A former senior executive of Australia’s Today show who was told ‘not to look at’ Ellen DeGeneres during a tense meeting in 2013 has revealed he wasn’t surprised when her staffers made allegations of on-set bullying last month.
Neil Breen, who witnessed the tension among Ellen’s employees first hand when the talk show host, 62, appeared on Today seven years ago, took aim at Ellen yet again during Wednesday’s episode of A Current Affair.
Breen, who now presents his own radio program on 4BC, said: ‘As soon as I first saw reports surface there were troubles behind the scenes at Ellen’s show, I didn’t bat an eyelid.’
Just last week, Breen spoke on 4BC about his experience working with Ellen in 2013, claiming that her staff ‘walked on eggshells’ around her.
He said that Ellen’s employees were the only ones who were allowed to interact with her – and they laughed so loudly at her jokes during her interview with Today reporter Richard Wilkins that Breen had to tell them to be quiet.
He claimed that Ellen’s people dictated everything – from seating, to lighting, to how the interview would work – adding that he found the whole situation ‘bizarre’.
Breen said that Ellen was initially supposed to co-host the Today show during her tour of Australia, but the plan was continually changed and watered down by her team.
Eventually, it was agreed that Ellen would do a sit-down interview with Wilkins in Melbourne – meaning that production had to be moved there from Sydney at the show’s expense.
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 Ellen’s team 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.’
During the interview itself, Breen had to ask Ellen’s staff to stop laughing at her jokes because it was interrupting the recording.
Breen said he had no idea whether Ellen knew what was happening around her, ‘because I never got to talk to her’.
‘I have no idea whether she’s a nice person or not, I wouldn’t have a clue,’ he added. ‘But I can tell you the people who work with her walked on eggshells the whole time.
‘We’re there to do an interview to promote what she’s doing, but you can’t look at her? Someone get real.’
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’.
Last 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.
‘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 Ellen 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.
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.’
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.
‘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’.
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.’
‘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 last 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.
Meanwhile, Ellen is now allegedly telling senior figures at Telepictures and Warner Bros. that she has had enough and wants to pull the plug on the show.
Last Thursday, she attempted to do some internal damage control by issuing an apology email to current staffers, in which she appeared to deflect all blame and noted that she was ‘disappointed’ to learn the show was not ‘a place of happiness’.
The email was immediately met with backlash, with many expressing disappointment over Ellen shifting the blame to her executive producers.