "microaggressions" during her 18 months working on the talk show.
Let the investigation begin. Variety reported on July 28 that, amid the reports of workplace hostility, WarnerMedia had launched an internal investigation into conditions at "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." WarnerMedia, which owns Warner Bros. Television, the distributor of Ellen's show, sent a memo to staffers indicating that current and former employees would be asked about their experiences on set, Variety reported. The interviews will be conducted by WarnerMedia's employee relations group and a third party firm.
It wasn't just former staffers who had issues with Ellen DeGeneres. On July 30, an Australian television host recalled a bizarre 2013 incident involving Ellen in which the comedian was initially set to co-host Australia's "Today" show. Neil Breen said on radio station 4BC, "[Ellen's] producers called us aside … and said, 'Now, Neil, no one is to talk to Ellen. You don't talk to her, you don't approach her, you don't look at her.'" Neil said Ellen's co-hosting cameo was eventually scrapped in favor of an interview that she requested be done 443 miles from the studio. Her team, he added, completely dictated how the interview would go, including the seating and lighting. "I have no idea whether she's a nice person or not, I wouldn't have a clue," Neil said. "But I can tell you the people who worked with her walked on eggshells the whole time, and the whole thing was totally bizarre. We're there to do an interview to promote what she's doing, but you can't look at her? Someone get real."
With her name and show under fire, Ellen finally broke her silence in a message to her staff on July 30 in which she apologized to them for unspecified transgressions and promised to "correct the issues." The Hollywood Reporter, which obtained a copy of that letter, and Variety further reported that one of the show's three executive producers, Ed Glavin, was on his way out. In Ellen's letter, she explained that she's now realized the show hadn't been "a place of happiness" for some staffers. "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. That will now change and I'm committed to ensuring this does not happen again," she wrote. After referencing the struggles she faced after coming out as a gay woman in the '90s, she said, "It's been way too long, but we're finally having conversations about fairness and justice. We all have to be more mindful about the way our words and actions affect others, and I'm glad the issues at our show were brought to my attention. I promise to do my part in continuing to push myself and everyone around me to learn and grow. It's important to me and to Warner Bros. that everyone who has something to say can speak up and feels safe doing so." But within hours, new allegations emerged…
Hours after Ellen DeGeneres issued an apology to her staff on July 30, BuzzFeed News published another scathing report — this time after speaking to multiple staffers who anonymously claimed "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" has been rife with sexual harassment and misconduct by top executive producers. Many specific allegations were made against head writer and executive producer Kevin Leman, who denied any wrongdoing in a statement in which he also wrote, "I have always aimed to treat everyone on the staff with kindness, inclusivity and respect. In my whole time on the show, to my knowledge, I've never had a single HR or inter-personal complaint made about me, and I am devastated beyond belief that this kind of malicious and misleading article could be published."
After news of Ellen DeGeneres' apology to her staff came out, things got worse before they got better. Fellow comedian Brad Garrett made headlines when he took to Twitter to share what he knew. "Sorry but it comes from the top @TheEllenShow," the Emmy-winning "Everybody Loves Raymond" actor, a six-time guest on Ellen's show, wrote. "Know more than one who were treated horribly by her. Common knowledge." Then "Back to the Future" star Lea Thompson backed him up, responding "True story. It is." to a People.com tweet featuring the headline, "Brad Garrett Claims Mistreatment by Ellen DeGeneres Is 'Common Knowledge' After Host's Apology." But soon, a few stars began to defend the talk show host…
On July 31, manager-to-the-stars Scooter Braun — whose clients include Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato — tweeted his support for Ellen DeGeneres, writing, "@TheEllenShow is a kind, thoughtful, courageous human being who stands for what is right and highlights on her show the best of us. She has helped change the views for equality … I know first hand how she helps so many when we are watching and when we are not. She isn't about what is popular she is about what is right." A few days later, DJ Samantha Ronson shared her support too. "Unpopular opinion: I've worked for @TheEllenShow as a dj, for her parties, for years and she has ALWAYS been respectful and kind to me," the British music star tweeted on Aug. 3. The same day, polo star Ignacio "Nacho" Figueras posted his support for Ellen on Instagram and challenged "all the amazing people that know you and call you a friend to say who you are. … We are all so scared to say what we really think and it seems that we are only relevant if we say whatever the trending social media topic is. So… We love Ellen right?" and tagged several of her celebrity friends including Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, Michelle Obama, Pink, Sean Hayes, Lady Gaga, Oprah WInfrey, Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake.
Also on Aug. 3, Ellen DeGeneres' wife, Portia de Rossi, took to social media to publicly support her spouse. "To all our fans….we see you. Thank you for your support," Portia captioned a post featuring the message "I Stand With Ellen." However, the same day, USA Today reported that #ReplaceEllen was trending on Twitter as some fans called for a new host to take over her show (suggestions ranged from James Corden to Harry Styles to Michelle Obama). But Andy Lassner, a longtime producer on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and other Ellen projects, tweeted on July 30 that "nobody is going off the air" in response to speculation Ellen would walk away from her show amid the controversy.
