Replace “Ellen”? Questions abound for Warner Bros., NBC-owned stations

In 2019, “Ellen” announced a three-year renewal for the show thru 2022.

Internet’s having fun on who would replace her after several high-profile miscues, but with a contract running through 2022, it may be impossible

[This post has been updated.]

After several high-profile incidents regarding Ellen DeGeneres and her talk show amid viewers stampeding for the exits, is it time for the veteran talk show host to call it a career?

Speculation intensified Sunday as a report circulated by a foreign newspaper that Late Late Show host James Corden may be in line to replace DeGeneres, which airs weekdays at 3 p.m. on NBC-owned WMAQ-TV.

This comes as new allegations surfaced regarding the long-running Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution show’s workplace,  including racial and sexual harrassment, and DeGeneres herself contributing to the dysfunctional environment by being rude to staffers. Also weighing in were stars Lea Thompson and Brad Garrett, confirming guests on the show were treated poorly. 

DeGeneres sent an “emotional apology” last week, but was criticized as it didn’t seem all too sincere. She couldn’t even escape criticism while doing her show from her home due to the pandemic, preferring to use non-union crew members and referred to doing her show in her house as “a prison”. 

Major behind-the-scene changes at the show are taking place, starting with the likely departure of showrunner Ed Glavin. DeGeneres is also planning to listen more to the concerns of minority staff members. 

All of the negative publicity has worked to suppress Ellen’s ratings. According to Nielsen, her show recently hit an all-time low with a 1.0 household rating tying Steve Wilkos,  cleared on mostly lower-rated CW, MyNetwork TV, and independent stations as opposed to Ellen’s network affiliate clientele. Keep in mind however, Ellen – like other syndicated talk shows, are often pre-empted for breaking news updates on the pandemic. 

The declining ratings have to be a concern for the NBC-owned television stations, who slot Ellen as an early fringe news lead-in with 3 p.m. clearances across the board (with the exception of Boston’s WBTS; Ellen airs on ABC affiliate WCVB instead.) NBC owns stations in eleven markets including the six largest, Chicago included. In 2016, Ellen shifted from 4 p.m. to the lower-HUT level 3 p.m in many large markets, as the NBC-owned stations wanted to launch 4 p.m. newscasts in markets such as New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. 

The good news for Warner Bros. is the syndicator has a contract with the NBC-owned stations until 2022 to carry Ellen, so the likelihood of her getting replaced is basically slim to none despite all the fun the Twitterati is having on who should be her replacement (thank God these people don’t work in TV.) But if ratings continue to fall, NBC could demand changes – keep in mind anybody can weasel out of or amend a contract if the terms are no longer beneficial to one or the other party. This is especially potent given NBC is paying a large license fee for Ellen where as its new Kelly Clarkson talker – a program distributed by sister company NBCUniversal Television Distribution and leads-in to Ellen on most NBC-owned stations, isn’t. 

And with Clarkson’s show almost eclipsing Ellen in the ratings, it would make better sense to switch the two shows’ time periods, but isn’t likely to happen, at least not yet. 

The reasoning here is NBC and Warner Bros. seem to be committed to fixing Ellen’s problems. If history is any guide, Paramount made a similar pledge in 1992 when ratings for the original version of The Arsenio Hall Show were sliding and stations were rightly concerned. Paramount convinced them they had a handle on it and were committed to righting the ship on the suddenly uncool late-night strip. 

The Arsenio Hall Show went off the air two years later. 

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