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Film and TV

Employees from The Ellen DeGeneres Show reveal toxic workplace environment of racism, fear and intimidation

Josh Milton July 17, 2020
Comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House November 22, 2016 in Washington, DC.

Comedian and talk show host Ellen Degeneres talked to the New York Times about ending her daytime show The Ellen Show, a decision her wife Portia de Rossi supports. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Amid eviscerating accusations of her “mean” behaviour – steadily eroding her reputation as an oasis of optimism – former staff members of Ellen DeGeneres are revealing it all.

Nine former and one current staffer told BuzzFeed News that the daytime talk show host’s happy persona is “bulls**t [that] only happens when the cameras are on”. The Ellen DeGeneres Show employees described a DeGeneres playbook of racism, fear and intimidation.

DeGeneres, 62, the staffers alleged, fired people for attending family funerals or taking medical leave, while producers joked that two Black employees looked similar. Others claimed that direct managers instructed lower-ranking employees not to speak to the entertainer if they saw her around the office.

One staffer claims they were ordered to take down a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for medical costs not covered by the award-winning NBC programme’s insurance. Overall, the former staff blamed senior managers and producers for the toxicity but stressed that it’s DeGeneres’ name on the brand, “she really needs to take more responsibility”.

It comes as the host has seen her reputation take a drubbing as former guests and staff accuse her of poor treatment.

Spikes have, over the years, been thrown by celebrities, former employees and viewers under the comedian’s feet. She has always denied them, once saying to the New York Times: “That bugs me if someone is saying [that she’s not nice] because it’s an outright lie.”

Yet, the flood gates opened this year after one of Ellen’s ex-employees, Kevin T Porter, described her as “one of the meanest people alive” in a winding Twitter thread.

The Ellen DeGeneres Show is ‘dominated by fear’, former and current staff say, where racism is rife. 

“People focus on rumours about how Ellen is mean and everything like that, but that’s not the problem,” one employee said.

“The issue is these three executive producers running the show who are in charge of all these people [and] who make the culture and are putting out this feeling of bullying and being mean.”

Indeed, the staffer spoke of a culture of entitlement that pervades the workplace, one where staff are told to feel “lucky” to work at The Ellen Degeneres Show. Firings were rarely acknowledged by senior leaders, who, staff said, actively shielded DeGeneres from negativity.

“I think the executive producers surround her and tell her, ‘Things are going great, everybody’s happy,'” one staff member claimed. “And she just believes that, but it’s her responsibility to go beyond that.”

A Black woman who used to work on the show outlined a year-and-a-half of racism aimed towards her. When she was hired, she said, a senior-level producer said of her and another Black employee: “Oh wow, you both have box braids; I hope we don’t get you confused.”

She also alleged that one of the show’s main writers said they only know the names of white employees. Other employees just “awkwardly laughed it off” rather than defending.

In times when she did defend herself to her vastly white male bosses, she was labelled the “[politically correct] police”.

After she left the show following a pay dispute – a white staff member earned more than her for doing the same job, she said – a white manager even attempted to make amends amid the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I feel angry about the way I was treated,” she said, “and I am always going to stand up for Black, Indigenous, Latino, and Asian people, regardless if they’re around.”

Senior producers: ‘We realise, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better.’

In a statement to BuzzFeed, The Ellen DeGeneres Show’s executive producers Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner said: “Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes, and employing more than 1,000 staff members, we have strived to create an open, safe, and inclusive work environment.

“We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience. It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the mission Ellen has set for us.

“For the record, the day to day responsibility of the Ellen show is completely on us. We take all of this very seriously and we realise, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.”

More: black lives matter, Ellen DeGeneres, racism, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, workplace discrimination

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