Oprah Winfrey made a rare COVID-era appearance to help with Ellen DeGeneres's talk-show send-off.
Winfrey, whose own iconic eponymous talk show ended 11 years ago, admitted she was "emotional" when she came out having just talked to Ellen DeGeneres Show staffers backstage about the end of the show's 19-year run.
"I said to everybody, 'I know what this feels like with only a few days left,'" she told DeGeneres Tuesday ahead of Thursday's final show. "I just was really applauding your team for making this show what it's been for 19 years. Obviously you're the face out front but it's everybody back there that actually makes it work. I was tearing it up saying, 'Guys, what a great job you've done holding this together."
Winfrey said seeing the staff "triggered me," taking her back to May 2011 when the Oprah Winfrey Show ended. "You have all of these people who become your family. This becomes your home. That's what happens. Families come together, relationships are built. It becomes home for hundreds of people who are all supporting you and helping you be as great as you are."
DeGeneres — who weathered what she called a "coordinated" toxic workplace scandal just prior to announcing her decision to end the show — said she had been "thanking them every single day." She also thanked Winfrey, whom she called her mentor and friend, for being a guest with just two more full episodes to follow, saying there's "small group of people who understand what this job is — and an even smaller group of women."
And Winfrey seemed sincere in sharing her take — the good and bad.
"This is the truth: There will never, ever be a time like this," Winfrey said. "I just said this to your team. Everybody's like, 'Oh, yeah, you're going to go on [to do something new].' But you will never, ever have a time like this where you were held in the public's eye [like this] and received the joy in such a way that all of you came together and made that happen. There will be other things. There will be other great things. But there will never be a time like this. Know that these are the glory days."
She added, "You are going to be so missed."
Winfrey also urged DeGeneres to do what she didn't when her talk show ended and she immediately launched the OWN Network.
"I want you take some time off," Winfrey advised her pal. "Some real time. Because you know what I did? I took a week off and then I went right back into work. Take some time, OK? Do you hear me?"
DeGeneres agreed, but added that she then has "to keep working because I like to stay busy." She said she plans to "buy some houses" during her break, as a notorious house-flipper with wife Portia de Rossi.
DeGeneres also pitched some joke joint projects for them, as they are also neighbors in super posh Montecito, Calif. They included "CSI: Montecito," "Grand Ole O-pry" and "Real Ex-Talk Show Hosts of Santa Barbara," which got laughs from Winfrey.
They ended by telling one another, "I'll see you in the backyard."
The Hollywood Reporter was on the set of Ellen last month when Winfrey left her COVID bubble to tape the show. The audience didn't know Winfrey was a guest, leading to "screams and standing ovation." Winfrey, who was extremely locked down during the pandemic with a mandatory quarantine for visitors at her home, said that she had just visited the Atlanta set of The Color Purple movie musical remake, which she is producing.
Winfrey and DeGeneres go way back. When DeGeneres's TV character came out on her ABC sitcom in 1997, Winfrey — the then "queen of daytime" — played a therapist in famous "The Puppy Episode." Winfrey later said she received backlash for it, including being called the "N" word. DeGeneres came out offscreen, as well, in a Time magazine cover story, and also did a sit-down interview on Winfrey's then-talk show.
Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey in "The Puppy Episode" in 1997. (Photo: ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)
The finale of the Ellen DeGeneres Show airs on Thursday.