The finale of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" Thursday began with the opening shot of that syndicated daytime talk series' premiere episode from Sept. 8, 2003. Sitting on a couch with its back to the studio audience, DeGeneres watches a large glass-tube TV set displaying the same scene in a hall-of-mirrors effect. She pretends to be surprised by the audience behind her, then steps delightedly onto the studio floor and says, "Wow."
A sequential montage followed of opening moments from each successive season through the 18th. Then, as the host strolled in, the audience — including in the front row DeGeneres’ wife, Portia de Rossi; her older brother, comedian and producer Vance DeGeneres; and two nieces — sustained its applause for over a minute.
"Welcome to our very last show," said DeGeneres, 64, who shot the finale on April 28. "I walked out here 19 years ago, and I said that this is the start of a relationship. And today it's not the end of a relationship, it's more of a little break. You can see other talk shows now," she joked. "And I may see another audience once in a while."
Turning serious, she recalled that, "Twenty years 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," as the first out lesbian star on television, coming out in 1997 while headlining her 1994-98 ABC sitcom "Ellen." Her titular character Ellen Morgan doing so concurrently would prove to be a milestone in LGBTQ+ representation in the media.
"Very few stations wanted to buy the show," DeGeneres continued, adding that when it started, "I couldn't say 'gay' [on the show] … 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. … 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?' "
After dancing one last time with her DJ, Stephen "tWitch" Boss, DeGeneres brought on "Friends" and "The Morning Show" star Jennifer Aniston, who had been her first guest on the premiere. When Aniston asked what DeGeneres plans to do next, the host replied, "I want to just to lay low for a little while. I want to rest and then I'll do something again but I don't know what it is."
Following a retrospective segment, singer-songwriter Billie Eilish came on as a guest. Then pop star Pink, whose song "Today's the Day" has been the show's theme since 2015, told DeGeneres emotionally, "You help people find their joy, and we need that so badly in the world. … You've made it OK for people to be who they really are, and you remind people that there's a lot going on in the world but joy is always a choice."
In her closing remarks, DeGeneres told her audience, "I hope I've inspired you to be … your true authentic self. And if someone is brave enough to tell you who they are, be brave enough to support them …. They're showing you who they are and that is the biggest gift anybody can ever give you." Adding that, "Compassion is what makes the world a better place," she concluded, "I feel the love and I send it back to you. Bye."