Since The Wendy Williams Show ended in June, there have been a plethora of rumors and speculation as to the reasons why Debmar-Mercury ultimately decided to pull the plug on the popular program. While we knew the decision was largely brought on by Williams ongoing and seemingly increasingly declining health issues, what we didn’t know were the exact specifics leading up to the show’s cancellation—until now.
In an in-depth look from The Hollywood Reporter, various insiders—including Debmar-Mercury’s Executive VP of Programming Lonnie Burstein, Debmar-Mercury co-presidents Mort Marcus and Ira Burnstein and more—spoke about the days, weeks, and months leading up to the shows final curtain call. Here are the main takeaways:
According to the report, Williams health struggles seemed to mount after she fainted live on-air during a Halloween episode back in 2017. While she was able to quickly recover and finish the show, after that date, other problems rose to the surface.
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From her famous purple chair, Williams spoke openly and unapologetically about her ongoing struggles with substance abuse, revealing through tears in 2019 that she’d been staying in a sober living facility. Before that, the host had done time at a high-end rehab in Florida, which, according to Marcus and Bernstein, was paid for by Debmar-Mercury. Williams also discussed on the show the demise of her marriage of 20-plus years to Kevin Hunter and the baby he was having with his mistress, and later revisited both in her sanctioned Lifetime documentary, Wendy Williams: What a Mess!
Last year, things also went from bad to worse when the eponymous host caught COVID-19, and later detailed her diagnosis with Grave’s disease and lymphedema, which only further delayed her return back to the show.
As we previously mentioned, Williams came down with COVID last September. Prior to that, however, she had been under “health evaluations” for unspecified reasons and was set to return back to her purple chair later that month. However, in the weeks and months that followed, not only was Williams absent from set, but her condition in a Sept. 30 Zoom call with the set’s crew further proved that she wasn’t in any position to be back in front a camera any time soon.
That same day, the show announced yet another two-week delay for the show’s premiere. They would later decide that the path forward in the interim would be to bring on guests hosts in an effort to assuage the powers that be.
“They started calling, saying, ‘Guys, if you don’t [put on new episodes], we’re going to pull it.’ So, what could we do? We started saying, ‘Let’s just do a couple of weeks of guest hosts until she’s better,’” Marcus explained to THR with Bernstein adding: “For the first four, five, six, eight weeks, we think we’re putting a Band-Aid on it and Wendy’s coming back.”
Months later, on Feb. 22, 2022, the decision was made to take the show off the air for good.
When problems began to exacerbate in 2019, Williams’ future was in the hands of Bernie Young, who had then been tasked with working out the kinks for her various tests and doctors visits. Young would continue to work for and look after Williams until Thanksgiving of last year when she decided to visit family in Florida. After that, the relationship between the two came to a halt.
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“Things got really fuzzy around that point,” says Young. “Her family wanted to take over and do the things that they wanted to do for her and with her and it’s like, ‘All right, OK. Look, I don’t agree, look at the progress …’” Any communications Young had with Williams ended shortly after. Marcus and Bernstein were no longer able to reach her, either. Williams’ cellphone would simply ring and ring, they say; in fact, it wasn’t clear she still had a phone at all.
Fast forward to February of this year, the person speaking for Williams was now Howard Bragman, a crisis PR specialist who later got in a spat with the host herself after she got on Instagram to explain that Bragman was speaking without her authorization. As of now, Shawn Zanotti, who was interviewed for THR’s piece acts as Williams’ official spokeswoman.
4. Wendy Initially Had No Clue Her Show Was Ending, But Could Have Come Back to TV—Under One Condition
After months of no communication, Williams contacted Marcus and Bernstein in early March to express her shock that her show had been cancelled. It was then that she found out of the networks plans to move forward with a show hosted by Sherri Shepherd in the fall, and Williams insisted that she was ready to make her return.
That didn’t go over too well with the Debmar execs, who explained that they first had to be sure that she was OK, before they would even think of putting her back on camera. To help with that assurance, they told Williams that she should provide some sort of medical clearance that way folks could be confident of her well-being.
“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,’” Marcus explained.
As of today, Williams has “been either unable or unwilling to present one.”
You can read THR’s full report by heading to hollywoodreporter.com.