With tears stained cheeks, Ellen DeGeneres signed her talk show for the final time on Thursday, ending a 19-year daytime television setback.
The guest list for the final show included Billie Eilish, Pink and Jennifer Aniston, making her 20th appearance – a run that stems from the debut of the syndicated talk show. It also saw DeGeneres’ brother, Vance, and her wife, Portia de Rossi, get along with excitement as the audience gave the 64-year-old host one last standing ovation.
There’s no doubt that DeGeneres is leaving a huge hole in daytime ranks, with her little screen crown now left for Drew Barrymore and Kelly Clarkson to fight. But the legacy her show leaves behind is mixed. It was a risky move that took the genius comedian, whose high-profile career came to a halt after she appeared as a gay man, and remade her as the undisputed queen of daytime television. But the show has been plagued by scandal in recent seasons, with former employees accusing her of presiding over a poisonous workshop. And although DeGeneres publicly apologized and vowed to change the corporate culture of her show, the damage was done. Amid bleak estimates, DeGeneres announced last May that this will be her final season.
In the 1980s, it would have been hard to name another female cartoon besides Roseanne Barr who had as much heat as the Louisiana-born DeGeneres, whose kind, observant style had many calling her the “female Seinfeld.” In her inaugural appearance on Tonight’s 1986 Show, mulita DeGeneres cracked the crowd with family stories delivered in the most effective language, in the driest tone. And the jokes were often at her expense. “My parents were extremely cruel to me,” she joked. “I remember coming home from kindergarten. Well, they told me it was kindergarten. . ”) After her five-minute set, host Johnny Carson waved her to the open seat next to him, the ultimate seal of approval, and told her she was welcome back anytime.
After that anointing, DeGeneres’ career followed the classic star-making sketch of that decade. First came the featured club gigs, then coveted spots in high-profile television comedy specials, then cameos in Coneheads and other slapstick movies. Finally in 1994 ABC built a sitcom around her named Ellen, about a neurotic LA bookstore owner who also had pre-entourage Jeremy Piven. The show was a ratings success and a critical darling that earned DeGeneres three Emmy nominations. In 1997, at the height of her eve popularity, DeGeneres appeared as a lesbian to Time magazine and the Oprah Winfrey Show; then in DeGeneres’ own sitcom, her character appeared – a therapist played by Winfrey, and a love interest played by Laura Dern.
The sitcom revelation, the first of its kind on web TV, put an end to years of audience speculation and online suspicion about Ellen’s on-screen character. The show’s title – the Puppy Episode, chosen explicitly to dispel the scent – actually surprised 42 million viewers, the most ever for the series. The episode was celebrated in the LBGTQ + community, but was also the focus of a huge backlash.
JCPenney and Chrysler were among the biggest sponsors for pulling ads. Jerry Falwell christened DeGeneres “Ellen DeGenerate” and joined other prominent right-wingers in a public letter condemning the episode. One group ran a full-page advertisement on Variety accusing ABC of promoting homosexuality. In a 2019 interview, Dern recalled police officers sweeping the sound stage for bombs during rehearsals and said she struggled to find work for nearly a year later. DeGeneres himself was subject to death threats. Even Anne Heche, the actor who had a very public relationship and breakup with DeGeneres during that time, suffered extra damage.
After the dog episode, the show was backed for another season, albeit with parental advice warnings as ABC tried to go the line between reassuring critics and supporting DeGeneres, who doubled down and kissed a female co-star on another major episode. But in the end the middle collapsed. In 1998, a year after DeGeneres appeared, Ellen was suspended – a decision, she said, that caught her blind. She returned to CBS with the Ellen Show (another series in which she played a lesbian) only to end up canceled after 18 episodes, five of them unreleased. In 2007, a former assistant writer accused her of treating writers on the Ellen Show. “like shit”A topic that would revisit her at last.
Even though much of the country came around DeGeneres’ sexuality – thanks in large part to her paving the way for Will & Grace, Ugly Betty and other shows that normalized seeing gay figures in sitcoms – it seemed as if she could settle down. for a relatively smaller career as a traveling comedian and GLAAD ambassador.
But then two years later she reappeared with the Warner Bros.-produced Ellen DeGeneres Show, a daytime talk show that launched at a time when Sharon Osborn and Rita Rudner were competing to become the next Winfrey. DeGeneres, an outspoken gay woman, barely looked her favorite. But she proved to be a success out of the box – winning over skeptical middle-aged Americans with her happy feet and relentless self-respect. In year one, the show was nominated for 11 daytime Emmys and won for best interview show. And when Winfrey resigned from her talk show in 2011, DeGeneres succeeded her on the daily television throne. Her silver screen return as Dory in Finding Nemo was a confirmation of her obvious main appeal.
For most of its 19 seasons the Ellen DeGeneres Show is where A-listers who were game for pranks and fun new products looking for placement would find a home. But near the end, DeGeneres appeared out touch while interviewing rising stars. She was also not above defending industrial friends who were courting controversy, or being ashamed to attend NFL games sitting next to the famous warrior George W Bush.
But it was her lack of a relationship with show employees that ultimately led to DeGeneres’ retirement. She was accused of raising an environment full of racist comments and other forms of harassment. Three executives left the show after a WarnerMedia investigation. But none of that has stopped her from bringing in Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Kim Kardashian as guests in her final months.
But just because the show is over doesn’t mean DeGeneres ’career can’t continue. In her 2018 Netflix comedy special, Relatable, DeGeneres showed that she still has her standup collars, as well as good forays with the flowing giant. She has also shown her more active side, which is mostly off our screens since the 80’s, with jokes about her frustration of wealth and frustration at dancing for fans. Without the weight of daytime television on her shoulders, DeGeneres is free to be as kind or as bad as she likes.