An internal investigation has been launched at the “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” after several top executives were accused of sexual misconduct.
The accusations were first reported by BuzzFeed News. In the story employees who work behind the scenes describe the office as “a place where sexual harassment and misconduct by top executive producers runs rampant.”
Ex-employees go into explicit detail, describing one executive producer as being “handsy with women,” and another soliciting oral sex at a work party. Another ex-employee said one of them “groomed him over a period of time” and tried to perform oral sex on him one night.
According to BuzzFeed nearly a dozen former employees said it was also common for head writer and executive producer Kevin Leman to make sexually explicit comments in the office, like pointing out male colleagues’ bulges in their crotches, or ask them questions like, “Are you a top or a bottom?”
Leman once asked an employee if he could give him a handjob or perform oral sex in a bathroom at a company party in 2013, according to BuzzFeed. Another employee said they saw Leman grab a production assistant’s penis on a separate occasion.
One woman said she saw Leman grope a production assistant in a car and kissed his neck in 2017.
According to BuzzFeed, employees said that many of Leman’s targets were lower-level and younger employees who felt they lacked any power to speak up.
“He’d probably do it in front of 10 people and they’d laugh because ‘it’s just Kevin being Kevin,’ but if you’re in a position of power at a company, you don’t just get to touch me like that,” a former employee told BuzzFeed.
Thirty-six former employees spoke to BuzzFeed about incidents of harassment, sexual misconduct, and assault from top producers like Leman. All of the ex-employees, many of whom had voluntarily left the show, asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution.
In a statement to BuzzFeed, Leman denied the charges and “any kind of sexual impropriety.”
“...While my job as head writer is to come up with jokes — and, during that process, we can occasionally push the envelope — I’m horrified that some of my attempts at humor may have caused offense," he said in the statement. "I have always aimed to treat everyone on the staff with kindness, inclusivity and respect. In my whole time on the show, to my knowledge, I’ve never had a single HR or inter-personal complaint made about me, and I am devastated beyond belief that this kind of malicious and misleading article could be published."
Kevin Leman, an Executive Producer accused of sexual misconduct. Photo via @kevinlemanII, Twitter.
Executive producer Ed Glavin also had allegations leveled against him. Five ex-employees said that he touched them inappropriately by rubbing their shoulders and back, and placing his hand around their lower waist, BuzzFeed reported.
They also said that Glavin “had a reputation for being handsy with women,” especially in the control room, and managed the team through fear and intimidation.
One former employee told BuzzFeed that Glavin regularly touched her in the control room.
“You could definitely see the creep factor and the creepy touching. That was out in the open for everybody to see. Obviously, no one wants that and no one wants to be uncomfortably touched by someone … but you didn’t want to piss them off or you would be fired, so it was just that culture of fear.”
BuzzFeed also reported that another former employee said Glavin would call over producers and assistants to sit near him when the show was filming segments they had worked on and would touch them inappropriately in front of nearly 30 other people in the control room.
“Even though I was being abused [at work] constantly, Ed putting his arm around you in the control room was like the nicest experience you had all day, as messed up as that sounds,” she told BuzzFeed. “But you had been crying last night and now your segment is going well … and then you feel like you got credit for something from the executive producer directly. … That friendly banter accompanied by a friendly hand.”
Glavin did not respond to a request for comment by BuzzFeed regarding the allegations.
Forty-seven former employees spoke to BuzzFeed about how Glavin led with intimidation and fear on a daily basis. One former employee said when they turned in their notice, Glavin flipped over a table and chair while screaming.
Five former employees also said they saw Glavin use a button at his desk to remotely shut his office door “as an intimidation tactic” during reprimands, and that was a “power move more than anything.”
According to ex-workers, Glavin used his private shower in his office bathroom, which made them uncomfortable.
“You’d be going into his office for an important meeting and the shower door is open and you’re like, that’s a little weird,” a former employee told BuzzFeed. “The shower is right when you walk in on the right. Before you even see his desk, you see his shower. He’d be openly showering and going into meetings with wet hair.”
