After 19 seasons, Ellen DeGeneres is leaving daytime television.
She’s decided to pull the plug on her talk show, ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show.’
“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 tells The Hollywood Reporter, discussing the move publicly for the first time.
Timing her departure is something DeGeneres has openly wrestled with in the past. In a 2018 New York Times profile, she revealed that her actress wife, Portia de Rossi, had been encouraging her to move on from the 180-shows-a-year gig, while her comedian brother, along with executives at Warner Bros., had urged her to continue. In the end, DeGeneres signed on for three more seasons, but was clear with herself and her team that this contract — which would take her well beyond 3,000 shows, and a stunning 2,400 celebrity interviews — would be her last.
“Although all good things must come to an end, you still have hope that truly great things never will,” says Warner Bros.’ Unscripted TV President Mike Darnell, who as recently as late April was still prodding DeGeneres to reconsider. He calls her eponymous series “an absolute phenomenon,” having established itself over nearly two decades on air “as the premiere destination for both superstars and incredible heartfelt human-interest stories.”
Indeed, after an uphill battle to get the show off the ground — “it was the hardest show we’ve ever had to launch in the history of our company,” a Warner Bros. exec previously told THR — it’s been widely praised for delivering a mid-day jolt of joy, to say nothing of ratings and revenue with its mix of dancing, games and giveaways (nearly $70 million in charitable donations and more than $300 million in audience giveaways). NBCUniversal Local president Valari Staab, whose stations air the show, describes Ellen as “an iconic American TV program” and its host as “a trailblazer and a one-of-a-kind talent.” DeGeneres, whose prolific output has reportedly earned her $84 million in annual income, per Forbes, was the recipient of the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2015 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom under Barack Obama in 2016.
But this past year has not been without controversy. On the heels of a series of personal swipes that DeGeneres says “destroyed” her, came a July BuzzFeed News expose detailing allegations of a toxic workplace. The latter, which DeGeneres says she learned about through the press, prompted an internal investigation and the dismissal of key executives. The host, who’s built her brand on the motto “Be Kind,” opened season 18 in September with a lengthy apology, telling viewers, “I learned that things happen here that never should have happened. I take that very seriously. And I want to say I am so sorry to the people who were affected.” While the mea culpa was widely viewed – Ellen’s highest rated premiere in years, per The New York Times – viewership quickly tumbled, even as Hollywood’s A-list remained loyal guests.
Still, Darnell is steadfast in his commitment. “Ellen was and is an indelible piece of the television landscape, and it will be sorely missed,” he tells THR. To his relief, DeGeneres will remain a part of the Warner Bros. fold, having built a sprawling portfolio of unscripted shows there in recent years, including Fox’s The Masked Dancer, NBC’s Ellen’s Game of Games and HBO Max’s Ellen’s Next Great Designer. The studio has a considerable stake in her Ellen Digital Ventures, too, which is responsible for more than 60 original series, including digital hit Momsplaining with Kristin Bell. Though DeGeneres, who’s also producing natural history specials and documentaries for Discovery and returned to stand-up with a celebrated Netflix special in 2018, is coy about her next chapter, she is hopeful a juicy acting role and more time for her conservation efforts are a part of it.
Here, the woman whose 1997 “Yep, I’m Gay” Time cover story nearly torpedoedher career, speaks with THR about the decision to wrap up a show that’s earned her 64 Daytime Emmys, the allegations that nearly sent her packing and the parts that she’ll miss most – and least – about her daily platform.
Check out a few excerpts from Ellen’s interview with THR discussing her decision to leave, how she REALLY felt about the ‘toxic workplace’ allegations plaguing her show, and more.
Let’s start with the decision to end the show in 2022: Take me back to when you decided this would be it.
I was going to stop after season 16. That was going to be my last season and they wanted to sign for four more years and I said I’d sign for maybe for one. They were saying there was no way to sign for one. “We can’t do that with the affiliates and the stations need more of a commitment.” So, we [settled] on three more years and I knew that would be my last. That’s been the plan all along. And everybody kept saying, even when I signed, “You know, that’s going to be 19, don’t you want to just go to 20? It’s a good number.” So is 19. [Laughs]
And you never wavered?
