LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The 19th and last season of Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show, which she says will be a “big celebration,” has a lot of territories to cover.
During a production break on “The Ellen DeGeneres Program,” which returns Monday, DeGeneres said, “This is going to be a ‘thank you to everyone because the show doesn’t happen without the support of fans.”
The show’s generosity, which involved far more than product freebies, will also be highlighted.
“We’ll check in with folks we’ve assisted over the years (and) those who have paid it forward,” DeGeneres added. This includes a Las Vegas teacher who donated her own money to help children in need, and whose school was rewarded with a new library and other facilities thanks to the show.
“All I want is for people to remember what the program was like,” the host added. “It’s always been a joyful place, and it continues to be such. And I despise the fact that it will be remembered any other way.”
It should come as no surprise that DeGeneres, whose credo is “be nice,” is concerned about the legacy of her biggest career accomplishment to date. However, considering last year’s claims that the program was a hostile workplace, it’s unavoidable.
Three of the show’s producers left amid allegations of wrongdoing, including sexual misconduct and racially inappropriate statements. DeGeneres, who apologized on-air for “things that should not have happened,” defended herself as the same real — though flawed — the person on and off-camera.
She claimed in a recent phone conversation that she was hesitant to discuss the matter further because the Warner Bros. studio had handled it.
DeGeneres has experienced a backlash in the past. She and the character she played on her sitcom, “Ellen,” came out as gay in 1997, six years before the talk show debuted in 2003. It was canceled by ABC in 1998 due to low ratings and criticism.
According to syndication-market expert Bill Carroll, the project that resurrected her career was deemed a risky gamble.
He explained, “She had to cope with two things.” The first was Oprah Winfrey’s reputation as the queen of daytime talk, and the second was a terrible truth: in comparison to today, more Americans were unaccepting of or antagonistic toward LGBTQ people at the time, on and off the air.
“However, she won over both the audience and the industry,” Carroll added. He attributes her fans’ acceptance of her as “simply this fun lady” to her accessible humor and a well-produced style that featured putting DeGeneres among her studio guests — frequently dancing with them.
DeGeneres has been outspoken about her personal life, including her marriage to actress Portia de Rossi. She has received several awards, including multiple Emmys and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor from the Kennedy Center in 2015.
She attributes her ability to endure the criticism that followed her choice to come out to her work ethic and her commitment to being loyal to “exactly who I am.” When DeGeneres and her program were criticized last year, she leaned on those foundations once more.
“If you just stay the course and know who you are, then everything will work out,” she added. “I don’t have much influence over what other people believe or say. What I can’t control are things that haven’t been vetted and are just spoken and thrown about. That was painful.
“However, I don’t think I’d be where I am now.” If those things were true, I don’t think I’d be as successful as I am,” she added.
When the charges first surfaced last year, she had celebrity backers like Katy Perry and Kevin Hart, and some commentators characterized the criticism of DeGeneres as sexist.
According to Nielsen, viewership for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” decreased significantly in the 2020-2021 season compared to the previous one, from 2.6 million to 1.5 million people. Carroll explained that this is typical of an aging program, and it also reflects changing television and, to some extent, workplace concerns.
Her last episodes, which are expected to feature a mix of celebrities and non-celebrities who have become recognizable to fans, could help the program conclude on a high note in terms of numbers.
Although the studio encouraged her to continue, and some nitpicked her readiness to stop on an uneven count, DeGeneres said she made the decision to quit just shy of 20 years.
“I believe 19 is a fantastic number. “One is the beginning, and nine is the end,” she added, with the kind of witty remark she’s known for.
What’s next for Ellen DeGeneres? With production partnerships like NBC’s “Family Game Fight!” and HBO Max’s “Ellen’s Next Great Designer,” her plate is already full.
DeGeneres stated, “I simply want to fall down and breathe for a short time without having something to do every single day.” But she’s already considering a return to comedy and acting, and she sought Winfrey’s advice on the talk-show afterlife.
“I definitely spoke with Oprah. She understands more than anybody else what it’s like to do this every day. And her advice to me is to take a vacation from making any decisions for a time and truly think about the next step.”