The Hollywood Reporter states that while neither Ellen DeGeneres nor Warner Brothers will comment on the fate of specific employees, two sources tell THR that Glavin is among those who will be let go.
"Once he's out, it will be like a new day," says a source to THR, one of two who claim DeGeneres was largely kept shielded from Glavin's day-to-day handling of the staff. Others are expected to be out as well.
Co-executive producer Jonathan Norman is the one who is accused of grooming an ex-employee by taking him to concerts and other work-related perks, and then attempting to perform oral sex on him one night. Three of the employee’s former colleagues on the show corroborated the incident and said they have discussed it in the years since.
“We’re young people who were forming our careers and were unfortunately subjected to a toxic work environment as some of our first jobs out of college,” the ex-employee told BuzzFeed. “And some of us were sexually harassed and that’s what was shaping our careers our first year out of school.”
Norman said he is "100% categorically denying these allegations" in a statement to BuzzFeed Thursday night.
"I have never had a single complaint against me in my career. I have never 'groomed' anyone," he said in the statement. "I have never done anything to harm another staff member. Ever. The person I believe you are referring to has ulterior motives for bringing down the show and has been acting with malice towards the show."
However some ex-staffers said there couldn’t have been complaints because there was no formal process to file them, and that senior-level producers pressured them not to go to HR at the show’s parent company, according to BuzzFeed.
“There was no such thing as a confidential conversation,” a former employee said to BuzzFeed. “There was no clear direction that if something happens to you, you go to this person, it will remain confidential, and you will not be retaliated against.”
A former Warner Brothers employee who worked with the show told BuzzFeed the company “turns a blind eye” to the allegations because the show “is a cash cow.”
"Warner Brothers has a responsibility not just to the people who work on ‘The Ellen Show,’ but to its viewers and its shareholders to make sure people are protected on the job, and that they're not harassed, and they're not working in an environment that is toxic and unhealthy,” the former employee told BuzzFeed.
Some former workers said they don’t think DeGeneres is aware of the scope of what goes on behind the scenes because she doesn’t spend enough time in the office or interacting with the staff, according to BuzzFeed. They also said executive producers “insulate” her from details and control the narrative on set.
“Everyone acted really differently around her,” one former employee told BuzzFeed. “There’s a show that’s happening behind the show, the show that the executive producers have us all put on for her when she comes to the offices.”
But other former employees disagree. They told BuzzFeed there’s no way that DeGeneres hasn’t been exposed to the same stories and behavior, especially when they allegedly involve the executive producers she spends most of her time with. The employees who believe this though did not offer any first-hand knowledge or accounts to BuzzFeed that DeGeneres knew of this any sexual misconduct.
“For someone who’s so involved in the show and the creative aspect, and having been in those meetings with her, it’s very hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that she doesn’t hear the same whispers,” one former employee who worked closely with DeGeneres told BuzzFeed. “Unless she really is just in this bubble.”
Another ex-employee who also worked with DeGeneres said that she “doesn’t want to know” about what goes on behind the scenes, and “nobody wants to rock the boat” because she is essentially the show’s brand.
“She knows,” the ex-employee told BuzzFeed. “She knows shit goes on, but also she doesn’t want to hear it.”
In a letter to staff that was obtained by BuzzFeed, DeGeneres on Thursday apologized, saying that the show was supposed to be a place of “happiness” where “everyone would be treated with respect.”
“Obviously, something changed, and I am disappointed to learn that this has not been the case. And for that, I am sorry. Anyone who knows me knows it’s the opposite of what I believe and what I hoped for our show,” she wrote in the letter.
DeGeneres also wrote she had come to rely on others to stay on top of the daily operation, according to the letter.
“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. Clearly some didn’t. That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.”
The show is being investigated by WarnerMedia because of the numerous accounts of workplace problems, according to Variety.
Executives from Telepictures and Warner Bros. Television sent a memo to staffers last week saying they have engaged the WarnerMedia’s employee relations group and a third-party firm, who will interview current and former staffers about their experiences on set, as reported by Variety’s sources.