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The highs and lows of ‘The Wendy Williams Show’

Wendy Williams answers questions before a live audience in Silver Spring, Md., on a 2018 tour stop celebrating the 10th anniversary of “The Wendy Williams Show.” (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
10 min

When Wendy Williams debuted her nationally syndicated daytime talk show in the summer of 2009, some industry-watchers wondered if the brash host, who made a name for herself on hip-hop radio stations in Philadelphia and New York, could translate to a national audience. Williams quickly proved her critics had nothing to worry about: By the spring of 2010, the talker, distributed by Debmar-Mercury, had been renewed in 80 percent of the country, including 18 of the top 20 markets.

On Friday, “The Wendy Williams Show” aired its final episode amid Williams’s ongoing health struggles and reports that the 57-year-old host was placed under a financial guardianship after Wells Fargo argued in a petition that she had been the “victim of undue influence and financial exploitation.” (Williams has publicly insisted she is of sound mind). She didn’t host her show at all during its 14th season and did not turn up on the finale, which was helmed by comedian Sherri Shepherd. Shepherd, who took over in February following a string of guest hosts, is set to debut her own show in Williams’s former time slot this fall.

Some of Williams’s staffers, who maintained a visual presence on the show, had tears in their eyes as Shepherd thanked the production crew and the show’s loyal viewers. “Most of all, we have to thank you, Wendy Williams,” Shepherd said as the audience leaped to a standing ovation. “There is nobody, nobody, like Wendy Williams. From her days on the radio to ruling daytime talk for 13 seasons, Wendy earned her title as the queen of all media.”

An appearance by Vanessa Williams, who was the first guest of “The Wendy Williams Show” in its national bow, helped achieve some synergy in the jewel-toned studio. But the episode was a dissonant and unceremonious end for the pioneering media personality, who — as demonstrated by a reel of clips from over the years — brought a unique, no-holds-barred flair to daytime TV with her gift of gab and diva accents including a shoe cam and plush purple furniture. “She was real. She is real — she’s still with us,” Vanessa Williams said while praising the host as “resilient and down to earth.”

Here’s a timeline of some of the show’s best and worst moments over the past 13 years.

July 2008: “The Wendy Williams Show” launches a successful six-week test run

Any questions about whether Williams would resonate in Texas as well as she had in New York City evaporated as Williams pulled high ratings in Los Angeles, Dallas and Detroit as well.

July 2008: Williams spars with guest Omarosa Manigault

When “The Apprentice” breakout appeared on “The Wendy Williams Show” to promote her 2008 book, things started out on a friendly note as Manigault and Williams exchanged a hug and a pair of air kisses. But it quickly devolved into a skirmish as Manigault called out Williams for promising to “straighten her out” (“I said smooth you out,” Williams corrected). “I know how to chill but I will not be disrespected,” Manigault said. Williams, looking serious, told her “this is not the time for you to look for your moment.” When Williams grabbed the reality show star’s book to show it to viewers, Manigault snatched it back.

Before the segment concluded, the women traded appearance-based insults, with Williams suggesting Manigault try the hyaluronic acid filler Restylane and Manigault saying she preferred wigs that “don’t sit up three inches on my head.”

“I wanted to throw her off the set,” Williams told the Associated Press of the viral interview. Meanwhile, Manigault, who made a much more cordial return to the show in 2013, told the Associated Press, “I stand by everything I said.”

July 2009: “The Wendy Williams Show” goes national

“The responsibility that I ultimately feel to the audience is to entertain, maybe enlighten, and help you take your mind off messy things,” Williams told the New York Times ahead of her big debut. “We all have things that are messy going on in our life, that we would rather forget for a moment. I do, you do, we all do. And truthfully, being out in front of the people for those six weeks was just, ah, my God, such a Calgon bath. And then I’d go back home and deal with the mess. And that’s what I want people to do.”

September 2014: Williams literally eats crow

After losing her bet that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s marriage wouldn’t outlast Kardashian’s 72-day marriage to NBA player Kris Humphries. Williams tapped a chef to make “crow gumbo” for her to sample in front of her “co-hosts” (Williams’s term of endearment for her audience).

June 2017: Williams interviews Sean “Diddy” Combs

Williams interviewed tons of celebrity guests over the years but it was a big deal when Diddy took the seat opposite Williams. The hip-hop heavyweight was one of the adversaries William made during her radio days as a gossipy host. But their TV conversation suggested they had moved past the animosity.

“I want to just tell you how proud I am of you because I don’t think you get enough credit for really being the first one to cover our culture — you know, the hip-hop culture and also hip-hop celebrities — and just understanding that it’s news,” Diddy told Williams.

