Did COVID-19 make the labor issues at ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’ worse?
Few public lives of celebrities have turned upside down the way Ellen DeGeneres’ has. The last few months saw her reputation as the kindest Hollywood star come crumbling down as allegations after allegations ensured that her mean streak is aired for public memory.
No part of her life was spared – from her professional exploits on the sets of her The Ellen DeGeneres Show to her maltreatment of the servers who were waiting for her tables, a lot of anecdotal evidence brought her case to the spotlight. But it’s likely that the way she handled the pandemic situation was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
An onslaught of accounts of Ellen’s unkindness
What set the ball rolling on the investigation surrounding Ellen’s exploitative behaviors was a labor dispute. After the country – and the world – went into lockdown, her staff at The Ellen DeGeneres Show complained of being left out of the loop.
They were upset & in limbo because while she was shooting episodes from her mansion in California, cracking distasteful jokes about how the self-isolation seems like a prison sentence, her crew hadn’t received any communication about their pay or working hours. Not even a nudge showing concern about their safety.
Things had started feeling queasy in March itself, when the crew was last paid in full for the week of March 16. Post that the Warner Bros. studios were shut down, followed by a planned spring break. The crew was then paid a reduced sum – for 8 hours instead of the usual 10 hours per day – for the last week of March.
There’s some dispute over the specifics here, but even after that the crew was either paid in arrears or a further reduced compensation equivalent to two, 8-hour working days in a week.
Did the pandemic amplify her callousness?
For her home-based shoots, she had hired a non-union tech company, Key Code Media, a Burbank-based audiovisual house, to help her tape the videos. This further infuriated her union crew of many years, who are affiliated with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union.
The pandemic has been really hard on a lot of people, and it was only justified that the crew wanted some sort of consolation about their job security. The apprehension about whether they’re getting a paycheck, or if they should apply for unemployment was taking a toll.
Later on, it was revealed that four out of the thirty people who made the crew on The Ellen DeGeneres Show were still working on these home shoots. The remaining, however, were on the receiving end as they were told of a 60% pay cut.
Compare this to how other talk show hosts handle the situation. Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, among others, maintained transparent & steady communication with the crew. Reportedly, Jimmy Kimmel paid the stagehands out-of-pocket. Jimmy Fallon kept working & innovating his show format throughout the pandemic, along with showrunner Gavin Purcell & the rest of the team.
Reports had also emerged from a BuzzFeed investigation into the workplace. This time, allegations ran the gamut from her coldness on sets to a culture of bullying & racism at The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Former & current employees of The Ellen DeGeneres Show were a part of the investigation spanning 36 interviews describing how the show upheld a “toxic work culture” and a general experience of “racism, fear, and intimidation.”
The flames were ablaze and WarnerMedia wore its firefighting hat by ordering an internal investigation, which eventually led to the firing of executive producers Ed Glavin & Kevin Leman & co-executive producer Jonathan Norman.