Ellen DeGeneres Returns to With Apology, Addresses Controversy in Season 18 Premiere

Ellen Degeneres started the 18th season of her daytime talk show on Monday with a lengthy apology that addressed reports describing her as a boss who led a toxic workplace.

Ellen DeGeneres “knows that it’s on her to make sure everyone feels like they’re being heard and valued,”

After teasing that she would “talk about it,” Ellen DeGeneres is kicking off the season 18 premiere of The Ellen DeGeneres Show by directly addressing the allegations about numerous complaints of workplace toxicity.

“She didn’t hold anything back,” a source tells PEOPLE about DeGeneres’ opening monologue. “It was poignant and funny and very much a candid take on what happened over the summer. She understands her audience wants to hear from her and is looking forward to talking directly to them on Monday.”

Leading up to the premiere, the source says DeGeneres was “connecting with the staff over Zoom” and “knows that it’s on her to make sure everyone feels like they’re being heard and valued.”

Then, on the day the season 18 premiere was filmed, DeGeneres was supported by her wife Portia de Rossi and the crew applauded when the host walked off the set, according to the source, who says: “It was an emotional moment for everyone; she thanked everyone.”

“If you’re watching because you love me, thank you,” Ms. DeGeneres said in her return from a summer hiatus. “And if you’re watching because you don’t love me, welcome.”

Dressed in a white blazer, jeans and her signature white sneakers, the host addressed the rows of seats filled with screens that featured virtual audience members. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, audience members are not permitted to enter her Burbank, Calif., studio.

“As you may have heard this summer, there were allegations of a toxic work environment at our show,” Ms. DeGeneres said. “And then there was an investigation. I learned that things happen here that never should have happened. I take that very seriously. And I want to say, I am so sorry to the people who were affected. I know that I’m in a position of privilege and power. And I realized that with that comes responsibility, and I take responsibility for what happens at my show.”

In late July, Warner Bros. launched an internal investigation that concluded in August when DeGeneres, 62, spoke to her 270 employees via an emotional video conference, during which she apologized and confirmed that three top producers — Ed Glavin, Kevin Leman and Jonathan Norman — exited the show.

“The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” which started in 2003, has been a boon to Warner Bros., which is part of AT&T’s WarnerMedia entertainment division. Last year, Ms. DeGeneres signed a contract to keep her at the program through 2022. She also signed a deal to make new shows for HBO Max, the WarnerMedia streaming service. In addition, Ms. DeGeneres is the host of a Warner Bros. game show, “Ellen’s Game of Games,” a prime-time mainstay for NBC.

As the show moves forward with production on season 18, the source says DeGeneres and the staff are “happy to be back at work together,” adding that they’re “taking it one day at a time, but so far the environment on set already feels different.”

An in-studio audience will not be present due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but celebrity guests will be appearing alongside DeGeneres.

Tiffany Haddish joins DeGeneres on the Burbank, California, set as the season’s first guest. Kerry Washington, Alec Baldwin, K-pop star SuperM and Kris Jenner are scheduled to appear during premiere week.

Kristen Bell, Jason Sudeikis, Ken Jeong and The Social Dilemma‘s Tristan Harris are the latest slate of stars booked for the fall. Previously announced guests include Blake Shelton, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Amy Schumer and Orlando Bloom.

Stephen “tWitch” Boss is also set to guest host upcoming episodes with Dancing with the Stars judge Derek Hough as one of the interviewees.

Timi Olaniyi

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