Though she's just set an end date for her long-running daytime talk show, comedian Ellen DeGeneres considers it the most important thing she's ever done — but she nearly said goodbye to it years earlier.
She first considered doing so after season 16, which began in 2018. "There was a different president, and it was a different time, and there was a lot of just, hatred and anger and stuff, that I was just like, 'This is it,'" DeGeneres said in an exclusive interview with "TODAY" show co-anchor Savannah Guthrie that aired Thursday.
And she thought about calling it quits again briefly after news reports last summer detailed an allegedly toxic workplace, claims that DeGeneres says she knew nothing about. "I really did think about not coming back," DeGeneres said.
After the allegations, WarnerMedia — the parent company of Warner Bros. Television, which co-produces and distributes the show — launched an investigation. While there were no reports of complaints made directly about DeGeneres' behavior, the host apologized to staff and three top producers parted ways.
When the show wraps its 19th season in 2022, it'll be for good. "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" launched in 2003 when she was having a hard time finding work after coming out as gay on her 1990s sitcom "Ellen" and became wildly popular and catapulted her to a household name.
DeGeneres said the controversy over the workplace culture did not drive her decision. "If it was why I was quitting, I would have not come back this year," she said.
She said that there are 255 employees at the show, and she wishes she would have been made aware of problems before the news reports.
DeGeneres reiterated on Thursday that things had happened on her show that shouldn't have, but she said she was blindsided by the reports.
"You know, for me to read in the press about a toxic work environment — when all I've ever heard from every guest that comes on the show is what a happy atmosphere this is and what a happy place it is," she said.
In a monologue addressing the end of the show set to air Thursday, DeGeneres said she was following her intuition. "The truth is I’ve always trusted my instincts. And my instinct told me it’s time," she said.
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She called the show the greatest experience of her life and said she agonized over how to tell her staff and crew it would be coming to an end next year.
"I haven't been sleeping," she told "TODAY." "I've been trying to, you know, anticipate how to tell them and, you know, hope that everybody would take it OK."
DeGeneres said she had no intention of retiring, but she described having the show as transformative.
"If I never do another thing in my life, this has been the thing I'm most proud of — to do something for 19 years, especially something that nobody thought would happen," she said.