It’s been a long–and in later years, rocky–road for The Ellen DeGeneres Show, but the host finally said goodbye to her eponymous daytime talk show on Thursday. The emotional episode featured many callbacks to the first episode nearly two decades ago, including the return of first-ever guest Jennifer Aniston.
But first, the monologue: “I walked out here 19 years ago, and I said this is the start of a relationship. And today is not the end of a relationship, it’s more of a little break. You can see other talk shows now. I may see another audience once in a while,” DeGeneres joked at the top of the episode.
Reflecting on the historic nature of the program, she continued, “Twenty 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. Very few stations wanted to buy the show, and here we are, 20 years later, celebrating this amazing journey together.”
“When we started this show I couldn’t say, ‘gay’ on the show ... I said it at home, a lot. ‘What are we having for our gay breakfast?’ Or, ‘Pass the gay salt.’ ‘Has anyone seen the gay remote?’ Things like that. But we couldn’t say, ‘gay,’” DeGeneres said. “I couldn’t say, ‘we’ because that implied that I was with someone. 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.”
She went on, “Twenty-five years ago, they canceled my sitcom because they didn’t want a lesbian to be in prime time once a week. And I said, ‘OK, then I’ll be on daytime every day. How about that?’ What a beautiful, beautiful journey that we have been on together. And if this show has made you smile, if it has lifted you up, when you’re in a period of some type of pain, some type of sadness, anything that you’re going through, then I have done my job.”
Sharing a moment with sidekick tWitch, DeGeneres said she was proud of the “family atmosphere” they had created over the years (contrary to the reports that the comedian had fostered a toxic workplace environment, which came out shortly before she announced the show would be coming to an end).
During Aniston’s segment, the actor gifted DeGeneres a “Thanks for the memories” floor mat, throwing it back to the “Welcome” mat she had given the host for her first episode. Asked for advice about wrapping up a long-running series, the Friends alum recalled, “Well, I got a divorce and went into therapy, and then I did a movie called The Break-Up. I just kind of leaned into the end.”
The second guest was a newer friend, Billie Eilish, who told DeGeneres, “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.”
Pink, who wrote a new theme song for the show back in the 13th season, was the episode’s final 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,” she said to DeGeneres before performing “What About Us.”
“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,” Pink went on. “Maybe I help people find their pain. You help people find their joy, and we need that so badly in the world. You are as kind as you seem, and you support people, and when you shine your light on them, it’s like staring into the sun.”
As she concluded the show, DeGeneres tearfully addressed the audience, saying, “To all of you who have watched this show and supported me, thank you so much for this platform. I hope that what I’ve been able to do in the last 19 years has made you happy, and that I was able to take a little bit of pain away from a bad day or anything you’re going through. And I hope I’ve been able to inspire you to make other people happy and to do good in the world, to feel like you have a purpose.”
“And I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. 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,” she said. “They’re showing you who they are, and that is the biggest gift anybody can ever give you. By opening your heart and your mind, you’re going to 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.”
In the series’ final moments, DeGeneres recreated another moment from her first episode, walking over to a couch and watching herself on a television screen. She took one final look at the audience before turning the TV off. The stage then closed on one final “thank you” from the host, ending an era of daytime television.