As Ellen DeGeneres and her namesake show face scrutiny over allegations of a toxic workplace culture, more stories about the 30-time Emmy winner seem to be publicly popping up. Radio host Neil Breen recalled a “bizarre” encounter with DeGeneres and her staff when he was an executive producer on Australia’s Today in 2013.
Breen, who now has his own show on 4BC radio, said on his podcast he was told by DeGeneres’s producers not to look at her ahead of an interview. He also claimed her staff “walked on eggshells.” Breen told his story following Variety’s report this week the Ellen DeGeneres Show has become the subject of an internal investigation by WarnerMedia following numerous allegations of workplace problems, including a culture of racism, fear and intimidation.
“I want to tell you my experience,” Breen shared. “When Ellen DeGeneres came to Australia to do her show in 2013 I was the executive producer of the Today show… She was supposed to co-host the show, but then her team said she’d only be available for an interview.”
Breen said the change of plans caused him to have to take his Today team from Sydney to Melbourne at the breakfast program’s expense. DeGeneres agreed to be interviewed by Richard Wilkins. When Breen and Wilkins got to “one of the flashy hotels” where the interview was set up, they were met by “a lot of people” from her show.
“There were a lot of producers there,” Breen recalled, adding that her staff had control over “everything,” from the interview seats to the lighting and “how it would work.”
Read more: Ellen Degeneres Show under investigation
“The producers called us aside and said, ‘OK this is how it’s going to work here this morning… 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 recounted. The producer said, she’ll “come in, she'll sit down, she'll talk to Richard and then Ellen will leave.”
“I found the whole thing bizarre,” Breen stated.
Breen added that the producers would loudly “giggle and laugh” at “every word she said” during the interview.
“I had asked them to be quiet because we were filming an interview,” he recalled, saying again it was “bizarre.”
“I’m not blaming Ellen — ‘cause I didn’t get to talk to her! I wasn’t allowed to. So I don’t know whether she's a nice person or not, I wouldn't have a clue,” Breen concluded. “But I can tell you the people who work with her walked on eggshells the whole time, and the whole thing was totally bizarre. Like, we’re there to do an interview with her to promote what she’s doing — but you can’t look at her? Like, come on. Get real.”
Yahoo Entertainment reached out to the Ellen DeGeneres Show for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.
DeGeneres has come under fire for months following a string of negative reports. In April, Variety reported that crew members on her show were upset with top producers over their treatment amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this month, Buzzfeed published a troubling report about an alleged culture of intimidation and racism in the workplace, interviewing one current and 10 former employees. Many blamed the three executive producers for the day-to-day toxicity, but one noted the responsibility ultimately falls on DeGeneres as it’s her show.
In a joint statement to BuzzFeed News, executive producers Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner said they take the stories of the employees “very seriously.”
“Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes, and employing over 1000 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.
“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 realize, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.”
Watch — ‘Ellen DeGeneres Show’ under internal investigation after reports of workplace mistreatment: