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Not Even the Most Pleasant Talk Shows Are Safe From Toxic Work Environments

Kelly Clarkson is certainly no Ellen DeGeneres, but a new exposé reveals how bad things are behind the scenes of her show.
  • Kelly Clarkson on The Kelly Clarkson Show (Photo: Weiss Eubanks/NBCUniversal)
    Kelly Clarkson on The Kelly Clarkson Show (Photo: Weiss Eubanks/NBCUniversal)

    Kelly Clarkson may be one of the most friendly and beloved daytime talk show hosts on the air today, but things aren’t as pleasant for those on her staff. A new report from Rolling Stone details the toxic work environment behind the scenes of The Kelly Clarkson Show, where there are allegations of verbal abuse, HR complaints being ignored, and violations of the Writers Guild of America’s union contract. Sources said that Clarkson is unaware of what’s happening on her own show.

    What viewers of daytime talk shows experience doesn’t always align with what the workers see. Everyone learned this lesson the hard way when in 2020 BuzzFeed News reported on allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment behind the scenes of the The Ellen DeGeneres show, a series that built its reputation around feel-good moments like its host dancing through the audience at the start of every show. But people in the industry weren’t surprised. DeGeneres’ unpleasant demeanor was an open secret in Hollywood for years, and just a few months before BuzzFeed’s story broke, thousands took to Twitter to share their “Bad Ellen” stories. It made for an easy explanation — the show’s environment was toxic because Ellen herself was toxic.

    But those interviewed for the Rolling Stone article make one thing clear: Clarkson has nothing to do with the poor treatment of the staff. One anonymous source said, “Kelly is fantastic. She is a person who never treats anyone with anything but dignity and is incredibly appreciative. I would be shocked if she knew.” So how did things get so bad right under her nose?

    Sources point to the show’s executive producer Alex Duda as the main source of tension on the staff — one former staffer goes as far as calling her “a monster.” Another employee said they quit the show because Duda yelled and cursed at them on a regular basis, causing the employee to constantly be physically ill at work as a result of the extreme anxiety it caused them. Several anonymous sources reported being bullied, picked on, and verbally abused by Duda and the production team she created. Complaints about Duda and other members of her team made to HR went ignored, and several of those other producers ended up getting promoted. Clarkson doesn’t know about these incidents, sources said, because Duda keeps her shielded and separated from the support staff.

    Duda previously worked on The Tyra Banks Show and The Steve Harvey Show, two shows with hosts who have each faced a fair amount of criticism over the years. And it seems she fostered equally bad environments on those shows as well. “I have a friend who’s an executive producer who warned me about taking this job, because apparently [Duda] has done this on every show she’s worked on,” one anonymous source said.

    The Kelly Clarkson Show is also currently under investigation by the Writers Guild of America for potentially violating the WGA’s Minimum Basic Agreement. While other talk shows have paused due to the WGA strike, The Kelly Clarkson Show has continued, supposedly in part because producers are allegedly writing episodes. The show was on schedule to tape new episodes through May 20, and so far none of those tapings have been canceled.

    When The Ellen DeGeneres Show came under fire, BuzzFeed News reported that higher-ups ignored misconduct because the series was a “cash cow,” and sources speculate that’s the same reason the staff’s requests to change the culture behind The Kelly Clarkson Show are being disregarded. The Emmy-award winning talk show leads in daytime ratings against its competitors and has already been renewed for two more seasons through 2025.

    Ultimately, DeGeneres denied knowing about any toxic behavior at her show, claiming that the allegations were “too orchestrated” and that she felt she was being picked on. “All I've ever heard from every guest that comes on the show is what a happy atmosphere this is,” she said, turning the focus on the celebrities’ experiences instead of her workers.

    NBCU issued a statement in response to the allegations, saying “We are committed to a safe and respectful work environment and take workplace complaints very seriously and to insinuate otherwise is untrue. When issues are reported they are promptly reviewed, investigated and acted upon as appropriate. The Kelly Clarkson Show strives to build a safe, respectful and equitable workplace that nurtures a culture of inclusivity and creativity.”

    Duda and Clarkson have yet to comment on Rolling Stone’s allegations. If and how Clarkson does respond could be what separates her most from DeGeneres and other maligned daytime talk show hosts.

    Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R. 

    TOPICS: The Kelly Clarkson Show, NBC, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Alex Duda, Ellen DeGeneres, Kelly Clarkson