Ellen DeGeneres might urge her viewers to “be kind,” but staff on her daytime talk show claim their treatment has been anything but kind during the COVID-19 pandemic.
DeGeneres returned to hosting The Ellen DeGeneres Show earlier this month after shutting down production in March due to COVID-19. The show is currently being broadcast from DeGeneres’ home, and she said that she wanted to return to the air earlier than expected in order to support 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,” DeGeneres said.
However, according to key members of the show’s crew, that love and support has manifested as slashed wages, uncertainty over the state of the show’s production, and a lack of interest in their mental and physical health from producers — despite some crew members having worked with DeGeneres since the show’s pilot episode in 2003.
Variety reports that the show’s core crew of around 30 employees endured two weeks of silence from producers regarding their working hours or whether they would be paid after production was shut down in March.
When producers finally did get in touch on April 10, it was to inform them that many of their wages would be slashed by 60% — or the equivalent of just 16 hours of work per week — despite the show returning to air.
Not helping matters was that some staff only learned that DeGeneres was filming new episodes from home when they saw the information on social media, according to two sources who spoke to Variety.
In all, the period of uncertainty lasted around a month, with crew members reportedly unsure whether they would be furloughed and need to apply for unemployment benefits.
In addition, non-union outside workers were hired to enable DeGeneres to broadcast the show from her home, which reportedly infuriated the show’s unionized staff — particularly those with the necessary skills were otherwise at home and on a reduced salary.
Warner Bros. Television, which distributes The Ellen DeGeneres Show, told Variety that “executive producers and [production company] Telepictures are committed to taking care of our staff and crew and have made decisions first and foremost with them in mind.”
With regards the hiring of a non-union company to fit DeGeneres’ home with the necessary broadcast equipment, the spokesperson said that due to “social distancing requirements, technical changes in the way the show is produced had to be made to comply with city ordinances and public health protocols.”
DeGeneres, whose net worth is an estimated $330 million, said she wanted to resume filming in order to support her staff. But when crew members reached out to colleagues working for other shows — including Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee — they found that those crews had been both fully informed and fully paid by their production companies.
Jimmy Kimmel paid the crew of Jimmy Kimmel Live! from his own earnings during the show’s COVID-19 shutdown, until ABC took over paying their full salaries after the show returned to air, Variety reports.
Warner Bros. told Variety that the “creative, delivery, economics, hours, taping times, staff structures, etc. are completely different for a daily talk show.”
DeGeneres came under fire for different reasons after the broadcast of the first episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show from her home earlier this month.
DeGeneres joked that self-isolating in her multimillion-dollar home was “like being in jail” — a comparison that fell flat on social media, with the joke branded “tone-deaf” and “disgusting.”
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