The ‘Wendy Williams Show’ ended as badly as it started
Whether she was declaring Beyoncé inarticulate or voicing her concerns about Tabitha Brown’s marriage, Williams had no fear of angering Beyhive or causing viral clapbacks. (“Wendy, how much pain you must be feeling to feel this. Honey, I’m so sorry,” Brown replied, in what became a meme bringing together the shadow in earnest.) Williams was sleazy and ridiculous, but there also had more subtle moments that captured why she was good at her job and understood pop culture.
She clearly watched the shows she was talking about and knew how to make good television. For example, no one else would refer The Real Housewives of New Jersey star Teresa Giudice of being jealous of her sister-in-law opposite, knowing full well that the wrong brand of cookies had sparked major family drama between them. No other daytime entertainer could give the perfect expression she did as a former member of Danity Kane and Celebrity Apprentice Contestant Aubrey O’Day sat down with her, talking about how she’s more “urban” than the reality show‘s other nerdy white castmates. Williams basically winked at the audience, repeating, “So urban.”
But it all started to fall apart around 2017 when she collapsed in a Statue of Liberty costume. There were rumors that her longtime husband had an affair and fathered a child with his girlfriend, which were eventually confirmed. She took time off in 2018 and 2019, tearfully revealing on her own talk show that she had been in rehab.
Williams came full throttle back on “Hot Topics” in 2020, urging Future to tie his “penis in a knot” and jokingly wishing Britney Spears’ parents were dead during the conservatorship battle. She was still often called out for her victim-blaming misogyny and anti-gay comments.
Early last year, she didn’t just return to the talk show, however; she also seemed in a nostalgic mood and anxious to claim her story. She created a gonzo Lifetime TV movie as well as a candid documentary, in which she snacks on caviar and Cheetos and tearfully talks about the end of her marriage.
Last fall, she disappeared again, raising speculation and prompting producers to bring in all of the guest hosts. The range of people — of all genders and races — speaks to the assortment of Williams’ own audience, as she was one of the few hosts who specifically catered to black women and gay men.
This week’s announcement, after months of postponing “Wendy will be back” to save face from her publicity team, led to tributes to Williams on Twitter. “As a queer, this show was an escape and always will be. 13 and over day? ! LEGENDARY!,” a user wrote. Andy Cohen shouted it out on his own talk show, proclaim“We love you, Wendy.”
Perhaps the greatest tribute to his longevity is remembering the many high-profile TV personalities who failed in the format during his reign, including Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, Meredith Vieira, and Bethenny Frankel. When Ellen DeGeneres‘ beautiful personality fell apart and her talk show ended, Williams pointed out, “19 years on TV doesn’t change your life — it exposes you for the person you really are. “
And to his credit, Williams mostly owned his imperfections. In an interview with Cohen last year, he asked how she came up with the title of his candid documentary, Wendy Williams: What a waste! She said it was her reaction to the annoying headlines thrown around by Lifetime executives. It’s a fitting self-reprimand – and a tribute. ●