A senior executive of Australia’s Today show says his staff were told not to look at or speak to Ellen DeGeneres when she appeared on the programme back in 2013.
Neil Breen, who now presents his own show, said Ellen’s staff were the only ones who were allowed to interact with her – and they ‘walked on eggshells’ around her.
Ellen’s people dictated everything – from seating, to lighting, to how the interview would work – Breen said, adding that he found the whole situation ‘bizarre’.
He spoke out as the 62-year-old American chat show host, whose philosophy is ‘be kind’, faces an investigation over allegations of racism, bullying and a ‘toxic environment’ behind the scenes of her show.
‘The people who worked with her walked on eggshells’: Neil Breen, a former executive producer of Australia’s Today show, has shared his ‘bizarre’ experience of working with Ellen DeGeneres (pictured) and her staff in 2013
Breen told 4BC, the radio station where he is now a host, that Ellen was initially supposed to co-host the Today show, but the plan was watered down by her team.
Eventually, it was agreed that Ellen would do a sit-down interview with show host Richard Wilkins in Melbourne – meaning production of the show had to be moved there from Sydney at the show’s expense, Breen said.
Breen said that he and Wilkins arrived at ‘one of the plush hotels in Melbourne’ on the day of the interview to find ‘a lot of people’ from the Ellen show waiting for them.
‘The producer called us aside and said, “Now Neil, no one is to talk to Ellen. You don’t talk to her, you don’t approach her, you don’t look at her,”‘ he said.
‘”She’ll come in, she’ll sit down, she’ll talk to Richard and then Ellen will leave.” And I sort of said, “Are you fair dinkum? I can’t look at her?” I found the whole thing bizarre,’ he added.
During the interview itself, Breen said he had to ask Ellen’s staff to stop laughing at her jokes because it was interrupting the recording.
Breen says he has no idea whether Ellen is aware of what is happening, ‘because I never got to talk to her’, but said that everyone ‘walks on eggshells around her.’
‘We’re here to promote what you’re doing and nobody’s allowed to look at her?’ he added. ‘Somebody get real.’
‘Don’t look at her’: Before the interview, one of Ellen’s producers had apparently warned Breen (pictured) not to acknowledge the Emmy-winning host at all when she entered the room
Guest: Ellen was interviewed by Today’s entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins in March 2013
In a hurry? One of Ellen’s staffers apparently told Breen, ‘She’ll come in, she’ll sit down, she’ll talk to Richard and then Ellen will leave.’ Pictured: Today reporter Richard Wilkins
It comes as The Ellen DeGeneres Show faces an internal investigation following numerous allegations there is a ‘toxic’ and ‘bullying’ workplace culture.
Ellen, whose philosophy is ‘be kind to one another’, and her show are now subject to a probe by WarnerMedia, which will look into ‘staff experiences on set’.
An internal memo sent last week explained that current and former staff will be interviewed about claims of ‘mistreatment, racism and intimidation’ behind the scenes.
Ellen hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing herself.
The memo insisted that producers Telepictures and Warner Bros. Television are committed ‘to providing an environment where employees can flourish’.
Internal investigation: Breen’s claims come as The Ellen DeGeneres Show is being investigated after reports of mistreatment of staff and workplace bullying
Under scrutiny: According to Variety, a memo sent to staffers cited recent allegations of mistreatment, racism and intimidation in the press as the impetus for the investigation
Earlier this month, a number of employees of The Ellen DeGeneres Show described it as a ‘toxic work environment’.
One current and 10 former employees of the daytime chat show accused the three executive producers, Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner, of ‘bullying’.
A source told Buzzfeed: ‘The issue is these three executive producers running the show who are in charge of all these people [and] who make the culture and are putting out this feeling of bullying and being mean.
Claims: Earlier this month, a number of employees of The Ellen DeGeneres Show accused the three executive producers, Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner, of ‘bullying’. Pictured: Ellen with pop star Justin Bieber
‘They feel that everybody who works at The Ellen Show is lucky to work there: “So if you have a problem, you should leave because we’ll hire someone else because everybody wants to work here.”‘
Although DeGeneres has not been accused of any wrongdoing, employees have claimed they were instructed not to talk to her if they saw her in the building.
Statement from Ellen show executive producers
‘Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes, and employing over 1,000 staff members, we have strived to create an open, safe, and inclusive work environment.
‘We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience. It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the mission Ellen has set for us.
‘For the record, the day-to-day responsibility of the Ellen show is completely on us. We take all of this very seriously and we realise, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.’
By executive producers Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner
One former employee said: ‘If she wants to have her own show and have her name on the show title, she needs to be more involved to see what’s going on. I think the executive producers surround her and tell her, “Things are going great, everybody’s happy,” and she just believes that, but it’s her responsibility to go beyond that.’
A black woman claims she suffered a number of ‘microaggressions’, her request for a raise was ignored and she was accused of ‘walking around looking resentful and angry’ after asking for staff members to undergo diversity and inclusion training.
Another former employee alleges they were fired after taking medical leave for one month following a suicide attempt.
They said: ‘You’d think that if someone just tried to kill themselves, you don’t want to add any more stress to their lives.’
Executive producers Glavin, Connelly and Lassner have released a statement in light of the investigation.
‘Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes, and employing over 1,000 staff members, we have strived to create an open, safe, and inclusive work environment,’ they said.
