The executive producers of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” have vowed to “do better” after a damning report on behind-the-scenes working conditions at the daytime talk show.
In interviews with BuzzFeed News, 10 former “Ellen” staff and one current employee said they felt intimidated and were fearful of their superiors while on the job. Others said they were reprimanded for taking medical leave and family bereavement days.
“I think it is a lot of smoke and mirrors when it comes to the show’s brand,” a former employee said. “They pull on people’s heartstrings; they do know that’s going to get likes and what people are going to go for, which is a positive message. But that’s not always reality.”
Added another, “They hire people who maybe are inexperienced with how a functional, nontoxic work environment actually is, or someone who just wants to be in that atmosphere so bad that they’ll put up with it. They kind of feed off of that, like, ‘This is ‘Ellen’; this is as good as it gets. You’ll never find anything better than this.’”
All of the staffers interviewed for BuzzFeed’s report, published Thursday, spoke on condition of anonymity. They also directed most of their criticisms toward executive producers and senior managers rather than DeGeneres herself.
Some of the most troubling accusations came from a Black female staffer, who said she walked off the job after experiencing microaggressions and racist comments, including references to her hairstyle, on the set.
“Whenever I brought up an issue to my white male boss, he would bring up some random story about some random Black friend that he had and how they managed to get over stuff,” she explained. “He would use his Black friend as some way to say, ‘I understand your struggle.’ But it was all performative bullshit.”
Though she left the job after a year and a half, she said she’d retained her “fear of speaking out” until the ongoing protests against racial inequality reignited a discussion about how Black employees are treated in the workplace.
“I feel angry about the way I was treated, and I am always going to stand up for Black, Indigenous, Latino, and Asian people, regardless if they’re around,” she said. “I can’t not say anything. I’m not going to stop talking.”
Asked why others haven’t spoken out directly about the mistreatment, another former employee told BuzzFeed, “That’s the definition of a toxic work environment, where they make you feel like you’re going insane and then you’re like, no, everything I was feeling was right. It was all leading up to this.”
In an email statement sent to HuffPost Friday, “Ellen DeGeneres Show” executive producers Mary Connelly, Ed Glavin and Andy Lassner said of the allegations, “It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the mission Ellen has set for us.”
“Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes, and employing over 1,000 staff members, we have strived to create an open, safe, and inclusive work environment,” the statement read. “We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience.”
“For the record, the day to day responsibility of the Ellen show is completely on us,” they continued. “We take all of this very seriously and we realize, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.”
The claims outlined in the BuzzFeed article come at a critical time for DeGeneres, who relaunched her show from her Los Angeles home in April following a three-week hiatus due to the coronavirus.
Her virtual return to the small screen, however, has been shaky. In her April 6 opening monologue, she compared her life in quarantine to “being in jail,” angering some who felt her take on the incarcerated population was too glib.
Later that month, she was accused of hiring a non-union company, rather than employing longtime members of her behind-the-scenes crew, to produce her show remotely. An April 24 Daily Beast article declared, “People are finally starting to see the real Ellen DeGeneres and it isn’t pretty.”
In June, DeGeneres came under fire yet again for a since-deleted tweet in support of Black Lives Matter that many felt missed the mark. She later posted a video clarifying her stance on racial inequality and police brutality.
“I have always wanted to be the voice for people that felt like they didn’t have a voice because I know what that feels like,” she said in the clip. “Maybe you don’t agree with how it’s coming out, but you have to understand it, and then we can heal it.”