Ellen DeGeneres is hanging up her dancing shoes. In the end of an era for daytime television, the comedian-turned-ratings-queen announced she is ending her eponymous talk show after 19 seasons. In a rare interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she says the move was a long time coming, and insisted it has nothing to do with last summer’s Buzzfeed exposé alleging a hostile work environment behind the scenes on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
But as the unspoken code of silence around long-rumored tyrants of Hollywood begins to break, it’s unclear if DeGeneres is bowing out gracefully to avoid increased scrutiny or retreating in shame because of it. No matter how many unrelated reasons she cites for ending the show — needing a creative challenge, her contract ending, more time for animal rights work — it’s clear she’s not ending her Emmy-winning run on a resounding high note.
She wouldn’t be the first Hollywood power player to suffer consequences from shifting mores about acceptable workplace behavior. Megaproducer Scott Rudin, whose abusive behavior was long considered an “open secret” in Hollywood, recently announced he was stepping back from all projects following his own very public brush with accountability. While Rudin’s retreat is obviously linked to the slew of allegations against him, including smashing a computer on an employee’s hand, DeGeneres has chosen to side-step the issue.
“I’m a creative person, and when you’re a creative person you constantly need to be challenged,” she told THR of her decision to end the show. “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.”
Though Hollywood insiders have long known DeGeneres was reportedly difficult to work for, the news came as a shock to her wider audience, especially because of her talk show brand is based on the motto “Be Kind.” There were some glimmers that the kindness act was a sham before the Buzzfeed piece came out last July.
In a 2019 “Ellen” episode, DeGeneres jokingly ribbed actress Dakota Johnson for not inviting her to her birthday party. Johnson quickly and decisively refuted the claim, making DeGeneres visibly uncomfortable, and the moment went viral. Some Twitter observers are linking Johnson’s rebuke to the demise of “The Ellen Show,” crediting Johnson with DeGeneres’ downfall. “Dakota Johnson has done more for society by ending Ellen DeGeneres than most of your faves have in their careers and it shows,” wrote one user.
But Hollywood runs on money, and the decision may have, fundamentally, been a business one. After an initial ratings bump for its Season 18 premiere that opened with an apology from DeGeneres, “The Ellen DeGeneres” show swiftly lost 1 million viewers in the months following, a 43 percent decline from the same time period the previous year. Those numbers, coupled with a more bubbly and younger-skewing syndication rival in NBC’s well-performing “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” may have contributed more to the decision than any Buzzfeed article ever could.
The true test for DeGeneres will be in how her future endeavors fare. The perhaps not-so-kind-after-all comedian may not be playing any more lovable forgetful fish anytime soon; and a return to her sitcom days doesn’t seem to interest her. Her 2018 Netflix stand-up special “Relatable” revealed she can still kill a joke onstage, even if the title ended up being more ironic than she intended. But barring any deeper self-reflection — a pretty glaring omission from her THR interview — it will be hard for DeGeneres to bounce back anytime soon. Until she’s ready to embrace her darker side in her comedy, “Ellen” as we know her may be gone for good.