The world held their breath as embattled talk show host Ellen DeGeneres finally addressed the toxic work allegations that had plagued her show for months at the top of the season 18 premiere.
In her near five-minute opening monologue — which was shared on social media ahead of Monday’s show — the 62-year-old spoke fairly openly about the claims made by current and former staffers beginning back in March.
‘Disingenuous and tone-deaf’
Ellen’s sometimes-jokey, sometimes-serious speech — she began with a sarcastic quip about her “super terrific” summer — received a mixed reaction from viewers, with some praising her for stepping up.
Others, particularly those who have worked on the Ellen De Generes Show or are still doing so, told Buzzfeed News that her apology was ‘disingenuous and tone-deaf’.
“Not only did Ellen turn my trauma, turn our traumas, into a joke, she somehow managed to make this about her,” one former employee told the publication.
Brand and reputation management expert, Eric Schiffer, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that it was ‘crucial’ for Ellen to tackle the controversy head-on in order to ‘stop the massive carnage’ but, in his opinion, it could’ve been handled better.
“I give her credit for owning responsibility after weeks of pushing it on other people and shirking her ownership as a leader,” he says.
“But her apology was incredibly rehearsed and lacked congruent remorse,” he adds.
Instead, Eric believes she should have nixed the humour and put aside her trademark ‘lightheartedness’ to show genuine, believable remorse for the numerous allegations of racism, sexual harassment and intimidation.
‘Be kind’ lady is ‘gone’
With regards to her opening joke about her ‘great summer,’ Eric calls it a “boneheaded move” that only served to raise more questions about her authenticity and empathy.
Later in her speech, Ellen made a cutting reference to her iconic sign-off, “Be kind to one another,” suggesting that she might be leaving it in the past.
“Let me give you some advice out there if anybody’s thinking of changing their title or giving yourself a nickname, do not go with the 'be kind' lady. Don’t do it,” she said.
According to Eric, Ellen did this to “minimise her leadership” and distance herself from the “horrible conduct” of employees under her watch, such as three of the show’s senior producers who were fired following an internal investigation by Warner Bros.
“She used to love to revel in her ‘be kind’ brand, but now she’s switching gears because she knows the ‘be kind lady’ is gone and forever buried in a Hollywood cemetery,” he explains.
As for what the future holds for Ellen and her flagship TV show, Eric expects there will be a lot of pressure for the comedian to “quickly learn the lessons of her past”.
“We will have to wait and see if she can behave consistently with her new public intentions. Is she capable of being kind to her employees on a consistent basis?
“She has a lot of work to do on herself, but there is a path for her and I hope she pulls through.”
Ellen’s on-air apology
In one of the year’s most highly anticipated TV moments, Ellen De Generes made her return to the small screen since rumours of her show’s ’toxic workplace’ began earlier this year.
She started: "How was everybody’s summer? Good? Yeah? Mine was great," holding two thumbs up sarcastically. "Super terrific."
The host then acknowledged the fact people have been waiting for this moment for months. "If you’re watching because you love me, thank you. If you’re watching because you don’t love me, welcome."
"There are a lot of things I want to talk about, I’ve been looking forward to addressing it all directly. And unfortunately, talking directly to people has been illegal for six months so I have a virtual audience here instead," she joked.
"As you may have heard this summer there were allegations of a toxic work environment at our show and then there was an investigation. I learned that things happened here that never should’ve happened."
She continued: "I take that very seriously, and I want to say I’m so sorry to the people who were affected."
Ellen referenced the investigation by Warner Bros and seemingly referenced the firing of producers Ed Glavin, Kevin Leman and Jonathan Norman saying the cast and crew had "a lot of conversations over the last few weeks about the show, our workplace and what we want for the future".
She continued, saying they have "made the necessary changes" but didn't explain exactly what those changes were other than the fact they "are starting a new chapter".
The host said being known as the ‘Be Kind’ lady is "a tricky position to be in" following the allegations of current and former employees.
Ellen said that while she "is the person you see on TV … I am also a lot of other things."
"Sometimes I get sad. I get mad. I get anxious. I get frustrated. I get impatient. And I am working on all of that. I am a work in progress.
"And I am especially working on the impatience thing because … and it’s not going well because it’s not happening fast enough," she joked.
She continued: "I am in a position of privilege and power and I realise that with that comes responsibility."
"I take that responsibility for what happens at my show. This is The Ellen DeGeneres Show. I am Ellen DeGeneres."
Some fans believed Ellen's apology was genuine with one Instagram fan writing: "Honestly... the most well delivered, well-worded, seemingly genuinely explanation, ownership and apology I’ve seen in a LONG TIME."
Demi Lovato also commented on the post, saying: "You are the person people see on tv. You are kind, generous and caring. This video was a perfect representation of that. I love you Ellen."
Another said: "Yesss welcome back Ellen! The world needs more of you right now. Solid start."
However, not everyone was impressed with one Twitter user writing: "The million dollar opener, written and directed by public relations crisis consultants."
Another referenced Ellen's interview with Sofia Vergara where she made fun of her accent. "Ya know. talking about racial injustice while making fun of non English guests' accents on your show doesn't really work."
One user wrote: "Ellen DeGeneres giving a piss poor apology in front of a crowd of tv screens with hand picked devoted fans on them to inflate her ego is some Black Mirror level shit I could’ve done without today."
“I’ve hurt myself”
Ellen joked during the monologue that while she thought she was a "pretty good actress" after playing "straight women in movies" she doesn't think she's good enough to "come out here every day for 17 years and fool you".
"This is me. And my intention is to always be the best person I can be. And if I’ve ever let someone down, if I’ve ever hurt their feelings, I am so sorry for that.
"If that’s ever the case, I’ve let myself down and I’ve hurt myself as well."
She added that the reason she got into this business was to make people "laugh and feel good" and over the last 17 years she's now the boss of 270 people, all of whom she's "so grateful for".
"All I want is for every single one of them to be happy and to be proud to work here."
Ellen acknowledged that it had been a horrible summer for people across the world due to the pandemic as well as the wildfires in the US and the "racial injustice all around us".
"I watch the news and I feel like, where do we even begin? So my hope is that we can still be a place of happiness and joy. I still want to be the one hour a day that people can go to escape and laugh."
She finished by saying she was committed to making this season of her show the best they've ever had.
It seems like Ellen has a lot more work to do.
Additional reporting by Marni Dixit.