Ellen DeGeneres says goodbye to talk show in tears after 19 years

Ellen DeGeneres put an end to her long-running daytime talk show on Thursday to mute the fanfare as the comedian and host continue to grapple with the fallout from allegations that The Ellen DeGeneres Show was a toxic workplace.

When Oprah Winfrey ended her iconic daytime talk show in 2011, more than 16.4 million people tuned in and the New York Times hailed it as the greatest moment in TV history. When DeGeneres tearfully said goodbye to the show she hosted for nearly two decades, there wasn’t such a grand display.

The last episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show featured guests Jennifer Aniston, Billie Eilish and Pink who all shared fond memories of the host. There were also segments celebrating DeGeneres’ achievements as an openly gay woman in the media and her philanthropic endeavors.

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DeGeneres opened the final episode with a monologue explaining the hurdles she faced in the early days of her talk show.

“Twenty years ago, when we tried to sell the show, nobody thought this would work. Not because it was a different kind of show, but because I was different,” DeGeneres said. The Ellen DeGeneres Show has won numerous Emmy awards over its more than 3,200 episodes.

When the show first aired, DeGeneres wasn’t allowed to say the word “gay” and even the pronoun “we” because it implied that DeGeneres had a partner. She did not specify who imposed the ban.

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“Of course I couldn’t say ‘woman,’ and that’s because it wasn’t legal for gay men to get married — and now I say ‘woman,’ all the time,” DeGeneres said to thunderous applause. Her wife, actor Portia de Rossi, attended the filming of the final episode and watched from the studio audience. The two married in 2008.

Aniston was the first guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show when it started in September 2003, and she marked her appearance by giving DeGeneres a “welcome” doormat. Aniston was also the first guest on Thursday’s final episode, and she gifted DeGeneres another mat. This time it said, “Thanks for the memories.”

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“I love you, and I appreciate you and what you’ve given the world over the past 19 years. The contribution is endless,” Aniston said. She introduced a retrospective career video that also touted DeGeneres’ philanthropic efforts, which reportedly included more than $400 million in charitable donations and “deserving viewers.”

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“I love you,” a beaming Eilish told DeGeneres during their chat. “I love you so much, it’s stupid”, echoed Pink, who performed what about us

DeGeneres’ was the queen of daytime television for many years, but fell out of favor in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. When filming for The Ellen DeGeneres Show had to be changed due to social distancing rules, many crew members were told to expect a 60 percent pay cut — a move they felt contradicted DeGeneres’ daily message to her audience: “Be nice.”

Former and current employees began speaking out about harassment, racism and fear they experienced from producers while working on the show, claiming that the workplace was a toxic environment.

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DeGeneres apologized on air for “things that shouldn’t have happened,” but defended himself as the same real person — albeit an imperfect one — on and off camera.

In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, DeGeneres said, “There was a time of a few months when I cried every day” as the show drew to a close. DeGeneres decided to end the show last year amid plummeting ratings.

“I knew it was time to close this chapter and do something else, but it was still very emotional.”

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The talk show represented a second major TV act for DeGeneres. In 1997, she made an indelible impression when she came out as a lesbian and cast her character in the ABC sitcom Ellen with her. The series was discontinued the following year.

“Twenty-five years ago they canceled my sitcom because they didn’t want a lesbian to be in prime time once a week. And I said, ‘Okay, then I’m out every day during the day, how about that?'” DeGeneres said Thursday.

The comedian, actor and producer has said she will take time to consider her next career move, but first she and de Rossi take a trip to Rwanda. DeGeneres closed her daytime show with a plea to her audience, one she said was worth repeating.

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“If I’ve done anything in the past 19 years, I hope I’ve inspired you to be yourself, your true authentic self. And if someone is brave enough to tell you who they are, be brave enough to support them, even if you don’t understand,” DeGeneres said. “By opening your heart and mind you will be much more compassionate, and compassion is what makes the world a better place.”

DeGeneres ended the show by walking to a couch with a TV in front of it, remembering how she opened her first episode. She watched her audience tearfully before snuggling up on the couch and turning off the TV.

— With files from The Associated Press

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