Ed Glavin, Kevin Leman and Jonathan Norman have parted ways with The Ellen DeGeneres Show as WarnerMedia continues to investigate the daytime show following reports of a toxic workplace, a spokesperson for WarnerMedia confirmed.
Top executive producers Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner will remain at the talk show despite claims leveled in BuzzFeed News stories of “day-to-day toxicity” fostered by supervisors. WarnerMedia’s investigation of the show, which is nearing its end, has not yet found that the set had a racist work culture, though some staffers did share some experiences of racial insensitivity during the probe. Along with the executive departures, the show’s DJ Stephen “tWitch” Boss is being promoted to co-executive producer, he confirmed on Twitch on Monday.
DeGeneres announced the staffing changes in an all-staff video Zoom call, where she also apologized again to staff for press reports about the show’s toxic workplace. In the call, DeGeneres discussed being an introverted personality that likes to have her own space, which may have led to staffers believing she wasn’t nice. “I’m a multi-layered person, and I try to be the best person I can be and try to learn from my mistakes,” she said.
As for her dedication to the staff, she said, “I care about each and every one of you. I am grateful for each and every one of you. I feel like I’ve kind of let the ball drop a bit because I’m focused on the show, I go in and I do the show, and I’ve just let everybody to do their jobs – to run different departments. And it just became a well-oiled machine, and I think that is the problem.” DeGeneres added, “It’s not a machine. This is people. These are human beings that are working hard every single day to put this together. This show would not be what it is without all of you.”
Leman’s attorney, Michael Plonsker, said in a statement about the staffing changes, “The fact that a deeply flawed BuzzFeed article has led to the termination of an innocent man – a popular figure and a creative force behind the Ellen show and a string of other projects produced with Ellen – is shocking. Kevin is devastated by being scapegoated and is not yet ready to comment.”
The news comes a few weeks after DeGeneres penned a letter to the show’s crew taking responsibility for the show no longer being “a place of happiness” and promised staffing changes. “As we’ve grown exponentially, I’ve not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I’d want them done” DeGeneres wrote. “Clearly some didn’t. That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.” Three days before she wrote her note, WarnerMedia had initiated an investigation into the show’s workplace.
In its report of the letter, The Hollywood Reporter noted that sources said Glavin would be among those who would be let go in the staffing changeup. A longtime executive producer on the show and Ellen’s Game of Games, Glavin was singled out in a July story in Buzzfeed that investigated the show’s working environment. One anonymous former employee source of the news outlet’s recalled being chastised for voicing concerns about the use of the term “spirit animal” and requesting a raise and suggesting that employees receive diversity and inclusion training. “He [Glavin] said that I was walking around looking resentful and angry,” the source told reporter Krystie Lee Yandoli.
In a separate Buzzfeed story published on July 31, dozens of former employees alleged that Glavin, as well as head writer and executive producer Leman and co-executive producer Norman had engaged in sexual misconduct with employees or in the workplace. Glavin was accused of excessive touching, especially of women, in the control room; Leman was said to have asked an employee to perform a sexual act at an office party, groped production assistants and make inappropriate comments about employees; and Norman was accused of grooming an employee before attempting to perform sexual acts on him.
Several sources who spoke with THR on the condition of anonymity and worked on early seasons of The Ellen DeGeneres Show laid the responsibility for the show’s work culture at that point on executive producers Glavin, Connelly and Lassner. Per their portrayal, Glavin worked on day-to-day production, Connelly was Ellen’s “go-between” and Lassner her comic foil. “They [the executive producers] do not strive to make a happy environment,” one source says, noting that Glavin in particular had a short temper that “fed into the ‘walking on eggshells’ feelings within the walls of the show.”
Another source who was a former Ellen employee for years says, “You were always afraid to go to them [the producers] because you were afraid that if there was an issue, you could be fired for bringing an issue to their attention, or you would at least be looked down upon for bringing an issue to their attention.”
A third source who worked for years at the production company overseeing The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Telepictures, laid partial blame on their former employer. “They allow people like Ellen the ability to do that [cultivate a poor work environment] because they are such a cash cow, they are basically printing money,” the source said. “They know these people are terrible, but they don’t care.”
DeGeneres’ professed ignorance of a problematic work culture on her show in her letter to crew left many sources who had previously worked for the show skeptical. “It’s not okay to claim ignorance. When the faces of your staff change so much from one season to the next, something is not okay,” one of the former employees says. “Also, she didn’t address any of the allegations made against her” including Buzzfeed’s report that employees were instructed not to speak to her, which THR has confirmed, and a story from a former bodyguard who called her “cold.”
Another of the former employees who worked on the show in early years says, “It was not the ‘happy place’ that Ellen’s letter makes it out to be. You were not allowed to speak to her,” arguing that DeGeneres was insulated from her staff by private security and her trio of main producers. The source added, “This whole letter from Ellen seems like a PR stunt to protect her.”
Sources mentioned feeling “PTSD” from the experience of having worked on the show, even years after leaving. “Those of us in the fraternity of Ellen employees always talk about the ‘culture of fear,'” one former employee says. “Mistakes happen, but you could get fired for any misstep and everybody on staff — from the PAs [up], all felt like, if we misstep, we could be gone.”
“Because we were there for so long, we just kind of accepted it,” another former employee says. “You go into another production and you think that’s normal.”
In a statement to Buzzfeed about their initial reporting, Glavin said alongside Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner, “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.”
The producers added, “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.”
Several stars, including Katy Perry, Diane Keaton and Jay Leno, have come to DeGeneres’ defense in recent days, testifying to their positive experiences on the Warner Bros. show. Others who have worked on the show have also stepped forward to discuss their experiences, including former show DJ Tony Okungbowa, who wrote on Instagram, “While I am grateful for the opportunity it afforded me, I did experience and feel the toxicity of the environment and I stand with my former colleagues in their quest to create a healthier and more inclusive workplace as the show moves forward.”
Days after DeGeneres’ letter to the show’s staff, several former Ellen DeGeneres Show employees circulated a job opening that they believed had recently been posted on WarnerMedia’s jobs board. The position? Executive director of employee relations.
Television editor Lesley Goldberg contributed to this report.