When Oprah Winfrey ended her signature daytime talk show in 2011, it was a massive event, watched by 16.4 million people, according to Nielsen, and raking in advertising dollars unprecedented for daytime television. During her final week of episodes, she was stunned onstage by the likes of Tom Hanks, Madonna, Stevie Wonder and a pre-slap Will Smith as she performed in front of a crowd of 13,000. Fans even flew to Chicago from Georgia and even Mumbai, India. That New York Times described it as the greatest moment on television since Johnny Carson signed off in 1992 and posted below The Hollywood Reporterthe Washington Post, New York Magazine and Jezebel blogged it live.
There’s a lot less fanfare this week, as Ellen DeGeneres’ own talk show ends after 19 seasons, almost two years after allegations of a toxic workplace surfaced behind the scenes in the summer of 2020. One factor is that oprah was more of a lifestyle show, with its take on things scattered between celebrity talks, and another is that today’s television audience is more fragmented than ever; Shows just aren’t pulling ratings for 2011. Still, The Ellen DeGeneres Show comes out quieter, and that lower-profile bow – not a big press tour – was at least partly intentional.
As DeGeneres said Hollywood reporter In an interview published Wednesday, she was very focused on events as they unfolded and meditated on her intention to enjoy it while it lasted. “I knew this season was going to be my last season, so I really tried to record everything,” she said. “And it’s funny because the last few months I’ve been more emotional than I’ve been in the last week or two. I got really emotional after two months but I wasn’t for the last week because I really just wanted to enjoy it. I worked with [former monk] Jay Shetty also said a lot about being present and I was. I was very present in all of that.”
“A Difficult Position”
As oprah, ellen, which premiered on September 8, 2003, was a solid hit. With a mix of witty quips and dance moves from DeGeneres, who she performed daily at the show’s lead, celebrity interviews, and viewer games, the show earned a reputation for bubbly fun, spearheaded by a host whose image was all friendly be. And she’s been popular, landing A-list guests and even outside appearances, like the Academy Awards in 2007 and again in 2014, when she snapped a star-studded selfie that went viral.
Rumors swirled around the show Not a friendly place to work, but for a while they were just that. Then, in April 2020, diversity reported that the show’s crew was upset at how top producers had — and hadn’t — communicated with them during the COVID-19 pandemic while hiring a non-union company to help them film ellen at DeGeneres’ home. Three months later, a Buzzfeed News report, citing former employees, described an environment where people were told not to speak to the star when they saw her and lost their job after attending a family funeral . A black woman recalled a situation where a colleague told her, “I’m sorry, I only know the names of the white people who work here,” and other racist behavior.
At the time, the producers released a statement that read, in part, “Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes and over 1000 employees, 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, it’s not who we want to be, and it’s not the mission that Ellen set for us.
The show then brought in WarnerMedia’s employee relations team and a third party to investigate, and in late August three key producers dropped out as apologies and more generous perks were offered to employees. When DeGeneres returned to the airwaves in September 2020 after the summer break, she made good on her promise that she would address the workplace toxic allegations on the air.
“If you’re watching because you love me, thank you,” she quipped in her season-opening monologue. “If you’re watching because you don’t love me, welcome.”
DeGeneres explained that “it’s a tough position to be known as a ‘Be Kind’ lady” because she’s “a lot of other things too” including sad, angry, frustrated, anxious, and impatient at various times.
“That’s me and my intention is to always be the best person I can be,” DeGeneres said. “And if I’ve ever let someone down if I hurt their feelings, I’m so sorry. If that’s ever the case, I’ve let myself down… Because I’m always trying to grow as a person, I look at everything that comes into my life as an opportunity to learn.”
Despite DeGeneres’ efforts, ratings for her show declined over the course of the season, according to figures from Nielsen research published in New York Times. Viewership fell from 2.6 million to 1.5 million between September and March 2021.
DeGeneres announced in May 2021 that her next season would be her last. She said the workplace allegations and evaluations were not factors and that it had always been planned to complete them after her contract expired in 2022 so she could pursue new challenges.
“Look, it’s going to be really tough on the last day, but I also know it’s time,” she said THR. “I’m a creative person and if you’re a creative person you need constant challenge, which is why I chose to host the Oscars or why I chose to go back to stand-up when I didn’t think so would. I just needed something that challenges me. And as great as this show is and as much fun as it is, it just isn’t a challenge anymore. I need something new that challenges me.”
The last season of ellenwhich comes like several other long-running shows, including The Wendy Williams Show, the real one, the dr Oz show and The doctors Finish continues to have the kind of family-friendly segments it’s known for. Crowd favorites Sophia Grace and Rosie, the little girls who first performed “Super Bass” on the show when they were just 9 and 5 years old, returned to reprise their cover of Nicki Minaj’s track. Employees shared their favorite moments, and video segments recalled memorable moments, such as the time DeGeneres swarmed Central Park. The host presented actress and activist Mila Kunis with a check for $30,000 for the people of Ukraine. Julia Louis-Dreyfus applauded DeGeneres for breaking new ground as a gay comedian and putting on a show during such a difficult time in the world. Stars like former First Lady Michelle Obama, Kim Kardashian, David Letterman, Serena Williams, Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry, Salma Hayek and DeGeneres’ very first guest Jennifer Aniston returned to be her last.
In fact, one of the last people to sit across from DeGeneres was Winfrey himself.
“That’s the truth: there will never be a time like this,” she advised DeGeneres on the May 24 episode. “I just said that to your team. Everyone’s like, ‘Oh yeah, you’re going to move on [to do something new].’ But you will never have a time like this where you were kept in the public eye [like this] and so received the joy that you all came together and made this possible. There will be other things. There will be other great things. But there will never be such a time. Know that these are the glory days.”
Winfrey said DeGeneres would be “so missed.”
“I just have to trust”
Off-screen, DeGeneres had found a better place after an emotional struggle.
“There was a time a few months ago when I cried every day,” she said THR the day before the final. “I was very emotional even though it was my choice [to end the show], and it is the right choice. I knew it was time to end this chapter and do something else, but it was still very emotional. But I didn’t want the last two weeks to be about that.”
The New Orleans native said she thought about her intention to be there and enjoy it on a daily basis. She wanted the same for her audience.
“I wanted people to be reminded of what we brought to TV with the music and the games and everything,” she said. “It was more of a variety show than anything and I wanted the last two weeks to be pure fun because I struggle with anxiety and depression and I know how important it is to have an escape. Every day we are reminded what is what is going on in the world, from a sick family member to wars and fires and global warming. There are so many different things that make you sad.”
She said she was persuaded to stay three years ago, which of course was before the pandemic and controversy. When asked, she said she had no regrets persevering with the latter.
“I just have to trust that everything that happened during that time, which was obviously very, very difficult, happened for a reason,” DeGeneres said. “I think I learned a lot and there were some things that shocked and surprised me. It opened my eyes, but I just have faith that this had to happen.”