Everything seemed to be running normally on the set of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Ellen herself sat comfortably in her signature red chair and linked effortlessly to a man located outside of the studio. So far, nothing very unusual was happening on the show – but then things took an altogether more surprising turn.
It’s not uncommon, though, for an Ellen Show segment to veer into the unexpected. And perhaps that’s just one reason why the daytime series is so widely watched. As of 2020, in fact, it ranks 12th on polling company YouGov’s list of the “most popular contemporary TV shows in America.”
The Ellen DeGeneres Show first aired on September 8, 2003, with the eponymous actress and comedian in the role of host. And Ellen had created the talk show after a rollercoaster career in television. Famously, for four years from 1994, she even had her own self-titled ABC sitcom.
Ellen became hugely popular in its own right, in fact. But unfortunately, the series’ fortunes changed in 1997, when its star opened up about her personal life on an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. There, the actress revealed to the world that she was gay – and on a later episode of her sitcom, the fictionalized version of her did, too.
After that, ABC supposedly stalled on its advertising of Ellen, with this move later being held responsible for the show’s dropping ratings. Then the series was axed completely in 1998, and its star practically disappeared from TV as a result. But while Ellen went on to attempt a comeback in 2001, she wouldn’t taste further success until the launch of her talk show two years later.
That series, of course, was The Ellen DeGeneres Show. And while multiple other celebrity-led talk vehicles debuted at around the same time, the comedian’s concept rose to the top of a crowded field – receiving a large chunk of the audience share and considerable critical praise to boot.
For its first season alone, The Ellen DeGeneres Show earned a staggering 11 Daytime Emmy nominations. Of these, it won four, including the coveted gong for Best Talk Show. And since then, the series has brought home a further 57 Daytime Emmy awards. This stunning haul includes four trophies for Ellen herself, with the star scooping the Outstanding Talk Show Host prize for four consecutive years from 2005.
And in its nearly two-decade run, The Ellen DeGeneres Show typically brings in approximately 4.2 million viewers an episode. This figure pushes it toward the top of the ratings for daytime, in fact, with the series only bested by Dr. Phil and, for a period, Live with Kelly and Ryan.
So, why exactly is the series so popular? Well, it could have something to do with the infectious energy of its host. Ellen kicks off every episode, in fact, by dancing on stage and into the crowd in the studio. And when the show first started airing, viewers so enjoyed the host’s moves that the boogie sessions grew longer over time.
On top of that, Ellen brings on A-list celebrity guests for candid interviews and introduces the nation to human-interest stories that have touched her heart. And the star has become famous for her generosity towards her guests. Yes, she and her sponsors often give away prizes and cash to deserving people – as well as those in the audience on occasion.
Since The Ellen DeGeneres Show first aired, in fact, the host has regularly demonstrated her kind-heartedness. Back in 2017, for example, a Sudanese refugee named Ekhlas Ahmed wrote into the show, explaining how being a viewer had assisted her English skills. And Ahmed’s story of survival and success clearly touched Ellen enough to bring her into the studio.
By the time Ahmed appeared on stage, though, Ellen knew a secret about her: the refugee-turned-teacher had more than $20,000 in debt dragging her down. So, the TV host joined forces with the online photo-printing site Shutterfly to pay the balance on Ahmed’s accounts – and handed the guest a check for $22,000.
Sometimes, Ellen even extends her generosity to her celebrity guests. For instance, in 2017 Jimmy Kimmel revealed to the world that his then-newborn son, Billy, had been born with a congenital heart problem – and an uncommon one at that. Mere days after he had entered the world, then, the little boy underwent much-needed surgery.
Young Billy had his procedure at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and Kimmel praised the facility after his son’s successful procedure. The emotional news seemed to affect Ellen, too, as she subsequently played a part in bringing in a $1 million donation for the hospital. But that wasn’t all she did for Kimmel and his baby boy.
In February 2018 Ellen chose to welcome Kimmel onto her show. And at that time, she had a beautiful surprise for her fellow TV host. On camera, the star revealed that she hadn’t only raised cash for the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; she’d also had a room in the institution named in Billy’s honor.
Plus, Ellen has often used her platform to speak out on causes in which she believes. And while, most of the time, her show steers clear of political topics, in 2008 the star nevertheless used her considerable platform to decry a law that would directly affect her personal life.
During that year, you see, California passed Proposition 8 – legislation that barred same-sex couples from tying the knot. And this decree had naturally had an effect on Ellen, who had only recently married her wife, actress Portia de Rossi. So, she used her show to speak out on behalf of herself and other same-sex couples who may have felt discouraged by such an obstacle to their rights.
And Ellen has shared other messages of hope in trying times. After a gunman killed dozens at the 2017 Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, for example, the TV host made a poignant speech that may have brought some of those watching at home to tears. Speaking candidly, Ellen proclaimed, “The world is full of amazing people. Good will always win. Love will always win. We will continue to shine a light on those people on our show.”
Ellen has put her money where her mouth is, too, by continuing to demonstrate kindness on her show. In fact, she’s even helped to stage surprises for the people who work with her on a day-to-day basis. And as it happens, Ellen’s staff have often made for some of the most memorable recipients of their boss’ goodwill.
