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In her final hour on NBC as daytime host, Ellen DeGeneres used her platform to reflect on the journey of bringing The Ellen DeGeneres Show to daytime and the noticeable changes in visibility and acceptance of gays in Hollywood across two decades.
Guests Jennifer Aniston, the very first person to guest on the Ellen Show when it debuted, Billie Eilish — who was only a one-year-old when the show aired its first episode — and Pink, who wrote the talk show’s theme song, appeared across the hour to celebrate DeGeneres final go as daytime host.
But before that, the comedian walked out to a standing ovation after a flashback clip of the Ellen Show stage doors opening on the host for her very first episode — a moment that she would call back to in the show’s final minutes. She then launched into a monologue that was equally funny, celebratory, emotional and poignant.
“I walked out here 19 years ago, and I said this is the start of a relationship. And today is not the end of a relationship, it’s more of a little break. You can see other talk shows now. I may see another audience once in a while,” she jokingly told the audience in the finale episode, which aired on Thursday.
Turning to the show’s origins, DeGeneres continued: “Twenty years ago, when we were trying to sell the show, no one thought that this would work. Not because it was a different kind of show, but because I was different. Very few stations wanted to buy the show, and here we are 20 years later, celebrating this amazing journey together.”
She would continue using humor to point out a striking reality of being a gay person when her daytime duties began in 2003.
“When we started this show, I couldn’t say ‘gay’ on the show. I was not allowed to say ‘gay.’ I said it at home a lot. ‘What are we having for gay breakfast?’ Or ‘pass the gay salt.’ ‘Has anyone seen the gay remote?’ — things like that,” she joked before taking a more serious turn.
“I couldn’t say ‘we’ because that implied that I was with someone. Sure couldn’t say ‘wife.’ That’s because it wasn’t legal for gay people to get married. And now I say ‘wife’ all the time,” she continued. “Twenty-five years ago, they canceled my sitcom because they didn’t want a lesbian to be in primetime once a week. So I said, ‘OK, I’ll be in daytime every day, how ’bout that?'”
DeGeneres celebrated the “beautiful, beautiful journey” she, the show and viewers have gone on together for over 19 years, declaring “I have done my job” if she’d ever made anyone laugh or lifted them up through her jokes, segments and guests.
She would end her monologue by describing her time as host as “the greatest experience” she’s ever had and asking DJ tWitch to “dance one last time with me.”
“If you don’t mind me saying this, your show is a reflection of what the world actually looks like,” the DJ would at one point tell DeGeneres. “You look out, and you see people of various colors, shapes, creeds, whatever, all showing love to each other. It’s been that for 19 years, and we thank you for that.”
During her sitdown with Aniston, DeGeneres gifted the actress, who appeared on the talk show 20 times, with a “Thanks for the Memories” welcome mat similar to the one Aniston brought during the inaugural show. She would also introduce a highlight reel, courtesy of the Ellen Show crew, of the comedian’s career.
The two would also discuss the actress and producer’s feelings around saying goodbye to Friends after 10 years, to which Aniston offered up, “Well, I got a divorce and went into therapy, and then I did a movie called ‘The Break-Up.'”
“I just kind of leaned into the end,” she added.
Eilish served as the final episode’s second guest and recalled how DeGeneres had become a staple of her household and a regular part of her life through her talk show. “You started this show the year after I was born. This was in my house constantly. Every day. I would walk into the kitchen, and my mom would be watching you.”
Pink would appear as the final guest of the show ever. The duo exchanged casual I-love-yous at the top of their brief conversation before the singer delivered a performance of “What About Us.”
“Whereas maybe I help people find their pain, you helped people find their joy, and we need that so badly in the world,” Pink said of DeGeneres. “You really have made an indelible mark on this world, and you’ve made it OK for people to be who they are.”
Pink also playfully thanked DeGeneres for the chance to write the show’s theme song. “You basically handed me an Emmy,” the singer said, laughing. “‘Hey, come do a song for my show!’ I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?'”
DeGeneres would end her show with another teary-eyed message that saw her handing out thank-yous to “my staff and my crew” and celebrating the mark she made on daytime as an out lesbian in Hollywood.
“If I’ve done anything in the past 19 years, I hope I’ve inspired you to be yourself. Your true, authentic self,” she told the audience in her final closing message. “And if someone is brave enough to tell you who they are, be brave enough to support them, even if you don’t understand. They’re showing you who they are, and that is the biggest gift anybody can ever give you.”
As for the final image viewers were left with, The Ellen DeGeneres Show ended the same way it began: with the host taking to the couch and turning off the TV as the stage doors closed behind her. “Thank you so much for being on this journey with me,” she said. “I feel the love, and I send it back to you.”
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