Wendy Williams didn't know that her long-running talk show had been canceled, despite repeated communication that her tenure at the head of the program had come to an end following a months-long back-and-forth over health issues, said executives behind The Wendy Williams Show.
In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, production distributor Debmar-Mercury co-presidents Ira Bernstein and Mort Marcus revealed that they had multiple conversations with Williams amid her unexpected and prolonged absence across the show's 13th season, and had to tell her several times that the show was ending despite having publicly announced its conclusion in February as a result of her leave.
"I said, 'We haven't heard from you, and we had to make a decision.' 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,'" Bernstein recounted, adding that Williams appeared to be confused about the show's cancellation following a revolving door of 16 guest hosts filling in for her on season 13. One of those hosts, former View panelist and actress Sherri Shepherd, would eventually inherit the vacant slot with her own talk show.
"She said, 'Well, what's going to air at 10 o'clock?' I told her, 'Sherri's going to air at 10 o'clock.' 'So, can I go on at 11?' 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," he continued. "You can't just call after nine months and say, 'I'm ready.'"
The publication noted that "a version of this conversation would take place several more times over the next four months," including multiple phone calls with both co-presidents, as well as a sit-down lunch in Manhattan. "Each time," the outlet continued, "according to the pair, Williams appeared to be having the discussion for the first time."
The exchanges allegedly occurred after Williams' ongoing illnesses — including Graves' disease and lymphedema — resulted in a delay in launching season 12 of the show back in September 2021. She publicly expressed multiple times, including in a March interview with Good Morning America, that she was ready to return to the program, though a production source told EW at the time that it was too late for the 58-year-old to take the reins once again for the current or upcoming syndication season.
Debmar-Mercury 'The Wendy Williams Show' to end after 13 seasons.
"[My] health is very well and I've actually had a few appointments. I'm 57 now, and I have the mind and body of a 25-year-old," Williams told GMA's T.J. Holmes at the time. "I'm very comfortable. My partners with the show, everybody's ready. Give me about three months. There are private things that I have to deal with and then I'll be ready to come back and be free and ready to do my thing."
Marcus added in the THR piece that eventually, they "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."
Video: Wendy Williams steps out in style after announcing she wants to return to TV
Other reports from the story include an anonymous insider who told the publication that a planned Zoom address to 50 program staffers in September had to be cut short after about three minutes, as they suggested she was "starting not to be coherent" during the talk. They also said staffers would "find bottles [of alcohol] up in the ceiling tiles and other weird places in the office." Two more sources alleged that staff members had sent texts questioning Williams' sobriety to higher-ups, who reportedly had to screen episodes of the show prior to air time to make sure the host was fit for air. One episode, in the spring of 2021, allegedly did not air after this process, and was replaced with a repeat.
Michael Tran/FilmMagic Wendy Williams
A source close to the events confirmed to EW that the retelling of the incidents are "all correct." EW has reached out to representatives for Debmar-Mercury for more information.
Williams' spokeswoman, Shawn Zanotti, did not immediately respond to EW's request for comment, though she did release an email statement to THR.
"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," Zanotti wrote. "What we do know is that Wendy has a history of chronic illness that she has publicly spoken about."
The Wendy Williams Show ultimately concluded on June 17, with Shepherd introducing a highlight reel of moments from the program's run.
"Most of all, we have to thank you, Wendy Williams," Shepherd said. "There is nobody like Wendy Williams. From her days on the radio to ruling daytime talk for 13 seasons, Wendy earned her title as the queen of all media. If you think about it, Wendy Williams changed daytime talk."
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