Ellen DeGeneres to end daytime talk show run

Announcement gives NBC-owned stations time to develop a replacement in ’22

We now know the fate of Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show as she is officially calling it quits after next season, with the NBC-owned stations and others now looking forward to programming options for September 2022. 

One immediate beneficiary is Kelly Clarkson, who could slide in to the 3 p.m. slot on the NBC-owned stations from 2 p.m. including here in Chicago on NBC 5 (WMAQ.) Syndicated by sister company NBCUniversal Syndication Studios, Clarkson replaced Steve Harvey’s show on the group in 2019. Even though Steve was distributed by NBCU and shot at Universal Studios, the company did not have ownership nor it was produced by NBC but by IMG instead. 

NBCUniversal can develop a companion show for Clarkson at 2 p.m., whereas NBC can keep the show in-house and not pay a huge license fee to an outside syndicator like it did to Warner Bros. for Ellen, so look for some kind of development on this in the coming months ahead. Other less likely options could include upgrading NBCUniversal’s Access Live or expanding local news to 3 p.m. 

One name already being branded about is Tiffany Haddish

Warner Bros. isn’t likely to hold on to Ellen’s time periods like they did in 2002 when Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show ended and those slots were taken over by Caroline Rhea in most markets as the results were disastrous. Syndication is no longer a priority for Warner, knowing they lack the vertical integration they need like a station group to get shows on the air as new parent AT&T wants to invest money somewhere else. 

As I wrote in this space last year, Ellen’s ratings were sagging – a concern for the ten NBC-owned stations who carried her show as it was used as a news lead-in at 4 p.m., paying syndicator Warner Bros. a license fee – a great investment at the time the show was last renewed – that is, until the bottom fell out. 

Allegations of racial and sexual harassment plus a toxic workplace behind-the-scenes and claims of mistreatment by guests such as Dakota Johnson and Brad Garett shone a light on DeGeneres’ “be kind” mantra she portrayed on camera, which turned out to be phony as she participated in the rude work environment herself. 

Criticism of DeGeneres even continued into this week. In interviews, she said the decision to end the show was made two years ago and the recent controversies involving her show had nothing to do with it. You wonder if she’s being truthful to her audience with this revelation given had none of this happened, she probably would be doing her show for several more years. 

While ratings were down considerably, Ellen’s ranking was still decent – in a recent syndication ratings report, Ellen was in a four-way tie for second with a 0.9 household rating. But season to date, Ellen is averaging a 1.0 household rating, down 47 percent from last year. 

Now in its eighteenth season, Ellen premiered in a very different time in television. For one, Ellen debuted in a freshman field that included failed junk such as Home Delivery and Living It Up With Ali and Jack – not to mention stalwarts Ricki Lake and Montel Williams were still on the air (Lake did have a comeback show in 2013.) Originally airing at 10 a.m., NBC 5 moved Ellen to 3 p.m. in September 2005 after previous time period occupant Dr. Phil skipped out and headed to CBS 2 (WBBM-TV). 

Her show became a major success story for the NBC-owned stations as at one point, Ellen even beat Katie Couric’s ill-fated talk show head-to-head sending top-rated ABC 7 (WLS-TV) to its lowest ratings at 3 p.m. since the early 1980s. 

But a few years ago, Ellen shifted an hour earlier due to news expansion on NBC-owned stations and at WCVB in Boston, a trend increasingly common these days as station groups were tired of paying high prices for syndicated content and would rather invest that money into local fare. 

DeGeneres herself felt wore down by the daily grind of the show as noted by the New York Times and other publications. With ratings down considerably because of the scandals, everyone knew DeGeneres was going to end the show before NBC and Warner Bros. did. 

With Ellen’s departure, first-run now has some noticeable gaps. Also departing after next season is Maury, who’s retiring (Povich is turning 84 this year) and after this month Judge Judy, whose moving her gavel to Amazon’s iMDB channel. In an era where linear TV ratings are declining significantly in all dayparts, it is going to be hard to attract quality talent as stations are adding more news and programming, either local or on a national level like Sinclair is doing. Fewer and fewer time periods are being made available and raises questions about the future of the syndication business, whether if it’s first-run or off-network.

But as they say in Hollywood, the show must go on because money must be made – somehow. 

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