It’s no secret that Wendy Williams is battling some major health issues.
But a new report published early Tuesday by the Hollywood Reporter alleges she was battling all kinds of other demons, too, amid her fall from daytime TV grace last year.
The entertainment industry reporting outlet has a new feature online and in their print magazine detailing the final days of Wendy’s run on her eponymous talk show early last fall. The detailed piece covers a lot of ground about what went on behind the scenes on set. The most shocking revelation comes from insiders who claim Wendy was “unraveling” while filming the last several seasons of her talk show. One source put it bluntly to the outlet:
“Everybody on that staff and crew witnessed all kinds of things.”
According to several insiders, over a four-year period of shows, production staffers questioned Wendy’s sobriety before going on air on “at least 25” separate occasions. Producers would frantically send pre-show text messages to network execs, who then had to “make an ultra-quick judgement” about whether to go live with Wendy on air or not. The report alleged Wendy would insist she was “fine,” and campaign to go live.
Many of the alleged sobriety questions occurred during the show’s second tapings of the day. Those second episodes wouldn’t air until later in the week, so execs would wait for the footage and then pore over the entire hour “to see if Williams appeared inebriated.” As it turned out, execs greenlit pretty much all the episodes after deciding she seemed “fine enough” to be shown on TV. There was one exception: in the spring of 2021, network heads pulled a show at the last minute after questioning Wendy’s sobriety and aired a rerun in its place.
In addition to all the inquiries into her on-air state, production sources told the outlet they would routinely find alcohol in strange places around the stage. One source claimed:
“[We would] find bottles [of alcohol] up in the ceiling tiles and other weird places in the office.”
Williams declined to comment for the THR piece, but her spokesperson Shawn Zanotti did send the outlet an email with the team’s response:
“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 also briefly touched on Wendy’s physical health and mental well-being, stating:
“What we do know is that Wendy has a history of chronic illness that she has publicly spoken about.”
A good deal of the THR piece reports on the final days of Wendy’s show before she was replaced last year by a series of guest hosts and, later, by Sherri Shepherd.
The problems began in the summer of 2021, prior to the beginning of taping for the 13th season. Williams was very openly dealing with health and alleged substance abuse issues at the time. Her staff was focused on launching season 13, though, and scheduled a promo shoot for September 2. The night before the shoot was supposed to take place, Wendy was re-admitted to a hospital, and the promo was scrapped.
Still, producers were hopeful. Debmar-Mercury EVP of programming Alexandra Jewett explained:
“I think we thought, ‘Shoot, this is a little unexpected and we’re going to have to pivot.’ But I don’t even think at that point we thought the show wasn’t going to launch Sept. 20.”
Of course, that didn’t end up happening. As Wendy continued to deal with health issues both publicly and privately, execs were left without an answer for what was going on with the series’ forthcoming season. Local TV affiliates got antsy, demanding a schedule or they would pull the plug and air other content.
On the morning of September 30, 2021 — 10 days after the 13th season had initially been scheduled to launch — Debmar-Mercury production co-presidents Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein visited Wendy at her apartment in NYC. Their intention was to host a Zoom call between the talk show legend and her production staff to “assuage the fears” of those 100 employees about the series’ future.
Wendy’s then-manager, Bernie Young, recalled the point of the virtual meeting:
“Because the staff had questions. 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.’”
Unfortunately, THR reports, the Zoom call with staffers “did not go as planned,” and Wendy’s words were “muddled and disconnected.” One anonymous insider who was on the call at the time from back in the studio told the outlet:
“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?’”
Marcus and Bernstein scrambled, thanked the staff for joining the call, and ended the meeting abruptly. Another Debmar-Mercury executive, Lonnie Burstein, added:
“It lasted two and a half, three minutes, and it was not pretty. 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.”
Of course, the guest hosts came next. Leah Remini stepped in, as did Michael Rapaport, Whitney Cummings, Fat Joe, and Vivica A. Fox, among others. As Perezcious readers will recall, that was when Shepherd stepped up to take on hosting duties and eventually fulfill her own talk show destiny, too.
After months of the show staggering along without Wendy, the embattled 58-year-old reached out to Marcus and Bernstein in late February. Wendy was worried about her show being canceled, and the execs talked to her about whether she intended to return. Both co-presidents would go on to field multiple calls from Williams about returning over the next several weeks, but the execs were very explicit that she had to get cleared by a doctor to return.
“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.’”
The report asserted Wendy has “been either unable or unwilling to present [a doctor’s diagnosis].” For his part, Bernstein apparently “suspects it’s the former.” The TV exec sadly revealed:
“Unfortunately for Wendy, the happiest moments in her life were on TV. She said to me once, at a Christmas party, ‘You know when I’m happiest? 10 a.m., Monday to Friday,’ and she was great at it. There are probably six or eight people in the world who can do it, and she’s one of them, and I believe that if there was a piece of paper that said, ‘No problem, she’s all good,’ she wouldn’t hesitate to show it.”
By the end of it all, when the show was officially canceled, the staff put out a video lamenting the finality. Wendy was upset she wasn’t allowed to return to the set for a farewell statement on air, but one production insider told the news outlet that bringing her in was “never seriously considered.” The source 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.”
Staffers held their own private gathering to mourn the end of the show. Employees gave speeches and toasts inside the studio as execs “fought back tears” over how special the show had been. Bernstein said:
“We practically bet our houses on it, and we just wanted to thank everyone for hanging in there.”
Jewett added that most people present in the room on that final day cried:
“I’ve been working in daytime for over 30 years, and lightning in a bottle like Wendy Williams doesn’t come through very often, and I think I can speak for everybody in saying that we all feel so lucky to have been along for the ride. So, yeah, the final show was really hard, and it was really hard, to a large degree, because Wendy wasn’t there.”
Of course, Wendy has recently claimed to be on the verge of a comeback — including a podcast teaser. So who knows what will end up happening in the future for the daytime TV star. Regardless, what a sad and unsettling situation this was for those involved on set. Ugh! If you’re interested, you can read the full THR report HERE.
[Image via The Wendy Williams Show/YouTube]