TV Review: Hank Stuever on 'Wendy Williams Show': Daytime Talkfest Jittery, Lame
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Before we get all up in the foolishness of "The Wendy Williams Show" (and there is much; to use a term of art, it's "a hot mess"), how about this question first: What should be on television in the middle of the day? What should fill the space between all those commercials for personal-injury attorneys, cures for urinary-tract infections and the promises of vo-tech schooling? Should anything be on? (Is "off" an option anymore, even in hospitals?)
All the available genres nearly died or migrated to niche networks -- game shows, sitcom reruns, soaps, cooking demonstrations, local chatter. What programming remains will make you thank your lucky stars that you aren't infirm or underemployed. The sound of a television turned on at high noon is the sound of utter human defeat. (The drone never ceases with the ads: bad credit, bad floors, bad living.)
But apparently it's sweet disco music to Wendy Williams, a 44-year-old bewigged glamazon in the Type A sister-girlfriend mode, who, after years of hosting a New York-based radio show, made the jump yesterday to daytime TV noise. "The Wendy Williams Show" is so jittery and lamebrained that it makes "Tyra" look like "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."
"Woot, woot," sang the (captive?) audience during Williams's debut yesterday. (A trial dose of the show aired in four markets briefly last year and it's now back, in nationwide syndication.)
"How you doin' ?" is Williams's overabused trademark phrase -- it was Joey Tribbiani's, too, from "Friends," but Williams insists it's all in how she says it that makes it her own. Distracted by any stray thought or object, Williams shows little evidence of knowing the answer to how anyone's doin' but herself. During an opening segment asking the audience what their opinions are on meaningless subjects (multiples dad Jon Gosselin's new-new girlfriend!) and news du jour (La Toya Jackson says Michael was murdered!), Williams interrupted one audience member to ask: "Is that all your [real] hair? Somebody root her. Root her."
You might believe, from seeing Williams's face plastered all over town, that she would at least be funny or outrageous or entertaining. A talk-show format (borrowing heavily from the existing Ricki-Ellen-Tyra templates, who borrowed from the Montel-Regis-"Today" pioneer era, who borrowed from Oprah and prehistoric chitchat shows, who borrowed from normal human discourse) would indicate that she's conversant, interested, interesting. Maybe her attention-deficit disarray works great on the radio, but on television, Williams seems lost and unable to stick to a subject.
This is what happens when stay-at-home TV culture spends a couple of decades insisting that inside each of us is a diva. "The Wendy Williams Show" is an exploration of narcissistic divadom gone haywire. She wants to talk about everything at once: her child's homework, Whitney Houston's approaching comeback album, Michael Jackson's death, her dress, other TV shows she watches ("Bridezillas," "Real Housewives of . . . "), the vase of flowers on the table, a recent barbecue party she hosted, her wig, the pretty lights, the mother of actress and singer Vanessa Williams (no relation) sitting in the front row of the audience, and on and on. Wendy cannot shut up long enough to figure out what she's talking about.
Vanessa Williams, the show's only guest yesterday (there was no time for anyone else; this show is way too busy), came on to promote her new album. Eventually she got to sing, but not without a lot of Wendy Williams's nonsense chatter. "Let's talk about you," Wendy finally said, at which point Vanessa should have died laughing.
So what should be on daytime television instead? I heard a kernel of something interesting in Wendy Williams's rambling: At the end of every school year, she takes one of those big Nike shoeboxes from her husband's recent purchases and fills it with her son's schoolwork. She just finished the box from third grade. I would watch a show about that. It would be really calm and it would raise and answer questions about schools, curricula, what she thinks about what her son is learning. She could have education experts on, or her own former teachers. It could be shot in her suburban living room. She wouldn't have to wear a big wig; there would not be disco balls hanging from the ceiling. It would be a no-diva zone. I would watch that, if I had a broken leg or some other reason to be stuck at home, and couldn't reach the remote. Instead, Wendy Williams has added noise on top of noise.
The Wendy Williams Show (60 minutes) airs at noon weekdays on Fox.