Former “TMZ on TV” and “Ellen” Employees Detail Abusive Work Culture

Allegations of toxic environments on Ellen Degeneres’ daytime show exploded over the summer, but apparently long before she became under fire, culture problems were common at several shows produced by Telepictures.

The TV industry is taking hit after hit. On August 17, Warner Bros. Television confirmed the dismissal of Ellen DeGeneres Show‘s executive producers Ed Glavin and Kevin Leman, as well as head writer and co-executive producer Jonathan Norman following an investigation into claims of workplace toxicity, sexual harassment, and discrimination.

The following week, 27-year-old and former TMZ on TV employee Bernadette Zilio filed her own discrimination complaint against Harvey Levin’s celebrity gossip outlet, claiming that between 2015-2020 she endured years of misogynistic indignities, she was later fired after she went to HR. Then on September 8, BuzzFeed published a scathing expose alleging that TMZ is “a hotbed for racism, misogyny, and verbal abuse.”

To the ordinary person, the two shows are unrelated, but Ellen and TMZ are syndicated by media production giant Telepictures, which also produces Extra, The Real, and Judge Mathis, among many others. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Telepictures is a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Television, and Hollywood Reporter launched an investigation into the company. The findings revealed Telepictures is a repeat offender when it comes to breaches of professional protocol.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, interviews with more than a dozen current and former Telepictures employees—both at the studio and on its shows—reveal that the culture has failed to keep up with the rapidly changing times.

The origination of the troubling patterns stems back to its first daytime megahit, The Rosie O’Donnell Show, that was syndicated from 1996-2002. Several key figures in the Ellen and TMZ allegations were also executives on the Rosie show and had been moved around within the Telepictures productions—including The Bonnie Hunt Show and The Tyra Banks Show, where similar problems existed. Andy Lassner, an original Rosie producer, is currently an executive producer for the Ellen show.

“What you had at Ellen are showrunners who came from notoriously toxic environments,” says an anonymous former Telepictures producer who worked at the company in the early 2000s, “so what resulted was the worst of all those worlds. A place where the EPs cater to the host, restrict virtually every other staffer’s access to the host, and then make you work 80- to 90-hour weeks almost for sport ‘because that’s what they had to do.’ ”

Former staffers of Telepictures and its shows told The Hollywood Reporter that they experienced verbal abuse; frequent and unwarranted firings (as well as conversely vague contracts that made it difficult to leave); overworking; gender discrimination;  negligent or absent human resources departments; and nepotism.

Although WarnerMedia said they are hopeful that their industry had reached a turning point and recognized behaviors that should not be tolerated, many in the industry aren’t convinced the clouds have parted. “It’s so dark,” said one ex-Telepictures producer. “Late night shows, which were historically the more stressful, nowadays are much happier places than daytime shows.”

For the most part, there has been a history of allegations against Telepictures that date years ago; what we are witnessing now is just an addition to the toxic work atmosphere that goes on behind the screens.

In the meantime, it looks like WarnerMedia is taking the steps needed to improve show environments by implementing new benefit programs that include a total of five days of vacation and paid time off for doctor appointments and family events.

In addition, they are also increasing its Human Resources Department and posting recent job openings for the executive director of employee relations and two labor relations manager positions that will primarily focus on investigations.

Harvey Levin
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