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It's not just the scandals: Ellen DeGeneres and her talk show have been declining in vitality

  • Ellen was at her most powerful in the early 2010s, succeeding Oprah Winfrey as queen of daytime TV after The Oprah Winfrey Show ended. "Her show catapulted to new heights, with viewers on TV and online with her 'Ellen Tube' website," says Kelly Lawler. “The Ellen DeGeneres Show became the place where huge celebrities like Taylor Swift had the bejeezus scared out of them, pint-size viral stars were made and Daytime Emmys lined the walls. In 2014, DeGeneres hosted the Oscars to critical praise. In 2016, President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She is a regular winner at the People's Choice Awards. But for the past few years, DeGeneres and her show have been declining in vitality. Sure, her ratings are still strong – averaging 1.8 million viewers an episode in 2020 to date, according to Nielsen data, a bit below last year's 2.2 million viewers average – but the entertainment quality isn't what it once was. The bits are stale, her on-screen verve is noticeably fading, and the show struggles to offer relevant insight on current events. Perhaps DeGeneres and her brand weren’t built for the latter half of this decade, for the blistering exhaustion of the 2016 election, or for the political activism spurred by President Donald Trump’s election amid a more ideologically fractured country." The problems with Ellen and her talk show became more evident during this disastrous year. "DeGeneres wasn’t ready for the one-two punch of 2020: the upending of normal life caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the national protests and conversations about racial inequality and police brutality spurred by the death of George Floyd," says Lawler. "Platitudes and dances don’t cut it in the current era. In quarantine, the flaws of the series have been heightened. While some of her daytime competitors have thrived in quarantine (Kelly Clarkson, Wendy Williams), or even just gotten along fine (The View), Ellen has sagged creatively. The talk show thrives on energy – of the crowd, of the guest and the host herself – to create the dance-y, happy tone that has made it a force in the ratings. Without an audience, and without her interviewees in the room, DeGeneres is markedly downbeat. All shows typically filmed in front of a studio audience are suffering slightly right now, but DeGeneres clearly needs the laughter and applause more than others. Her segments are still highlighting inspirational stories, just on Zoom now, but it feels as if DeGeneres herself isn’t particularly affected by the emotion of a principal who buys supplies and food for his students, or a high school graduate and the teacher who changed his life. She reads flat, where once she leaped off the screen."


    • Crisis PR veterans weigh on whether Ellen DeGeneres will lose popularity over her show's toxic workplace scandal: Ellen's first apology to her staff seemed more like finger-pointing. "I don't want to call it botched, but it wasn't good," says Jamie Diaferia, a celebrity crisis PR strategist, who thinks the crucial part about taking responsibility for what transpired on the show was undercut by other portions of the statement that seemed to pass the blame. "I didn't think the apology achieved what she was probably trying to achieve." John Hellerman, who runs his own PR firm that specializes in crisis communication, took issue with Ellen claiming ignorance of her show's workplace culture. "I don't think in this day and age the typical 'I wasn't aware, but now that I am, I'm taking steps' really works anymore. And in this situation with Ellen, it seems pretty insincere," says Hellerman, noting that rumors about the show's culture have circulated for years. "This wasn't something that just occurred. This sort of counter whisper brand of hers was years in the making." As The Hollywood Reporter notes, Ellen was even asked about "anonymous complaints that she isn't always kind to those she works with" in a 2018 New York Times profile aptly titled "Ellen DeGeneres Is Not as Nice as You Think." She flatly denied the accusations at the time, saying, "That bugs me if someone is saying that because it's an outright lie."
    • A veteran of The Rosie O'Donnell Show and Watch What Happens Live tells how talk shows can do better behind the scenes: "The reality is, a job on a daily talk show can be a dream come true while simultaneously being a bit of a nightmare," says Caissie St. Onge, who was most recently Busy Tonight's showrunner. "It’s a grind with long hours where you often sacrifice your personal life — and sometimes your health — and it can take years to move up if you don’t burn out first. I once worked on a show where there was an epidemic of kidney stones because we were all rationing our water intake lest the long walk to the nearest bathroom interrupt our 14-hour workday! But it seemed like a fair tradeoff. We had the promise of a fulfilling creative career with excitement and charming celebrities! In reality, the charming celebrity part only lasts a few minutes a day, while the rest of the time can be pretty grueling work for not a lot of immediate reward. There’s no doubt you have to truly love it in order to be able to endure it. But a lot of people who land what they thought were dream jobs aren’t able to love it, and that should be a bummer to anybody who works in this business."

    TOPICS: Ellen DeGeneres, NBC, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Daytime TV