Ellen DeGeneres made her return to daytime television on Monday, quipping to an entirely virtual audience: “If you’re watching because you don’t love me, welcome!” Her opening monologue, the first since a slew of allegations bombarded her soundstage this summer, was a chance to redeem herself in the eyes of the public, her advertisers, and especially her employees. It seems I wasn’t alone in thinking that DeGeneres utterly failed.
Buzzfeed News reports current and former employees of The Ellen Show found her comeback apology insulting. One former employee told the outlet: “Not only did Ellen turn my trauma, turn our traumas, into a joke, she somehow managed to make this about her.” Alongside this, a current employee also told Buzzfeed News that while her apology was “tactical,” neither top producers nor DeGeneres have communicated a clear outline for the new season—and chapter, really—of The Ellen Show. The current employee elaborates:
“The average person will listen to it and make their own choices, but what people don’t always take into account is that information is power, and she’s sharing it now because it’s for premiere week and it’s to get viewers back, and that just feels the opposite of what this message is about.”
As I noted yesterday, her opening monologue was riddled with jokes, most of which made light of the allegations, turning sexual harassment and racist abuse into self-deprecating workplace humor. Former employees, who claim they were the victims of this abuse, agree. One told Buzzfeed: “When you’re talking about people who have accused her leadership of the seriousness of sexual misconduct, I don’t think it’s appropriate to have jokes in the monologue.”
In her monologue, she fixated on “articles in the press, and on social media, that said I am not who I appear to be on TV, because I became known as the ‘be kind’ lady.” (Hi, Ellen!) But as a former employee points out to Buzzfeed News, this title was not handed to Ellen. She bestowed it on herself, and ran with a “marketing strategy that was not true behind the scenes.” Another former employee notes that after Warner Bros. investigated the claims, and asked staffers to “tell us all the most fucked up things that happened to you,” it feels like there is no closure to the wounds that investigation reopened. In the wake of her monologue, they said, “there’s no ending to this for people who came forward and said things that happened to them.”
DeGeneres claimed, near the end of her monologue, that she wants to be an escape for people again, the “one hour” where viewers can go to get away from all the strife, chaos, and hurt in the world right now. It is ironic to realize DeGeneres also seeks that escape through her show, and I still don’t know what resolution looks like for The Ellen Show. It is certainly not a host who gets back on camera and skips her way through an apology with jokes that put the blame elsewhere. As the past and present staffers revealed to Buzzfeed, there is still no escape for the people most affected by the allegations she dusted under the rug. The investigation has concluded, DeGeneres has delivered her comeback address, and the merry world of The Ellen Show will keep on spinning, for now.