TV TATTLE

Ellen DeGeneres' brand began crumbling long before toxic workplace scandal and Dakota Johnson

  • DeGeneres' announcement Wednesday that she planned to end her show in 2022 after 19 years prompted many Twitter users to thank Dakota Johnson with memes from her viral November 2019 Ellen appearance for throwing the "first brick" in exposing the daytime talk show host. They attribute that interview for paving the way for current and former The Ellen DeGeneres Show employees coming forward last summer with allegations of a toxic workplace. But as Laura Bradley points out, DeGeneres' announcement was the culmination of years of rumblings of DeGeneres being a not-so-nice person -- in contrast to her "Be Kind" brand. "The rumblings from The Ellen DeGeneres Show first began back in 2014 when, as The Daily Beast reported, former Ellen head writer Karen Kilgariff shared with Marc Maron 'that she was fired from the show after refusing to cross the picket line during the 2008 writers’ strike. DeGeneres has allegedly not spoken to Kilgariff since,'" says Bradley. Bradley also notes that "DeGeneres’ brand already had a few blemishes by the time her staffers began speaking out—and even before that Johnson bit went awry in late 2019. In January of that year, DeGeneres had tried to help Kevin Hart rehabilitate his reputation after his past homophobic tweets had resurfaced online. Hart initially doubled down rather than apologize, although he would later issue a mea culpa when he announced that he was stepping down from the gig.) Throughout their interview, DeGeneres defended Hart and even allowed him to argue that he’d repeatedly apologized for the tweets, a claim that did not stand up to scrutiny. She further revealed that she had personally called the Academy to lobby for his reinstatement....It was both jarring and disheartening to see DeGeneres—a trailblazer for queer people on screen who once lost her job after coming out—working so hard to help Hart evade accountability for his homophobic remarks. But it wouldn’t be the last vexing choice she’d make that year. Months later, in October, she waved away criticism for palling around with George W. Bush at a football game."

