Everything to Know About Ellen DeGeneres' Ongoing Talk Show Controversy
The longtime Ellen DeGeneres Show host, 62, has come under fire for her show's alleged toxic work environment, which has prompted employees and peers to weigh in
Ellen DeGeneres has cultivated an upbeat, generous on-air persona over the 17 years she has been hosting The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The Emmy-winning daytime talk-variety program provides a chance for fans to catch up with their favorite celebrities or watch a family in need tearfully receive a sizable donation from DeGeneres and her team.
However, in recent reports, staffers have claimed that the work environment of the show is anything but kind — setting off a wave of controversy.
On July 16, BuzzFeed News published a report in which previous employees alleged there is a "toxic work environment" behind the scenes of the daytime talk show. One current and 10 former staffers spoke anonymously about their experiences on set, including claims of being penalized for taking medical leave, instances of racial microaggressions and fear of retribution for raising complaints.
In the report, the ex-employees claimed that DeGeneres' "be kind" attitude is "all for show." One former staffer recalled racist remarks by coworkers about her hairstyle, claiming a senior-level producer told her and a fellow Black employee, "Oh wow, you both have box braids; I hope we don't get you confused," according to BuzzFeed. She also claimed a writer joked to her, in front of others, that they only remembered the names of white staffers.
She told BuzzFeed that she hesitated speaking out on the subject because she feared retribution.
Executive producers Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner said in a statement at the time that they take full responsibility for daily operations on the show.
"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," they said in a joint statement to BuzzFeed. "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," they added. "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 realize, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better."
After the BuzzFeed report, it was announced that the Ellen show is under internal review by WarnerMedia.
Reps for The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Warner Bros. Television declined to comment when reached by PEOPLE. A rep for DeGeneres did not immediately return PEOPLE's request for comment.
Telepictures and Warner Bros. TV executives sent a memo to Ellen staffers announcing that they have engaged WarnerMedia's employee relations group and a third-party firm, according to Variety. Current and former staffers will be interviewed about their experiences on set. The memo cited recent articles as the reason for the workplace investigation.
Following the news, DeGeneres sent a lengthy memo to staff, in which she said she is "glad the issues at our show were brought to my attention" and that they are "taking steps ... to correct" them.
"Hey everybody – it's Ellen. On day one of our show, I told everyone in our first meeting that The Ellen DeGeneres Show would be a place of happiness – no one would ever raise their voice, and everyone would be treated with respect. Obviously, something changed, and I am disappointed to learn that this has not been the case. And for that, I am sorry. Anyone who knows me knows it's the opposite of what I believe and what I hoped for our show," DeGeneres began her message, which was obtained by PEOPLE.
"I could not have the success I've had without all of your contributions. My name is on the show and everything we do and I take responsibility for that. Alongside Warner Bros., we immediately began an internal investigation and we are taking steps, together, to correct the issues. As we've grown exponentially, I've not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I'd want them done. Clearly some didn't. That will now change and I'm committed to ensuring this does not happen again," she continued.
DeGeneres went on to say that some people she works with have been speaking on her behalf and misrepresenting her.
"I'm also learning that people who work with me and for me are speaking on my behalf and misrepresenting who I am and that has to stop. As someone who was judged and nearly lost everything for just being who I am, I truly understand and have deep compassion for those being looked at differently, or treated unfairly, not equal, or – worse – disregarded. To think that any one of you felt that way is awful to me," said DeGeneres. "It's been way too long, but we're finally having conversations about fairness and justice."
The talk show host then said she is "glad the issues" were brought to her attention, and she is promising to do her "part" in pushing herself and others "to learn and grow."
She concluded: "I am so proud of the work we do and the fun and joy we all help put out in the world. I want everyone at home to love our show and I want everyone who makes it to love working on it. Again, I'm so sorry to anyone who didn't have that experience. If not for COVID, I'd have done this in person, and I can't wait to be back on our stage and see you all then. Stay safe and healthy. Love, Ellen."
On July 30, a second report from BuzzFeed was published, this time revealing that former employees of The Ellen DeGeneres Show have anonymously alleged sexual misconduct and harassment involving top producers at the show.
The former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, leveled allegations about the culture behind the scenes of the show, including against head writer Kevin Leman and executive producer Ed Glavin.
