Ellen DeGeneres Says Her Workplace Controversy and Lower Ratings Did Not Play into Her Talk Show Exit

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Ellen DeGeneres is opening up about her decision to end The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2022.

Just one day after news broke that the production's upcoming 19th season would be its last, the 63-year-old host sat down with Savannah Guthrie for an intimate conversation that aired on NBC's Today on Thursday.

News of DeGeneres' departure comes less than a year after The Ellen DeGeneres Show became embroiled in controversy. Former employees called out the show in a BuzzFeed News expose for allegedly having a "toxic work environment," which prompted an internal investigation and production to go on hiatus. 

In her Today interview, DeGeneres said that the allegations were not the reason for her departure.

"If it was why I was quitting, I would have not come back this year," she said. "I really did think about not coming back, because it was devastating. It started with attacks on me and attacking everything that I stand for and believe in and built my career around... I am a kind person. I am a person who likes to make people happy."

".... I just kept saying to Portia, 'If I was a fan of somebody, and even if I loved them, I would think there must be some truth to it because it's not stopping,'" she recalled of a conversation with her wife, Portia de Rossi. 

Even though she chose to return amid the allegations and controversy, DeGeneres said that the whole thing greatly affected her.

"No, I'm not bulletproof. And no, I don't have thick skin. I'm extremely sensitive to the point of it's not healthy how sensitive I am," she said. "When something is coming back at me that I know is not true, I guess I could take one or two of those shots, but four months in a row took a toll on me."

DeGeneres also noted that she "really didn't understand" the controversy she found herself in.

"It was too orchestrated. It was too coordinated," she said. "People get picked on, but for four months straight? For me to read in the press about a toxic work environment when all I've ever heard from every guest that comes on the show is what a happy atmosphere this is and what a happy place it is."

As for the allegations themselves, DeGeneres said she had "no idea" that there were problems behind-the-scenes.

"I don't know how I could have known when there's 225 employees here and there are a lot of different buildings," she said. "Unless I literally stayed here until that last person goes home at night. It is my name on the show, so clearly it affects me, and I have to be the one to stand up and say this can't be tolerated. But I do wish somebody would've come to me and said, 'Hey, something's going on that you should know about."

DeGeneres noted that the allegations and resulting backlash brought back memories of when her sitcom, Ellen, was canceled after she came out as gay in 1997.

"My therapist is like, 'Very few people go through such huge public humiliation twice in a lifetime,'" she said. "She was making me aware that I'm supposed to experience this for a bigger reason. How can I be an example of strength and perseverance and power if I give up and run away?"

"So it really is one of the reasons I came back. I worked really hard on myself," she continued of returning to the talk show after controversy. "And also I have to say -- if nobody else was saying it -- it was really interesting because I'm a woman, and it did feel very misogynistic."

DeGeneres also said that her decision to end the talk show had nothing to do with its ratings decline over the last year.

"It's more for this one because we had further to fall. And everybody else was at a lower place, so they didn't have as far to fall," she said of other programs that fell in the ratings, though at a lower level than DeGeneres' show. "To be honest. I mean, that's the truth, we were very, very successful... Everything in television is down."

"It's got nothing to do with why I'm leaving," she added. "If I was having fun, I would do this show with nobody watching. So it's got nothing to do with that."

Ahead of its upcoming ending, DeGeneres still holds great pride for her long-running talk show.

"I most proud of going 19 years on this show. I mean, this is an accomplishment," she said. "I'm proud of the kind of show we do. I'm proud that we are funny. I'm proud that we are helpful to people, and that we represent acts of kindness, and highlighting people that we want to say, 'Look at this person doing good.'"

A source told ET on Wednesday that while the allegations against DeGeneres were tough, she stayed because she wanted to honor her commitment to the show and her staff through the end of her contract. 

Later on Thursday, DeGeneres is expected to address her departure during the latest episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which was taped one day prior. She will be joined by her longtime pal, Oprah Winfrey.

"It's going to be really hard on the last day, but I also know it’s time," DeGeneres told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview breaking the news. "When you’re a creative person, you constantly need to be challenged – and as great as this show is, and as fun as it is, it’s just not a challenge anymore. I need something new to challenge me."

"Although all good things must come to an end, you still have hope that truly great things never will," Warner Bros.' unscripted TV president Mike Darnell added, calling the series "an absolute phenomenon" that established itself "as the premiere destination" for both superstars and incredible heartfelt human-interest stories. "Ellen was and is an indelible piece of the television landscape, and it will be sorely missed."

Hear more in the video below.

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