Crew members from Ellen DeGeneres’ long-running daytime talk show The Ellen DeGeneres Show are distressed and outraged over their treatment from top producers amid the ongoing public health and safety situation, numerous sources affiliated with the show told Variety.
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The core stage crew for the show, consisting of more than 30 employees, have received no written communication about the status of their working hours, pay, or inquiries about their mental and physical health from producers for over a month now, two sources told the outlet anonymously. Another source told Variety that the higher-ups in production would occasionally answer calls but revealed very little information. The crew became further furious when they learned of the show’s recent hire of an outside, non-unionized tech company to help DeGeneres tape remotely from her home in California.
When production executives finally commented on the situation, nearly all crew members were told last week to brace for a 60% reduction in pay, even as the show continues to air, according to several sources.
At this time, only four core crew members are currently working on the remote version of the show’s broadcast, said an insider, who found this treatment to be totally inconsistent with DeGeneres’ daily message to her audience: “be kind.”
A spokesperson for Warner Bros. Television, which distributes The Ellen DeGeneres Show, told the publication, “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.” The network reiterated the crew has been paid consistently, albeit at reduced hours.
For more than two weeks, starting late March through April 9, crew members were left in the dark about if and how much they would be paid during the studio’s shutdown. Updates to crew members from a production coordinator at Telepictures, the Warner Bros. unit that produces the talk show, were sporadic and often lacked information before and after the 14-day shutdown.
The lack of communication continued as DeGeneres expanded her output from hosting four shows a week to five, shot over two days, said sources with knowledge of the show’s schedule. Total silence from the show’s producers also created anxiety among the crew members who feared they would be temporarily suspended and would need to explore unemployment options.
A Warner Bros. spokesperson has acknowledged that communication could have been handled better, but cited complications due to the sudden chaos caused by the public health situation.
Under normal circumstances, the show would be taped four days a week. Studio episodes for the show were last shot the week of March 9. The last time the crew was paid in full was for the week of March 16, when Warner Bros. lot decided to shut down temporarily. The following week, the show was planned for a spring break hiatus.
“When returning from break, the crew was paid the week of March 30th despite having no firm plans for production to resume,” the spokesperson said. According to an insider, pay reduced to 8 hours from 10 hours per work day for the week of the 30th.
As of April 10, the crew was told to expect a reduced compensation of two, 8-hour work days per week. To make matters worse, a source told Variety that while most of the crew was left out of work with reduced pay, a remote production company called Key Code Media was hired to produce the technical elements of the show while crew members with the same skill set sit idly by.
When an International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union rep spoke to the Ellen DeGeneres Show‘s producers about the crew’s concerns the week of April 7, sources said, the rep reported back that their understanding was that union members would continue to be paid during the shutdown. They also advised the crew to “watch [the situation closely.” The studio also said the third-party hire was cleared with the union reps.
“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,” said a Warner Bros. spokesperson, adding that no crew member has lost their job in the hiring of Key Code.
On DeGeneres April 7 return, she told viewers she “wanted to start doing my new show as soon as possible.” The host pointed out that it was for her “staff and crew” whom she loves and misses. “The best thing I can do to support them is to keep the show on the air,” she added.
What is more upsetting for many of the show’s crew members is the lack of personal outreach from the show’s leadership team to check on longtime employees amid the public health situation, sources told Variety.
Befuddled by this situation, the show’s stage crew have reached out to colleagues on similar talk shows, many of whom had experienced the exact opposite from theirs.
Jimmy Kimmel Live! stagehands were paid from host Kimmel’s own pocket during the initial shutdown, and since returning to the air network ABC has been paying their full rates. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and Desus & Mero have also been transparent with their crew and have been paying full rates, insiders said.
According to Variety, “Ellen is in a different category in TV terms as a daytime franchise in first-run syndication, meaning it is sold by Warner Bros. to TV stations on a market-by-market basis.”
“The creative, delivery, economics, hours, taping times, staff structures, etc. are completely different for a daily talk show,” Warner Bros. said.
DeGeneres is one of the highest-paid stars on television, earning more than $50 million per year from her Telepictures deal. The daytime talk show host’s total net worth is reported to be $330 million.