As her daytime talk show heads into its 10th season, Wendy Williams on Thursday received the NAB Show New York Impact Award for her 10 years as a New York-based TV talk show host, for her more than 20 years as a New York City drive time radio deejay and for the philanthropic work done with her husband and manager, Kevin Hunter, and their Hunter Foundation.
“I think people want a little sparkle in their lives,” said Williams. “[The Wendy Williams Show] is just one innocent hour of laughing and having fun. I don’t get political and I don’t do human interest stories where people are coming in and we’re crying together.
“Our show is about Hot Topics, which I love, and Ask Wendy, which has really spiced up since the first season. Some of the most educated people I know tell me that when they want to know what’s really going on, they have to watch Hot Topics. And if a celebrity guest wants to stop by, that's fine. Our studio is very conveniently located next to the Lincoln Tunnel in Chelsea.”
Besides starring in her eponymous talk show, Williams and Hunter also started the Hunter Foundation. It recently launched the Be Here Initiative (BeHere.org) with a goal of raising $10 million to fund such things as drug treatment facilities and addiction research. Williams herself admits to having abused cocaine during the first 10 years of her radio career, which she wrote about in her 2003 memoir, Wendy’s Got the Heat, written with Hunter.
Season 10 of Wendy Williams kicked off in September with a new theme song by Fergie, who told Williams that she’s also a huge fan.
“When I met Fergie, she was fanning out for the show,” said Williams. “She said she had recently gone through a hard time and that the show helped her so much.”
It’s not just Fergie who’s a fervent fan though — Wendy Williams is currently the sixth-ranked talk show in daytime at a 1.1 live plus same day season to date average household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research. It’s the fifth-ranked among daytime’s key demographic of women 25-54, averaging a 0.7 so far this year.
The Wendy Williams Show got its start when Debmar-Mercury Co-Presidents Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein identified Williams as a potential talk-show talent, although Marcus and Bernstein weren’t the first TV executives to come calling.
“I had been to TV meetings before,” said Williams. “The idea of somebody calling and saying they’ve got a show they want me to host — I was like, ‘here we go again.’ But Kevin and I are a perfect tag team. As opposed to dragging me through first meetings, he vets everyone out, and he thought I should meet Mort and Ira.”
As Williams describes it, she showed up to her first meeting with Marcus and Bernstein at the Ritz-Carlton across from Central Park wearing jeans, heels, a tied-up white blouse showing a “sliver of belly” and, of course, a good bag.
“It was all too much for them,” she jokes. “The thing I love about Mort and Ira is that they flew in from Santa Monica just for this meeting. They had listened to me and studied my radio style. They said to me, ‘we want you to be exactly who you are and we want to create a show around you.’ That’s when I said, ‘now we’re talking.’”
Lionsgate-owned Debmar-Mercury produced a six-week summer test of her talk show that aired on Fox-owned WNYW New York and several other Fox-owned stations in the summer of 2008. It did well enough, especially in her home market of New York, that Fox picked it up and Debmar-Mercury sold it nationally.
"She had a voice, she had a point of view, and she was very clear and articulate about what she wanted to say," said Bernstein.
"Most talk shows that come out don't have a point of view," added Marcus. "They end up being boring."
That's never a problem with Williams but those early years in national syndication were a bit touch and go. Wendy Williams ranked as the top-rated show on WNYW in daytime but didn’t perform as well in non-urban markets.
“They took a real chance on a girl named Wendy from New Jersey,” she said. “I wasn’t going to change. People in New York understand me; people on the coasts understand. But the whole country has to support you.”
Debmar-Mercury worked with Williams and Executive Producer David Perler to tweak the show to highlight Williams’ specific talents. They expanded the first segment — Hot Topics, in which she riffs on the pop-culture news of the day — to run at least 20 minutes. It was an easy change for Williams, who had spent her entire career talking off the cuff for several hours a day.
“Sittin’ and chattin’, chattin’ and sittin’ — it’s not a talent that I had to grow. I was a born talker. I come from a talkative family. We can make conversation with anybody. I don’t think a talk-show host can be built. Either you’ve got it or you don’t.”
What lasting on TV for 10 years (and radio for 23 years) proves is that Williams has certainly got it. And she hopes to keep it going for as long as her fans embrace it.
“I don’t want anything to change, “ she said. “I love Hot Topics and I love Ask Wendy. I want the show to go on.”