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    • Former Ellen staffers respond to Ellen DeGeneres' announcement, calling it "consequence culture": "Former employees of The Ellen Show say they’re glad the once-beloved pillar of daytime television taking her show off the air, the ultimate consequence of being the face and leader of a TV show where they say misconduct ran rampant behind the scenes for years," writes Buzzfeed's Krystie Lee Yandoli, who first reported on Ellen's toxic workplace last summer. As one ex-employee tells her: “I think this is ‘consequence culture.’ People are like, ‘cancel culture,’ but no, this is a consequence of somebody and an institution that got away with fostering a super unhealthy and toxic work environment for a really long time. I think they did all the right things to make it look like they were making changes — they fired some people, they gave tWitch an executive producer position because they didn't have a lot of diversity, and they made it look like they did all the right things, but it still wasn't enough. It all comes out in the wash at the end, and you realize this is really what she deserves and what the show deserves.” Another former employee added: “I think that she only came back to this past season because she probably had to (in order) to save face. The show took a tank. The ratings tanked for a lot of reasons — we had a pandemic — but they also tanked because she's unlikeable now and it definitely permeated the culture of how people feel about Ellen.”
    • Watch Ellen DeGeneres announce she's ending her talk show: “You may wonder why I’ve decided to end after 19 seasons," an emotional DeGeneres told her virtual audience in her pre-taped monologue for Thursday's show. "The truth is, I always trust my instincts. My instinct told me it’s time. As a comedian, I have always understood the importance of… timing. And in all seriousness, I truly have felt like next season was the right time to end this amazing chapter.”
    • DeGeneres ending shows that certain allegations do have consequences: "As the unspoken code of silence around long-rumored tyrants of Hollywood begins to break, it’s unclear if DeGeneres is bowing out gracefully to avoid increased scrutiny or retreating in shame because of it," says Jude Dry. "No matter how many unrelated reasons she cites for ending the show — needing a creative challenge, her contract ending, more time for animal rights work — it’s clear she’s not ending her Emmy-winning run on a resounding high note." Dry adds: "The true test for DeGeneres will be in how her future endeavors fare. The perhaps not-so-kind-after-all comedian may not be playing any more lovable forgetful fish anytime soon; and a return to her sitcom days doesn’t seem to interest her. Her 2018 Netflix stand-up special Relatable revealed she can still kill a joke onstage, even if the title ended up being more ironic than she intended. But barring any deeper self-reflection — a pretty glaring omission from her THR interview — it will be hard for DeGeneres to bounce back anytime soon. Until she’s ready to embrace her darker side in her comedy, Ellen as we know her may be gone for good."
    • DeGeneres' claim that her show's toxic workplace scandal had nothing to do with ending her show is funny: "The idea that we’re supposed to just believe that it was because her contract was ending and that she doesn’t feel challenged?" says Rachel Leishman. "Especially after she had her show going on during the pandemic when she’d make producer Andy Lassner sit outside her house and do wild things the entire time? I’m sure there is truth in that Ellen DeGeneres wanted out of the show. I’m sure that her contract is coming to an end. But brushing off the concept of the show ending because of what happened last year doesn’t really sit well with me. Sure, she might not have wanted to come back to the show after all of that, but also, if she was under contract, it might not have been her choice. Whatever is or isn’t happening behind the scenes, The Ellen DeGeneres Show is over, and with that has come a new resurgence of the Dakota Johnson meme and I, for one, am grateful for that."
    • DeGeneres' ending her show signifies how much celebrity culture has shifted: "DeGeneres hinged her reputation on the motto 'be kind' – a bland niceness that attracted nearly every A-lister to her couch at least once and offered a sheen of winsome celebrity relatability to mass audiences before social media democratized star relationships with their fans, and peppered the talkshow genre with viral video-worthy games (to which Jimmy Fallon’s celebrity carnival Tonight Show owes a great debt)," says Adrian Horton. "But the niceness brand has sputtered out following a Buzzfeed exposé into alleged sexual harassment, racial insensitivity and bullying behind the scenes (based on interviews with 36 former staffers), as well as general impatience with out-of-touch celebrity culture hastened by the pandemic. In other words, it was high time for Ellen to go. I can’t comment on how challenged Ellen personally feels in hosting the show after 3,000 episodes and a truly impressive 2,400 celebrity interviews (imagine what that ubiquity of surface niceness does to your brain). But it does seem very clear that the flat blandness of 'be kind' could not ride out the turbulence of the past year – the Buzzfeed report, the subsequent dismissal of three top producers, the larger post-#MeToo and Black Live Matter-propelled cultural reckoning over toxic workplaces, and the general disdain for faux platitudes from out-of-touch, insulated celebrities."
    • What rankled about DeGeneres' “Be Kind” motto wasn’t, or wasn’t solely, that it was at odds with her public persona: "It was that it gave her cover to make a show about nothing, one that blurs together in the mind," says Daniel D'Addario. "The Johnson interview was certainly not the only one that crackled with a freaky tension, as if DeGeneres and her guest were waging a secret battle over who would come out of the interview looking better. But under normal circumstances, the show was simply inert. DeGeneres referred to her show, in an interview about leaving the show, as “not a challenge anymore”; that’s one way to refer to having stopped trying. This is strange because DeGeneres is a specific, tactical comedian who is also able to appeal to a mass audience. She was not only probably the most broadly successful Oscar host of the 2010s, she was also the one whose specific sort of viral success everyone who came after her has been chasing. That was in 2014, though, and the years since have seen DeGeneres continue to flatten into an icon. When, in 2018, DeGeneres released a Netflix stand-up special, it felt almost shocking; the fact that she used that different sort of spotlight to toy with her own public image was even stranger. There have not, since, been any further forays into edgy comedy, though DeGeneres has since that time talked in the press about the challenges her image presents her in her normal life."
    • See a chart showing The Ellen DeGeneres Show losing more than half her viewership since 2014

    TOPICS: Ellen DeGeneres, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Dakota Johnson, Daytime TV




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