No. When we did our 3,000th show, they showed that highlights montage and everybody was emotional. We all hugged and everyone had tears in their eyes, and Mike Darnell was here going, “You really want to [end this]?” Look, it’s going to be really hard on the last day, but I also know it’s time. I’m a creative person, and when you’re a creative person you constantly need to be challenged, which is why I decided to host the Oscars or why I decided to go back to stand up when I didn’t think I would. I just needed something to challenge me. And as great as this show is, and as fun as it is, it’s just not a challenge anymore. I need something new to challenge me.
A few years ago, you’d said that Portia had been urging you to move on, while your brother was pushing you to stay. Did anyone, outside of Darnell, try to convince you one way or another this time around?
Yeah. Obviously the producers … But you’re right, my brother was like, “People look forward to this show every day, and there aren’t many shows out there that are just pure joy like this.” He’s always been my biggest advocate and, not that Portia isn’t, but she’s also selfish and wants me to do things that I’m challenged by and she’s watched me come home every day saying, “I just feel like there’s something more I could be doing.” I care about the environment. I care about animals. I care about design and furniture … So, definitely people have been saying, “Why don’t we just try to go a little longer?” But 19 years is a long time to do anything.
There were pretty serious allegations waged last summer and some changes were made to your show. I’m curious how that chapter impacted you, the show and this decision?
It almost impacted the show. It was very hurtful to me. I mean, very. But if I was quitting the show because of that, I wouldn’t have come back this season. So, it’s not why I’m stopping but it was hard because I was sitting at home, it was summer, and I see a story that people have to chew gum before they talk to me and I’m like, “Okay, this is hilarious.” Then I see another story of some other ridiculous thing and then it just didn’t stop. And I wasn’t working, so I had no platform, and I didn’t want to address it on [Twitter] and I thought if I just don’t address it, it’s going to go away because it was all so stupid.
But it very much didn’t go away…
I became a comedian because I wanted to make people feel good. It started when I was 13-years-old, when my parents got divorced, and I wanted to make my mother happy. My whole being is about making people happy. And with the talk show, all I cared about was spreading kindness and compassion and everything I stand for was being attacked. So, it destroyed me, honestly. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. And it makes me really sad that there’s so much joy out there from negativity. It’s a culture now where there are just mean people, and it’s so foreign to me that people get joy out of that. Then, on the heels of it, there are allegations of a toxic workplace and, unfortunately, I learned that through the press. And at first I didn’t believe it because I know how happy everybody is here and how every guest talks about, “Man, you have a great place here. Of all the talk shows I’ve done, everyone here is so happy.” That’s all I’ve ever heard.
So, there was an internal investigation, obviously, and we learned some things but this culture we’re living is [is one where] no one can make mistakes. And I don’t want to generalize because there are some bad people out there and those people shouldn’t work again but, in general, the culture today is one where you can’t learn and grow, which is, as human beings, what we’re here to do. And I can see people looking at that going, “You don’t care about what people [went through.]” I care tremendously. It broke my heart when I learned that people here had anything other than a fantastic experience — that people were hurt in any way. I check in now as much as I can through Zoom to different departments and I make sure people know that if there’s ever a question or ever anything, they can come to me and I don’t know why that was never considered before. I’m not a scary person. I’m really easy to talk to. So, we’ve all learned from things that we didn’t realize — or I didn’t realize — were happening. I just want people to trust and know that I am who I appear to be.
You mentioned that it almost impacted the show. What did you mean by that? Were there moments in there where you thought, “I don’t to want to come back to this”?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was four solid months. And you have to understand, in that time, someone got into our house and robbed us and I lost four animals — three cats and a dog died. It was a tsunami. When it started, with that stupid “someone couldn’t look me in the eye” or whatever the first thing was, it’s like a crest of a wave. Like, “This isn’t going to be that big of a wave.” And then it just keeps getting bigger and bigger until it was out of control. And I really, honestly, felt like, “I don’t deserve this. I don’t need this. I know who I am. I’m a good person.” And I was sitting back going, “If I was someone watching this, I would think, ‘Well, there must be some truth to it because it’s not stopping.’” Of course they’re going to believe this because I’m not addressing it because I was told not to and you can imagine what that felt like. And it’s a lot to live up to. I started saying “be kind to one another” because I really believe people should be kind to one another and so it was easy clickbait to say, “Oh, the be kind lady isn’t so kind.” … I am kind, I’m also a woman and I’m a boss.