Radio and TV Talk

Rodney Ho covers TV and radio, from Atlanta’s stations to the hottest “American Idol" news.
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Wendy Williams comes to Atlanta to celebrate 10 years hosting her syndicated show

Originally filed Friday, August 17, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Wendy Williams readily admits she’s emotional and cries easily.

So a simple question about whether she ever feels bored hosting her syndicated show in 2018 compared to when it debuted in 2008 unleashed the tear ducts. 

“Can I have a tissue?” she said Thursday morning while doing press in Atlanta, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I don’t have that kind of filter. If I want to cry, if I want to burp.”
But, she added, with signature Wendy emphasis: “Don’t mistake my tears for weakness. It’s for being grateful. This talk show is the best invention ever especially since I’m by myself. I get all the pretty shoes and all the pretty dresses!” 

Ten years ago, Williams was a New York-based syndicated radio personality who drew great ratings but was well aware that her big personality and honest reads of celebrities didn’t make her Miss Congeniality. 

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On tour celebrating her 10th anniversary on air, daytime talk show host Wendy Williams made a stop in Buckhead at the Buckhead Theatre. Williams opened her show with remarks about "The Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin. (Video by Ryon Horne)

Debmar Mercury saw something special in her and offered her a chance to star in her own TV show “The Wendy Williams Show.” But given that she was not a national name, they tested her in four markets in the summer of 2008. 

Reaction was out-of-the-gate positive, enough for the company to pitch the show nationwide for the fall of 2009. Fox 5 in Atlanta picked Williams up for a coveted 10 a.m. slot.

She has been a mainstay ever since, courtesy of her gossip-laden “Hot Topics” opening segment and her “Ask Wendy” Q&A with the audience. The formula, ever so simple, has been enduring and she has no plans to tinker with it. 

And to celebrate her longevity, she is going on a 10-city victory tour of sorts. She stopped in Atlanta Thursday night for a free show at Buckhead Theatre. The new season begins Sept. 10. 

Wendy Williams in Atlanta on August 16, 2018 promoting the 10th season of "The Wendy Williams Show," seen locally on Fox 5 at 10 a.m. weekdays.

We talked to her before the show. Here are some highlights.

The early challenges: “We got one season at a time. There was no multi-year deal going on at that point. And I left radio so I could focus on this new thing TV. There was no guarantee I’d be back for season two... It is a very slow roll to get the pick ups and get good time slots.”

How different season one was for her: “I was very conscious of my upper arms. I never wore sleeveless. I always wore a cardigan. I saw myself being super conscious of my appearance. I noticed myself talking too fast. Being scrutinized every day, I wanted to be sure of every word I would say. Breathe, pause, sip tea, relax and it comes out properly.” 

Why she’s successful: “I’m fearless in my delivery. The longer I’ve done TV, the more fearless I’ve become. Fearless in what I say, in what I wear, what my hair looks like. I let [hairdresser] Robyn [Michele] handle that. The glams get together in the morning and find a dress for me to wear. That’s why you hire people that are the best. Merrell [Hollis] can do my makeup in the dark.” 

Why it’s tougher doing a solo show: “I have to watch every word I say. Everyone is so sensitive to everything. It’s a little more difficult when you can’t alley oop the ball to other panelists. I love ‘The View.’ When Joy says something out of line, she has Whoopi to back her up. I’m just out with a spotlight on me and one wrong word, there’s nobody to alley oop to.” 

How she pinches herself for her good fortune: “We have a staff of over 100 people. it’s lovely. There’s a building in Manhattan with my picture outside. It’s giant! Who gets that?”

On once hating the “Real Housewives” franchise [as noted in a 2014 interview with me]: “I succumbed, okay? I love ‘Real Housewives.’ I love ‘Love & Hip Hop.’ I love HGTV. I love a good Guy Fieri marathon on Food Network. I like comfort TV. I am too busy to get into anything complicated... I have TVs on different channels in different rooms in the house. Bethenny is throwing shoes at Jill Zarin in one place. Porsha is dropping it like it’s hot over there. And Stevie J and Faith are at it in the family room.”

Her advice for any ‘Housewife”: “You can’t just be a housewife. You have to make something more because that moment on TV is going to ruin your life. It will break up your family. It will make your kids see you in a different light. And they’ll be made fun of in school because of you.”

On being asked to join reality shows like ‘Housewives’: “I don’t want to be a Jersey housewife. Are you serious? I don’t want to be any of that. Those are steps you take to get your own talk show. It’s almost insulting.” 

How “Hot Topics”and ‘Ask Wendy” evolved: “We built a show on popular demand. ‘Hot Topics’ was only eight minutes when we first started. The second season it was 12 minutes. On social media, they were craving for more... ‘Hot Topics’ is now 22-23 minutes without a commercial break! And ‘Ask Wendy’ changed a lot. In the beginning, someone might say they don’t like heels but their husband does. What can they do?... Now it’s about threesomes. I’m asked about affairs with men half your age. ‘I can’t stand my friend and I don’t want her at my wedding. How do I tell her?’ Lady, we’re all over the country and in 52 outside of here. I think she gets the hint!’”

On keeping her show familiar: “We’re in Chelsea in New York City. It’s a very high-rent district. Our studio is very glamorous and fashionable. I think when you tinker with things too much, it will make people at home not feel so at home. They know they can count on Wendy at 10 a.m. They know she will say ‘How you doin’?’ and skip over to the chair and drop a Hall’s in and sip some tea and give it to you. It’s comfortable.” 

On her new non-profit the Hunter Foundation: “I’ve been a broadcaster for over 30 years. I’ve certainly served enough food at Thanksgiving and given clothes and things like that. You can never do enough but I’ve always done it for other foundations and people. Hunter is my married name so it’s the Hunter Foundation ‘for the good of the people.’ ... I want to send a student to college and hopefully they will go away, not live in their parents’ house. I always feel like that’s not where you flourish. You flourish by going away to school.”

Also, she’s partnering with BeHere.org, focused on shedding light on addiction. [She had a coke habit back in her radio days for a decade, she said.]: “I was functioning and was showing up at work on time but I was a mess. It’s not that you fall down. It’s that you have to get up and be here for the next phase in your life. We want you to be here. The stigma of substance of abuse is so pervasive, it’s really unfair. We’d rather throw a blanket over the cousin and drop him in the Lazy Boy at Christmas than talk about him getting help for the drugs or alcohol or opioids.” 

About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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