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Debmar-Mercury Exec on 'Wendy': "We Were Battling For The Life of The Show"

Wendy Williams, The Wendy Williams Show

In a new article, The Hollywood Reporter is giving fans a glimpse behind the scenes of the final season of The Wendy Williams Show. Execs and insiders gave THR a juicy scoop on what went into calling time after Season 13 and Wendy Williams' ongoing health issues.

Two sources told THR, during a four-year span, producers queried execs about Williams' sobriety "at least 25” different times. The higher-ups would then have to decide whether to broadcast the show live, while Williams often maintained she was "fine." In some cases, the execs had time to review the second taping of an episode to see whether Williams appeared sober; in every instance bar one, the episodes hit the air as scheduled. An insider said that employees would "find bottles [of alcohol] up in the ceiling tiles and other weird places in the office."

Sources noted that Williams was dealing with serious health issues as of summer 2021, but they "were not comfortable discussing her health publicly." It became clear, they did note, that Williams was dealing with more than Graves’ disease and lymphedema, conditions that she had previously discussed having. Lonnie Burstein, executive VP programming for Debmar-Mercury, which produced and distributed Wendy, said that a singular underlying condition has not yet been identified. 

Williams' ongoing health challenges precluded Season 13 proceeding as possible in autumn 2021. Execs advocated for putting in guest hosts as a temporary measure. Discussing guest hosts, Burstein admitted:

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And at that point, it was about keeping the [stations] happy as much as, if not more so than, keeping the viewer happy. We were battling for the life of the show. Wendy comes with a stink to it. It’s the same reason for the 12 years preceding we struggled to book guests. She was tough on many celebrities, and a lot of celebrities hate her. It’s also why she had success, she’s no holds barred. But even people who were interested in doing a talk show wanted no part of [hosting it].

Among those who sat in Williams' purple chair was Sherri Shepherd (who declined to comment for the story). And as fall turned to winter and Williams still remained off camera, execs began to consider that renewal for Season 14 might not be in the cards. Debmar-Mercury execs, including co-presidents Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein, did have a few conversations with Williams, but each time, the duo said, it seemed like Williams was discussing the topic of possible cancellation anew. They insisted they'd need a doctor's diagnosis for her to come back, which Williams did not, or was unable to, present.

In late February or early March, Bernstein finally heard from Williams again. He recalled:

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.' 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. You can’t just call after nine months and say, ‘I’m ready.'

As Season 13 wrapped, it was announced that Shepherd would helm Sherri, a new program that will take over the Wendy slot this September. Of Williams not returning for the final ep, an producer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained:

To put her on as a guest or to do a video message from her would be a disservice to Wendy, who is so much bigger than that.

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