For months, there’s been speculation about what really happened behind the scenes before The Wendy Williams Show was canceled. Now the show’s staff and top executives are speaking out.
In a Wednesday cover story, The Hollywood Reporter detailed what led to the sad ending of the once popular daytime talk show.
The article describes months of chaos on the set, and says Williams’ well-documented addiction and health problems led to confusion among her staff. According to the report, the situation began to “snowball” back in 2017, when Williams collapsed while shooting the season’s Halloween episode.
“Everybody on that staff and crew witnessed all kinds of things,” one show insider told THR.
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Two other show insiders said producers sent text messages to executives questioning Williams’ sobriety “at least 25” times.
Williams revealed in a 2019 episode that she had been staying in a sober living house. “You know I’ve had a struggle with cocaine in my past. And I never went to a place to get the treatment,” she said on the episode.
Her self-titled daytime talk show was produced and distributed by Debmar-Mercury and aired nationally on Fox owned-and-operated TV stations
In September 2021, Debmar-Mercury co-presidents Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein called a meeting with the show’s 100-person staff to address media reports about Williams’ health problems and delays to the season 13 premiere.
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Williams’ then-manager, Bernie Young, arranged for her to appear at the meeting via Zoom.
“So the idea was, ‘Look, they haven’t seen you or spoken to you, so let’s do this for the staff and let everybody know where things are,’” Young said in the article.
Unfortunately, the meeting quickly unraveled.
“She gets on and she starts rambling about ‘I’m really fine, it’s going to be fine,’ and it’s like, ‘What are you saying?’” one insider told THR.
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Executives abruptly ended the meeting.
“It lasted two and a half, three minutes, and it was not pretty,” Lonnie Burstein, Debmar-Mercury’s executive vice president of programming, said in the article. “People were sort of freaked out. She was saying things like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait, I’ll be back with you really soon,’ but it was obvious to anyone watching that she was not going to be back really soon.”
Debmar-Mercury execs described Williams as going AWOL, but said local affiliates expected them to deliver a show.
“They started calling, saying, ‘Guys, if you don’t [put on new episodes], we’re going to pull it.’ So, what could we do? We started saying, ‘Let’s just do a couple of weeks of guest hosts until she’s better,’ ” Marcus said in the article. Bernstein added, “For the first four, five, six, eight weeks, we think we’re putting a Band-Aid on it and Wendy’s coming back.”
Producers enlisted several guest hosts, including actress Leah Remini; actor Michael Rapaport; rappers Fat Joe and Remy Ma; actress Vivica A. Fox; comedian Bill Bellamy; former talk show host Jerry Springer; and actress, comedian and former The View co-host Sherri Shepherd.
Shepherd quickly emerged as a fan favorite and was later given her own show, which launches in the fall.
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Once The Wendy Williams Show was canceled, Williams expressed confusion about the decision, according to the THR report.
She kept contacting Marcus and Bernstein asking why the program was ending. The execs said they spoke with Williams multiple times and had a sit-down lunch with her in Manhattan. But with each conversation, Williams appeared to be confused and acted like they were having the discussion for the first time.
“We said, ‘Wendy, we need to have a diagnosis from a doctor — whether it’s the TV stations or a network or a new producer, anyone who’s going to do business with you, after you didn’t show up for a year, needs to know that you’re OK. [Without that assurance,] no one’s going to risk money or finance things,’” Marcus stated.
In February, Debmar-Mercury made the official announcement that The Wendy Williams Show was ending.
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Bernstein admitted they should have made a decision earlier.
“I said, ‘We haven’t heard from you, and we had to make a decision,’ ” Bernstein said. “We should have made one in November, but we pushed it to January or February, and by then, it was like, ‘Make a decision or lose the time period.’”
Williams reportedly asked if she could have a different timeslot.
“I said, ‘We’d love to work with you, and there are lots of ways and lots of buyers, but you need to come back, and we need to know that you’re OK,” Bernstein said. “You can’t just call after nine months and say, ‘I’m ready.’”
Williams declined to comment for the article, but her spokeswoman Shawn Zanotti said, “It has been no secret that Wendy has battled with addiction over the years but at this time Wendy is on the road to recovery and healing herself from her chronic illnesses and her grievances of the past.”
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