In true Ellen fashion, though, such gestures often came as a shock. And one stunning segment actually began pretty inauspiciously. To start with, the host segued into a feature helmed by The Ellen DeGeneres Show’s then-producer Aaron Pinkston, who could be seen standing outside with fans.
“Let’s check in with Aaron at Loyola University in Chicago,” Ellen announced at the time. Again, this wasn’t an out-of-the-ordinary event, as it’s not rare for Ellen to send her field producers out to speak with fans – even those far away from her Burbank, California, studio. Then cameras started to roll on a segment filmed outside of her sound stage.
As the stream flipped from Ellen’s stage to the college campus, viewers could see producer Aaron Pinkston bundled up in a hoodie and knit cap. “You got the top ten people with you?” Ellen asked, seemingly ready to helm another of her famous contests or giveaways.
The ten contestants behind Pinkston seemed to be dressed to be noticed – and in a rather wacky way at that. Among them, they boasted unusual makeshift garments made of paper towels, newspapers and printer paper. “Everyone dressed in paper! That’s fantastic,” Ellen said after the Chicago feed went live.
“Is it cold there? What’s the temperature there?” Ellen then asked Pinkston, clearly aware of Chicago’s notoriously chilly weather. However, the crowd behind him was so excited and so loud that Pinkston eventually had to shush them to hear the questions.
“Hey Aaron, is it cold there?” Ellen repeated. But she didn’t get an answer – even after the people in paper had quietened down. Instead, the producer folded his arms and stared at the camera without saying a word.
Of course, he wasn’t being rude or shy – he was a field producer for the show and likely used to being in front of the camera, after all. He simply seemed to have a bad audio connection, which Ellen soon seemed to realize.
“Aaron? Aaron?” she repeated. The producer apparently heard nothing. He pressed his ear, seemingly in an attempt to hear something, anything, coming through his headset. Then Ellen tried again, saying, “Aaron, can you hear me?”
“I lost… we lost signal,” he finally said, looking confusedly at crew members filming the segment. “Can you hear me?” he asked the talk show host, though his camera operator answered the question by moving the camera as if it was shaking its head.
At that point, Ellen seemed to realize that fixing the audio wouldn’t be a quick process. So she asked her team in Burbank, “Should we stop while we work on it?” An off-camera voice answered, “They’re trying to work on the sound.”
But as her team descended upon the stage, Ellen stopped them. “Can we get Jen out here for a second?” she requested instead. Jen Schoening was a wardrobe assistant for the show, and she quickly made her way on stage when called by the talk show host.
“I feel like I have… like a…” Ellen said, pointing to the side of her jeans. Schoening leaned down to look at the garment, preparing to adjust or repair an uncomfortable fit of the fabric. As she did, however, Ellen looked back at the feed showing Aaron in Chicago.
“Look how cute Aaron is,” the host said, eliciting giggles from the crowd. “He’s so cute,” Schoening responded, the slightest hint of a blush running across her cheeks. Schoening and Pinkston were a couple, and Ellen was well aware of their relationship.
“That must be hard when he’s in Chicago. He should be here,” Ellen said, again making Schoening laugh. And with the adjustment to her outfit complete, the host tested her microphone. “Aaron? Aaron, can you hear me? Where is Aaron?” she asked. “He should be here. He really should.” She then pointed Schoening’s attention to the corner of her stage from which celebrity guests make their entrance.
But rather than an A-list singer or actor walking out, it was Pinkston, dressed to the nines in a black suit. The audience then collectively gasped as Schoening asked her beau, “What are you doing here?” He didn’t say anything, though, choosing rather to wrap his girlfriend in a hug. “Hey,” she said, again receiving no response. Instead, he reached into his pocket and dropped down to one knee.
Again, the audience gasped, realizing now that Pinkston was ready to propose – and that the entire audio failure had been a ruse to make the whole thing happen. The crowd fell silent as soon as he began his proposal. “You are my everything, you know that,” he said. “You are my heart and my soul. And I want nothing more in life than to spend the rest of my life with you, okay?” he professed. “Will you marry me?”
Breathlessly, Schoening replied, “Yeah!” Her knees even buckled as she looked down at the ring. Then Pinkston slipped it on her finger as the audience – including Ellen, who had a front-row seat for the proposal – clapped and cheered.
Schoening then looked at the talk show host in shock, seemingly unable to believe that she had been so blindsided by the surprise proposal. “Congratulations!” Ellen shouted as she joined them on stage, hugging the newly minted fiancés.
And a year on from that adorable moment, the couple would say their vows at Barr Mansion in Schoening’s native Texas. “May this beautiful token and pledge symbolize the completeness of my love,” Pinkston recited as he slipped a wedding band onto Schoening’s finger. “I give it to you to remind you of my constant faith and abiding love,” Schoening said – while this time giving her soon-to-be-husband a ring, too.
Eventually, the newlyweds relocated to Austin, Texas, along with their daughter, Parker. The family also expanded in 2017 to include their daughter, Ever. And Ellen remained in the picture for a while after that, too, as Pinkston continued his work as a field producer on her show until 2018.
As of early 2020, however, Pinkston is now an art director for Siete Foods. Jen has since moved on, too, although she still has her hand in fashion through a new children’s sleepwear brand called La Paloma. And although their lives have changed, both husband and wife can rest assured that their former boss continues to demonstrate the same generosity that ultimately brought them together on The Ellen DeGeneres Show’s set.