‘We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience. It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the mission Ellen has set for us.’
Bad rep: Earlier this year, numerous reports from previous employees emerged claiming that Ellen had been unfriendly on set and that crew members were warned not to talk to the host or make eye contact
They continued: ‘For the record, the day-to-day responsibility of the Ellen show is completely on us. We take all of this very seriously and we realise, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.’
In April, it was reported that the Ellen crew was angry over the lack of communication and transparency from bosses after being forced to take pay cuts when production first shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak.
A group of about 30 staffers were upset that Ellen had hired an external non-union company called Key Code Media to film the show while quarantined at home.
Viral: The backlash against Ellen gained momentum on March 20, when comedian Kevin T. Porter asked his Twitter followers to post their ‘insane’ tales of ‘Ellen being mean’
Don’t talk to her: Social media users chimed in with their experiences, often with similar themes
Queen of social distancing! Ellen has been accused of being unapproachable, with some crew asked not to speak to her
‘Higher-ups in production would occasionally answer phone calls but reveal little’ to the crew members, who had their pay slashed by 40 per cent amid changes brought about by the virus, insiders told Variety.
Sources told the outlet that this was not the case with all the shows, as crews for John Oliver, Desus & Mero, and Samantha Bee were paid their full rates, while Jimmy Kimmel dipped into his own pocket for a time to keep his staff on their regular rates.
Producers responded that ‘our executive producers and Telepictures are committed to taking care of our staff and crew and have made decisions first and foremost with them in mind’.
Shocking accusations: Ellen was accused of being downright rude to some people
Earlier this year, numerous reports from previous employees emerged claiming that Ellen had been unfriendly on set and that crew members were warned not to talk to the host or make eye contact.
The backlash against Ellen gained momentum on March 20, when comedian Kevin T. Porter asked his Twitter followers to post their ‘insane’ tales of ‘Ellen being mean’. (Porter’s effort was linked to a charity drive for the Los Angeles Food Bank.)
Writer Ben Simeon responded that ‘a new staff member was told, “Every day [Ellen] picks someone different to really hate. It’s not your fault, just suck it up for the day and she’ll be mean to someone else the next day.” They didn’t believe it, but it ended up being entirely true.’
Say what? Benjamin Siemon tweeted about a staffer who was told to expect Ellen to be mean
Sensitive noise: The writer also said the host was very particular about personal hygiene
‘Everyone must chew gum from a bowl outside her office before talking to her and if she thinks you smell that day you have to go home and shower,’ Simeon added in another tweet.
Ellen – who is reportedly worth $330million – has also caught flak for tone deafness after joking that locking down in her opulent mansion was ‘like being in jail.’
It comes after reps for the show were forced to deny reports earlier this month that the program was on the verge of being cancelled.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Ellen has continued to broadcast her daytime show from the living room of the Montecito, California, mansion she shares with her wife, Australian actress Portia De Rossi, 47.
BULLYING, RACISM AND A ‘TOXIC WORK ENVIRONMENT’: THE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST ELLEN
Claims of a ‘toxic’ workplace at the Ellen DeGeneres show emerged in April, as staff claimed they were being mistreated amid the coronavirus shutdown.
Employees said they had received almost no support from producers of the show after the studio shut down DeGeneres began taping remotely from her Santa Barbara mansion.
Staff said an outside, non-union company was contracted to do the remote filming, while they received almost no communication about their own jobs, pay packets, or inquiries about their physical or mental health.
When executives did eventually get in touch, it was to tell the team that they would have to take 60 per cent pay cut, Variety reported.
Particularly jarring for staff was Ellen’s own message as her show went back on the air in April 7, which she dedicated to her staff and crew.
‘I love them, I miss them, the best thing I can do to support them is to keep the show on the air,’ she said.
Those claims were followed by a Buzzfeed report which detailed claims of a ‘toxic’ work environment.
Ten former and one current member of Ellen’s staff alleged they were bullied, fired for attending family funerals or taking sick leave, while one woman claimed to have walked off the job after facing comments about her race.
‘That “be kind” bulls*** only happens when the cameras are on. It’s all for show,’ one anonymous staff member said.
Staff said they were told not to talk to DeGeneres herself while she was on set, and that the day-to-day running of the show was left to producers.
The employees said they did not have first-hand experience of DeGeneres being unpleasant, but said she needs to take more responsibility for how her employees are treated.
However, allegations have mounted from other sources against the host herself – sparked by a Twitter thread from comedian Kevin T. Porter
Calling DeGeneres ‘notoriously one of the meanest people alive’, he asked people for ‘the most insane stories you’ve heard about Ellen being mean’.
The tweet received 2,600 replies and saw Porter give $600 to an LA foodbank, after promising to donate $2 for every legitimate mean story.
Claims included that staff are required to chew gum before speaking to her because of her ‘sensitive nose’, and that she polices staff lunch orders and bans anyone from eating fish or meat.
Separately, security worker Tom Majercak – who was assigned to be Ellen’s bodyguard at the 2014 Oscars – said she was ‘sly’ and ‘demeaning’ to him.
‘Ellen is the one person that I’ve been assigned to – and I’ve been assigned to quite a few celebrities – that has never taken the time to say hi to me,’ he said.
‘She’s not the person she portrays to be that she’s playing off of society.’