Leman and another producer have denied the allegations against them in separate statements. Glavin has not yet publicly addressed the allegations.
A spokesperson for WarnerMedia declined to comment on the report. A rep for DeGeneres did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
Executive producer Andy Lassner addressed the controversy surrounding the show's "toxic" workplace environment on Twitter.
"Me: I really think 2020 is gonna turn around and start getting better," he wrote on July 30. "2020: Lol, I'm gonna make your bed the epicenter."
Although the post did not explicitly reference the allegations surrounding the show, a fan responded to the message, sharing that they hoped "if the Ellen show goes off the air... you are able to find employment quickly."
In response, Lassner wrote, "Nobody is going off the air."
Several celebrities — including DeGeneres' wife Portia De Rossi, Katy Perry, Ashton Kutcher, Diane Keaton, Alec and Hilaria Baldwin, Jay Leno, Kevin Hart and more — have spoken out to support DeGeneres.
De Rossi wrote on Instagram, "To all our fans....we see you. Thank you for your support."
Perry tweeted, "I know I can't speak for anyone else's experience besides my own but I want to acknowledge that I have only ever had positive takeaways from my time with Ellen & on the @theellenshow. I think we all have witnessed the light & continual fight for equality that she has brought to the world through her platform for decades. Sending you love & a hug, friend @TheEllenShow"
However, former Ellen show DJ Tony Okungbowa said that he did experience a toxic environment when he was working on the show, and addressed his experience on Instagram.
"Hey Guys, I hope you are all keeping safe out there during these trying times," he began on Aug. 4. "I have been getting calls asking me about the Ellen DeGeneres Show and I would like to address the time I spent there."
The 52-year old explained that while he was "grateful for the opportunity" to be on the show, he does not condone the "toxicity of the environment" and hopes the show will make a change.
"I stand with my former colleagues in their quest to create a healthier and more inclusive workplace as the show moves forward," he wrote.
PEOPLE has reached out to DeGeneres and Warner Bros. for comment.
The actor, who currently stars on the CBS sitcom Bob Hearts Abishola, appeared as the resident DJ on the daytime show from 2003 to 2013, before he was replaced by Stephen "tWitch" Boss.
DeGeneres made a second apology to staffers after three of The Ellen DeGeneres Show's top producers, Ed Glavin, Kevin Leman and Jonathan Norman, parted ways with the show following an internal investigation by WarnerMedia, a Warner Bros. spokesperson confirmed to PEOPLE on Aug. 17, 2020.
In an emotional video conference, DeGeneres told staff she "wasn't perfect," a source who was on the call told PEOPLE.
"I'm a multi-layered person, and I try to be the best person I can be and I try to learn from my mistakes," the host said.
"I'm hearing that some people felt that I wasn't kind or too short with them, or too impatient. I apologize to anybody if I've hurt your feelings in any way."
During the video conference, "Ellen was emotional, she was emphatic about making it better and making herself more available," another source told PEOPLE.
"She acknowledged she can be introverted at times and she apologized if that was ever seen as hurtful," the source said. "They're putting in real structures and resources for people so this never happens again and that is extremely important to Ellen. She was emotional seeing everybody. They're family."
Another source told PEOPLE that DeGeneres told staff that "she's been dying to see them, that she couldn't because of the investigation and she really wanted them to hear from her that this is a reset, things are changing and things are going to be better moving forward. And she's committed to that."
Glavin, Leman, and Norman — who were accused of sexual misconduct by former employees in a BuzzFeed News report — have parted ways with the show, and Stephen "tWitch" Boss has been promoted from DJ to co-executive producer, PEOPLE confirmed.
Leman and Norman have denied the allegations against them, while Glavin has not publicly addressed them.
Following Leman's termination from the show on August 17, 2020, his attorney said the producer "is devastated by being scapegoated and is not yet ready to comment."
"The fact that a deeply flawed BuzzFeed article has led to the termination of an innocent man – a popular figure and a creative force behind the Ellen show and a string of other projects produced with Ellen – is shocking," Leman's attorney Michael Plonsker said in a statement to PEOPLE.
In addition to Boss' promotion, Variety was first to report news of Galvin, Leman and Norman's removal from the show. Executive producers Andy Lassner, Mary Connelly, and Derek Westervelt, who have all been with the show since it premiered in 2003, will continue on, Variety reported.