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Television

Upset ‘Ellen’ crew says top producers haven’t been communicating during pandemic

Ellen DeGeneres
While Ellen DeGeneres continues to tape a modified version of her show remotely, the regular production’s core crew members are reportedly upset by top producers’ behavior during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty Images)

The core stage crew of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” is reportedly making noise over how top producers have behaved during the coronavirus pandemic.

Communication appears to be the biggest complaint, though most of the crew members aren’t working and have seen their pay dramatically reduced, according to Variety.

The more than 30 crew members didn’t see a word in writing for more than a month regarding their hours or pay, or even asking about their health, two insiders told the trade outlet. Phone calls have been returned occasionally by a production coordinator, but little information was provided, they said.

Because of that, crew members who were worried about being furloughed reportedly didn’t know whether they should prepare to apply for unemployment. The show usually shoots four days a week.

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A Warner Bros. Television spokesman did not respond immediately to The Times’ request for comment Friday.

The coronavirus crisis has provided an unwelcome lesson in the hidden perils of working in the kind of high-touch environments required of movie and TV production.

Last week, “Ellen” producers told the union crew to expect a 60% cut in pay, according to Variety’s insiders, while the nonunion, outside tech company Key Code was hired to assist with production as DeGeneres tapes shows on a remote set constructed at her home. Four regular crew members are working on the remote show, which started at the beginning of April, the insiders said.

News of production on the remote show reportedly came as a surprise to most crew members. The studio told Variety that the representatives from the union that represents the crew members, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, had signed off on hiring the nonunion shop.

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A spokesman for Warner Bros. Television, which distributes “Ellen,” told Variety that union crew members on the show have been paid consistently since the pandemic hit, albeit at a reduced rate.

The crew last worked the week of March 9, Variety said, then the Warner Bros. lot shut down the week of March 16 — which was the last week for which the crew was paid in full. The next week was a planned spring hiatus.

Pay cuts for the union crew came the week of March 30, when hours were reduced from 10 a day to eight, for a total of 32 hours per week, Then, on April 10, employees were told to prep for a pay reduction to only 16 hours per week. Rumors about a return to full pay swirled midweek after Variety began asking about the situation, the outlet said.

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Some of the stage crew have been with the syndicated show since the pilot `17 years ago, Variety said, and DeGeneres is one of TV’s highest-paid stars, with a Telepictures deal worth nearly $50 million a year.

DeGeneres, whose tag line is “Be kind to one another,” has been taking it on the chin in recent weeks. Similar shows — none of them syndicated — have continued to pay crew members in full, and Jimmy Kimmel reportedly paid people out of his own pocket during the first part of the shutdown, Variety said.

Ellen DeGeneres is “so bored” that she wishes she had kids. At least that’s what she told John Legend and Chrissy Teigen while randomly calling her famous friends.

Comedian Kevin T. Porter solicited negative stories about DeGeneres in a March 20 Twitter thread to raise money for the L.A. Food Bank. Porter tweeted that he wound up making a $600 donation instead of the pledged $2 per story, as he didn’t want to count up all the responses he received, mostly from service-industry workers and former staffers. And a Dutch makeup artist who appeared on the show in January to talk about coming out as transgender has been vocal about what a bad experience she had.

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DeGeneres also ticked people off in early April with a self-quarantine joke that many called tone deaf.

“One thing that I’ve learned from being in quarantine is that people — this is like being in jail, is what it is,” she said. “It’s mostly because I’ve been wearing the same clothes for 10 days and everyone in here is gay.”


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