Big news. Ellen DeGeneres has entered the weightless stage of ratings freefall following her recent difficulties. One million fewer people watch her talk show every day, according to The New York Times. That means about 40 per cent of her total audience has evaporated.
The going theory is that a series of breathless stories about DeGeneres’s TV personality (the “Be Kind” lady) vs. her actual personality (the, something more like, “I told you it was a DECAF Americano, you IDIOT” lady) cost her the affections of her public.
Ratings wise, she is no longer up on Entertainment Olympus, battling titans such as Dr. Phil and Ryan Seacrest. Now she’s down in the Valley renting by the week with Maury Povich and Kelly Clarkson.
When you read about DeGeneres’s professional troubles, the obvious question that leaps to mind is “Maury Povich is still alive?” The man looked like the Cryptkeeper back in the ’90s. I mean, he’s well put together. A handsome fellow. But he’s still going? Hasn’t he got a house built out of money by now? Doesn’t he want to retire there and enjoy whatever comes after your golden years?
And, you’ve got to be kidding me: Kelly Clarkson (the one from American Idol, I’m guessing) has a daytime TV show? What does that involve? Does she belt out the soundtrack for Evita for an hour? Who would watch that? Apparently, a million people every day.
The real wing-dinger is Steve Wilkos. You remember the bald security guy from The Jerry Springer Show, right? (Bonus points for a life well lived if you do not.) He was the one who tumbled on to stage whenever a paternity test went wrong (so, every single time) to keep everyone from killing each other. That’s Steve Wilkos. He has a show. Apparently, given a choice between Judge Judy re-runs and that, people watch that. It’s incredible.
Who are these viewers? Are they our neighbours? If so, jam some things in the car because we’re leaving at midnight. Somewhere the satellite signal can’t reach us.
The core issue for daytime television is that there is a time in your life for it, and it does not include productive adulthood.
Your post-secondary education. That’s a peak daytime TV moment. The great thing about studying something useless like, say, political science and/or journalism, is that you don’t have to go to class. It’s right there in the syllabus – “None of this matters. Don’t bother coming.”
You can get up at noon, lie in front of the TV for six or seven hours and by then the sun’s over the yardarm so you know what that means. This is how you locate the inner resources to watch five soap operas daily. It’s not easy. But I’m here to tell you that, yes, it can be done.
That’s your daytime TV demographic: university aged no-hopers, people without constructive hobbies, Russian bot farmers looking to sharpen up their memes and the incarcerated.
DeGeneres didn’t elevate the medium. Don’t give her that much credit. You and I could give away Hyundais on TV, too, if someone would just give us the Hyundais with which to do so. We can also tell beautiful people how beautiful they are, but not in a creepy way. Just don’t stare. That’s the trick.
Get a couple of three-legged pets in there, cry once in a while over the state of the world and you, sir, have yourself a daytime TV show. The barrier for entry is that low.
Daytime TV was an entertainment dumpster before DeGeneres came along, and will be so long after she’s gone. The hosts who’ve survived in it – your Maury Poviches – know what they are and what they do. They understand who their people are. This is a key to life they don’t teach in journalism school (or maybe they did. I wasn’t there): find your people and stay true to them.
You could walk up to Maury Povich on the street, offer him a pull off your half-vodka, half-Mountain Dew Big Gulp and he would happily take it. He would take it and never let on that he has a tetanus shot stuffed in his assistant’s Gucci backpack at all times for just this eventuality.
DeGeneres’s mistake wasn’t being mean to the little people. It was allowing her disdain for her audience – the much littler than little people – to shine through.
She had convinced herself that her people were the bright young things who appear on her show. She did not properly apprehend that, however much she is paid, however lavish her lifestyle, she is still just a journalist. How do you know that? Because she’s the one asking questions.
Journalists consort with the famous, but however large their audience, they can never be them (Oprah Winfrey and Maureen Dowd being the exceptions that prove this rule).
After DeGeneres got beat up online and in the tabloid press, she tried apologizing. It wasn’t good. One of those “I’m sorry you’re so sensitive, but did you ever think about how I feel?” apologies.
You can’t fool a daytime TV audience with that sort of thing. They have seen a million phony apologies – daytime TV is built on them. Plus, they know who you aren’t apologizing to. It isn’t all the production assistants and baristas you drove to despair. It’s them.
That’s what’s undoing DeGeneres. It’s not that people no longer think she’s nice. It’s that they no longer believe she is one of them. Somewhere along the line, she changed. She broke faith with her people and now they are deserting her. Just like in the Bible.
In future, under-pressure daytime TV talk show hosts will know to lean into their troubles. Call on the audience to join them in a war against the elites who are trying to take us all down. I am you and you are me. I have the polygraph to prove it. That’s how Maury would play it.
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