After 19 years in syndication, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” came to a close on Thursday with a look back, a victory lap and final guests including Jennifer Aniston, who also happened to be DeGeneres’ first all those years ago.
It was announced in May 2021 that the series would end this year, coinciding with the end of DeGeneres’ contract — as well as a change in DeGeneres’ reputation due to reports of pay reduction, racism and intimidation towards crew members, though the contract was set in 2019.
During the series finale, DeGeneres focused her opening monologue on how different the world is for LGBTQ+ people now than it was when the show began.
“20 years ago, when we were trying to sell the show, no one thought that this would work. Not because it was a different kind of show, but because I was different,” she said. “When we started this show, I couldn’t say ‘gay’ on the show. I was not allowed to say ‘gay.’ I said it at home a lot. ‘What are we having for gay breakfast?’”
“We couldn’t say ‘gay.’ I couldn’t say ‘we,’ because that implied that I was with someone,” she continued. “I sure couldn’t say ‘wife,’ and that’s because it wasn’t legal for gay people to get married, and now I say ‘wife’ all the time.” The camera cut to DeGeneres’ wife Portia de Rossi grinning in the audience.
“25 years ago, they canceled my sitcom because they didn’t want a lesbian to be in primetime once a week. I said, ‘Okay, then I’ll be on daytime every day. How about that?’” she added.
DeGeneres ended the monologue by asking her DJ, Stephen Boss aka tWitch, to dance with her one last time. The two grooved through the audience to The Emotions’ “Best of My Love” before sitting down together onstage.
“If you don’t mind me saying this, your show is a reflection of what the world actually looks like. Not what’s in the headlines,” tWitch said. “You look out and you see people of various colors, shapes, creeds, whatever, all showing love to each other. It’s been that for 19 years, and we thank you for that.”
Aniston, who was the very first guest on the inaugural “The Ellen DeGeneres” show, appeared as the first guest during the finale. After noting that Aniston had been on the show 20 times over the years, DeGeneres asked how the actor dealt with the conclusion of “Friends” after 10 seasons in 2004.
“Well, I got a divorce and went into therapy. And then I did a move called ‘The Breakup,’” Aniston said. “I just kind of leaned into the end.”
Aniston gifted DeGeneres with a welcome mat that read “Thanks For the Memories” — a nod to the mat she brought to her first appearance — before presenting a montage made by the show’s crew displaying highlights from DeGeneres’ career.
DeGeneres’ second guest was Billie Eilish, who made her daytime debut on the show in 2018 at age 16.
“I was so scared,” Eilish said, recalling that episode. “You started this show the year after I was born. This was in my house constantly. Every day. I would walk into the kitchen and my mom would be watching you.”
Next, Pink came on as the show’s last interview and musical guest.
“This is a very strange feeling for me because I’ve known you for so long, and you’ve meant so much in my life, personally, but in everybody’s life,” the singer said. “I wanted to be a singer because I wanted to grow up and change the world and make it a better place. You’ve done that in so many ways. Maybe I help people find their pain. You help people find their joy.”
After reminiscing on clips from her first appearance on the show in 2003 and gifting DeGeneres with homemade sourdough starter, birdwatching binoculars, knitting needles and jumbo yarn for her newfound free time, Pink performed “What About Us.”
“I want to thank my staff and my crew once again, but most importantly, I want to thank Mary [Connelly], Andy [Lassner] and Craig [Peralta],” DeGeneres said as she began to close out the show. Connelly and Lassner have executive produced “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” since its debut, while Peralta has been DeGeneres’ chief of staff for 25 years.
Addressing the audience, she continued: “If I’ve done anything in the past 19 years, I hope I’ve inspired you to be yourself. Your true, authentic self. And if someone is brave enough to tell you who they are, be brave enough to support them, even if you don’t understand. They’re showing you who they are and that is the biggest gift anybody can ever give you. And by opening your heart and your mind, you’re gonna be that much more compassionate. And compassion is what makes the world a better place. Thank you so much for being on this journey with me. I feel the love and I send it back to you. Bye.”
Mirroring the opening of the first-ever episode of the show, DeGeneres walked to a couch facing away from the audience to sit in front of a TV displaying a live feed of the stage. She grabbed the remote and turned the TV off as the doors closed behind her.