Yesterday, iconic comedian Ellen DeGeneres announced she will end her long-running daytime talk at the conclusion of the upcoming 19th season. The news sent a shockwave across the media landscape, as much for signaling the end of a pop-culture institution as for DeGeneres’ stated reason for stepping away from the stage.
“When you’re a creative person, you constantly need to be challenged — and as great as this show is, and as fun as it is, it’s just not a challenge anymore,” DeGeneres told The Hollywood Reporter in an exclusive interview.
The host is set to talk about her exit with Oprah Winfrey on today's The Ellen DeGeneres Show. But the news, and DeGeneres’ somewhat humblebraggy statement, has brought renewed attention to the show's recent history of scandal, gaffes and cratered ratings, leading many to take the star to task for trying to reshape a dark narrative over which she's lost control.
DeGeneres’ show has been plagued with scandal all year
The Ellen DeGeneres Show has long served as the antithesis of daytime talkshows of old: a saccharine daily celebration of life and celebrity culture that often saw its host dancing in the aisles, embracing everyday people (remember Chewbacca Mom?) and shining a light on positive stories often overlooked in the mainstream.
It made DeGeneres a brand unto herself, even more than her landmark sitcom, Ellen, leading to a successful gig hosting the Oscars in 2014 — and the iconic celebrity selfie moment — numerous prime-time gameshows and more.
But behind the scenes, talk of a Jekyll/Hyde dynamic has percolated in contrast to the star's squeaky-clean image. Rumors of DeGeneres’ bullying behavior and condescending treatment of guests and staff have been an open secret in the industry for years, occasionally bubbling up in public.
A famous Twitter thread from comedian Kevin T. Porter in March 2020 centered on stories about DeGeneres being "notoriously one of the meanest people alive" came with a promise of $2 to the LA Food Bank for every real story posted. The thread went unexpectedly viral.
Last year — a month after drawing ire for likening her mansion to a prison during quarantine — things became incendiary amid allegations of a toxic workplace at the show sparked by a Buzzfeed News article. The story included anonymous accounts from current and former Ellen staffers detailing abuse including racial microaggressions and a culture of fear, retaliation and intimidation.
An internal investigation was launched, leading to the departure of the show’s top producers. For her part, DeGeneres claimed to be unaware of the issues, but addressed the issue head on upon the show’s return, promising to do better in a heartfelt statement.
Despite the show of goodwill and earnestness of the damage control, the show's ratings plummeted, dropping 1.1 million viewers in the wake of the reports, representing 43% of her viewership, according to Entertainment Weekly. It also, in turn, meant a drop in advertising for the suddenly embattled star.
DeGeneres' motives for leaving are being questioned
The host has been public with talk about leaving the show in the past, even saying in a 2018 New York Times interview that she was feeling boxed in and being encouraged to leave by wife Portia de Rossi. Next year marks the end of her most recent contract renewal, so it would make sense for DeGeneres to announce her departure this year.
Still, the wording of the statement, and its omission of the scandals, has seen the conversation turn negative.
Interestingly, the news has caused actress Dakota Johnson to trend. The 50 Shades of Gray actress famously called out DeGeneres’ manipulation in a 2019 interview and has since become an incidental mascot for the end of the show.
The vast majority of online discourse, however, basically turned into an unofficial roast of DeGeneres.
Meanwhile, speculation has begun about who will be the heir to DeGeneres' daytime throne, with comedian Tiffany Haddish’s name dominating the conversation.
DeGeneres will discuss her decision to leave on The Ellen Degeneres Show today, Thursday, May 13. See local listings for times.