The Price Point | Will Ellen Survive? Bet On It
Depending on whether or not your station carries the show, watching the public meltdown of Ellen has been either appalling or appalment mixed with fear. Since 2003, The Ellen DeGeneres Show has been a staple of daytime television, delivering a steady flow of female demos into local news. She is among a handful of stars who can claim almost two decades of success.
Having run a station that carried Ellen, I can attest to the loyalty of her audience. A constant refrain over the years has been their belief that Ellen is caring, fun, happy and, above all, nice. That kind of loyalty is not easily shaken, so no one should assume the airing of dirty laundry in public will be a deal breaker. At the least, her fans will give her the benefit of the doubt. The most loyal probably believe she has been betrayed by others.
With some Hollywood stars now taking sides, further revelations could still bring disaster, but only if they are directly tied to the host. The loathsome and outrageous behavior by those in authority merits strong condemnation, but all specific charges — as of this writing at least — have been directed only at senior management, leaving a thin veil of deniability for the star. Instructions to complement Ellen on the air and her pique about not being invited to another star’s birthday party are hardly in the same category.
Press speculation that Warner would replace Ellen with another host is ludicrous. Ellen is the kind of franchise not easily replaced. Ask the 483 other stars who have tried and failed to launch daytime talk shows in the past (OK, I made that number up, but it is a lot).
Will Ellen simply walk away? That won’t happen either. Not coming back would be an admission of guilt. That is not the way Ellen will end her career. Not if she has a choice.
Nor will Warner walk away. Not before the seeing overnights for the new season. The bottom line is always the overnights. They will bring either continued success or a very undignified end.
Here’s what will probably happen. The first episode of the new season will be teased to the press as Ellen’s opportunity to finally tell her side. She has already learned from her oft-quoted internal memo that blaming everyone else does not play well, so an emotional mea culpa will be called for. Here’s a line for free: “I had no idea, but I should have known. This is my fault for not knowing and I take full responsibility. I let you down and let myself down. I give you my word this will never happen on my watch again.” (I almost teared up writing that.)
The coup de gras to critics would be to publicly invite Brad Garrett and Lea Thompson on the show to “talk things out.” That would, of course, not actually happen. The invitation would be enough.
The more Ellen can seem to reek of transparency and honesty, the better her fans will react. You’ve got to remember that they will be rooting for Ellen, wanting her to win. They do not want to give up that one hour of the day free from all the bad news around them. They want to believe this is about some rogue people who Ellen trusted, but let her down.
Can Ellen pull this off? Of course, she can. She is a truly great actress. No one is as happy and fun every day as Ellen appears. It’s not possible. No, Ellen is a professional. The show must go on, and it will.
Hank Price is a media consultant and leadership coach. He is the author of Leading Local Television, a guide to leadership for television general managers, as well as those who aspire to top leadership. Price spent 30 years managing TV stations for Hearst, CBS and Gannett, including WBBM Chicago and KARE Minneapolis, as well as three other stations. Earlier, he was a consultant for Frank N. Magid Associates. Price also served as senior director of Northwestern University’s Media Management Center and is currently director of leadership development for the School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss. He is the author of two other books.