The biggest celebrity name yet — Katy Perry — took to social media to back Ellen DeGeneres on Aug. 4. "I know I can't speak for anyone else's experience besides my own but I want to acknowledge that I have only ever had positive takeaways from my time with Ellen & on the @theellenshow. I think we all have witnessed the light & continual fight for equality that she has brought to the world through her platform for decades. Sending you love & a hug, friend @TheEllenShow," Katy tweeted. Other stars also soon spoke out to support Ellen including Kevin Hart, Diane Keaton, Ashton Kutcher, Jerry O'Connell and the comedian's brother, movie producer Vance DeGeneres.
A former "The Ellen Degeneres Show" employee, Tony Okungbowa, went on the record to reveal that he felt there was a toxic culture at the talk show when he worked there. "I have been getting calls asking me about the Ellen Degeneres Show and I would like to address the time I spent there. I was on air talent from 2003-2006 and from 2007-2013," the former "Ellen" show DJ wrote on Instagram on Aug. 4. "While I am grateful for the opportunity it afforded me, I did experience and feel the toxicity of the environment and I stand with my former colleagues in their quest to create a healthier and more inclusive workplace as the show moves forward."
On Aug. 9, Portia de Rossi gave an update on the embattled talk show host, telling a videographer that her wife, Ellen DeGeneres, is "doing great." The videographer pressed on and asked if Ellen was going to continue hosting "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." Portia replied, "Yes, she is."
On Aug. 17, Variety reported that "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" had parted ways with three senior producers — executive producers Ed Glavin (second from right) and Kevin Leman (center) and co-executive producer Jonathan Norman (left) — in the wake of ongoing criticism of the show's culture and allegations of bad behavior. The trade magazine also confirmed that "Ellen" vets Mary Connelly (right), Andy Lassner (second from left) and Derek Westervelt (not pictured), who've been with the show since its start in 2003, would remain as executive producers along with Ellen herself. It also emerged that the show's resident DJ, Stephen "tWitch" Boss, had been promoted to co-executive producer.
In an Aug. 17 video conference call with 200 staffers on her show, Ellen DeGeneres got emotional as she apologetically spoke to her team. According to Variety, she told employees she was "not perfect" and called the disturbing allegations that had been made about the show and its leadership "heartbreaking." She further addressed "insane" stories that guests and staffers were told not to address her or look her in the eye. "I don't know where it started," she said, according to Page Six, telling her employees, "Please talk to me. Look me in the eye." A source told People magazine that Ellen, who characterized herself as an introvert during the call, also told staffers, "I'm a multi-layered person, and I try to be the best person I can be and I try to learn from my mistakes. I'm hearing that some people felt that I wasn't kind or too short with them, or too impatient. I apologize to anybody if I've hurt your feelings in any way."
The bad news wasn't just limited to Ellen DeGeneres' show. On Aug. 25, The Blast reported that Ellen's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was vandalized following a QAnon rally in Los Angeles. The website claimed someone wrote a disparaging word in purple marker under her name. The vandalism was eventually cleaned up, but residue still remained.
Ellen DeGeneres vowed to address claims that she fostered a toxic work environment on her talk show when the new season kicked off, and she made good on that promise in her Sept. 21 premiere opening monologue. "I learned that things happened that never should have happened. I take that very seriously," she said in remarks made to a virtual studio audience as she spoke for nearly five minutes, Us Weekly reported. "I want to say I am so sorry to the people who are affected. I know that I am in a position of privilege and power and I realize that with that comes responsibility. And I take responsibility for what happens at my show. This is 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show.'" Ellen said that "necessary changes" were being made and also addressed the "be kind" philosophy she maintains as part of her public persona, calling it a "tricky position" to uphold. "The truth is, I am that person that you see on TV. I am also a lot of other things," she explained. "Sometimes I get sad, I get mad, I get anxious, I get frustrated, I get impatient — and I am working on all of that. I am a work in progress."
Things finally took a positive turn for Ellen DeGeneres in November when, after months of drama, she won the E! People's Choice Award for best daytime talk show for her eponymous daytime program. "Thank you, from deep down in my heart," the comedian told a virtual audience from the award show's stage in Santa Monica, California, on Nov. 15, adding that it was all due to her "amazing crew and amazing staff who make this show possible." Ellen continued, "I love them all. I thank them for what they do every day to help that show be the best that we try to make it every single day. I say thank you to the people, thanks [to] all of my fans for supporting me, for sticking by me," she added. "I cannot tell you how grateful I am and what this means to me. It's more than I can possibly tell you. Especially right now."
Just when it seemed as though Ellen DeGeneres would be able to coast into the new year, 2020 bit her again. On Dec. 10, the comedian announced on social media that she'd tested positive for COVID-19 but was "feeling fine." Ellen's announcement likely caught the attention of several A-list guests who appeared on her talk show in-person in the days leading up to her positive test. Justin Bieber, Bryan Cranston, Diane Keaton, Alison Brie and Lil Nas X were among her in-person guests. "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," which is on holiday hiatus, won't be affected by the news. "I'll see you again after the holidays," Ellen tweeted. "Please stay healthy and safe."