From 2018: Wendy Williams made a lot of enemies in radio 20 years ago. Now she’s a daytime-television staple.

October 2017: Williams faints live on air

Dressed as Lady Liberty, Williams took a terrifying tumble while doing a live Halloween costume segment. She later told “Good Morning America” reporter Amy Robach that she was “scared to death” by the fall, and that she had been dehydrated and so hot that it felt like being “in the middle of a fire.” But she maintained her diva profile even then, joking that fans knew she put her hand up to her head mid-collapse “to make sure my crown is there.”

She also opened up about her Graves disease diagnosis, which was mentioned in a 2009 New York Times profile, which noted that after watching footage of her test run, “she learned to be mindful of her posture and what she called her ‘eye pop.’ ” (She has a thyroid condition related to Graves’ disease that can make her gaze a little intense.)

January 2018: Williams says she’s “sick” of #MeToo and appears to defend singer R. Kelly

Williams faced criticism after declaring herself “sick of this #MeToo movement.” She then launched into a bizarre defense of R. Kelly, who at that point had faced decades of sexual assault allegations, arguing that the singer “wasn’t a MeToo” and asserting that one of his alleged victims, a 14-year-old girl, “was there at his house, she let it go down.” (In 2021, Kelly was found guilty of federal sex trafficking and racketeering.)

“It is disgraceful that as wide as your audience is and as many young girls, many Black girls watch your show that you would openly victim blame like you did yesterday,” tweeted Tarana Burke, the activist who founded the #MeToo movement. “You are the reason why we can’t make headway in our community around sexual assault.”

Sexual abuse and harassment allegations were consistently a dicey subject for Williams. When actress Keke Palmer appeared on the show in 2017, Williams questioned her about a lawsuit Palmer had filed for “sexual intimidation” against singer Trey Songz. “I don’t want to keep browbeating that one situation,” Palmer said. “But I will say, Wendy: I would have loved to turn on your show and saw you be a little bit more compassionate and less accusatory and ridiculing.” When Williams responded that she “couldn’t,” Palmer hilariously interrupted: “Why, girl? Because the gag is, you wasn’t there!”

When Terry Crews came forward about being sexually assaulted, Williams was slammed for saying the actor wasn’t brave, “just talking.” And in 2019, Williams again drew ire for saying two men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them as children were making “a money grab” and discussed which allegations she believed to be true and those she deemed “lies.”

April 2018: Williams lands a milestone interview

Williams’s show was the first stop for Cynthia Nixon, following the “Sex and the City” star’s announcement that she was running for governor of New York. Nixon told Williams that Black women, a key portion of the host’s audience, were the backbone of the Democratic Party.

“We knew that by doing Wendy’s show — which reaches all corners of the state — we could get Cynthia in front of a diverse audience and introduce them to the real her,” a senior strategist for Nixon’s campaign told The Washington Post in 2018, the same year Williams went on a multi-city tour promoting the milestone 10th season of her talk show.

March 2019: Williams reveals that she is a resident at a sober-living house

In a stunning moment, Williams, who has been open about struggling with cocaine abuse during the height of her radio career, revealed on the air that she had been staying at a sober-living house. Williams later told the Los Angeles Times that her time in rehab and the sober house was “100 percent against my will,” and an authorized Lifetime movie about her life suggested that Williams denied drinking excessively.

Wendy Williams seems like the perfect Lifetime movie subject. So why is it so unsettling to watch?

September 2019: Williams puts divorce drama in writing

Five months after filing for divorce from her estranged husband following years of rumors and reports he fathered a child with another woman, Williams removes his name from the executive producer credits of her show. Right up to the very last episode, the credit reads “Just Wendy.”

January 2020: Williams denies passing gas on-air

After online speculation she dubbed “Fartgate,” Williams addressed the flatulation rumors head-on. “I have never farted once on this show. As a matter of fact, I barely fart,” she told viewers. “You know why? Because gas gets released several different ways, and mine is belching, because all I do is talk.”

“If I farted, I would have definitely been laughing, because farts are always funny,” she added.

February 2020: Williams comes under fire for a joke about a tragic death

Online backlash erupted after Williams made a “Price Is Right” joke while discussing the manner of death for Amie Harwick, the former fiancee of the game show’s host, Drew Carey. (We won’t repeat the barb.) A year later, William again drew backlash for flippantly reporting on the murder of a TikTok star.

October 2021: A slew of celebrity hosts helm the already delayed 14th season

Amid Williams’s reported health battles, celebrities such as Michael Rappaport, Leah Remini and Fat Joe stepped in to help guest-host the show. When Debmar-Mercury announced the cancellation of “The Wendy Williams Show” in March, Williams had not hosted a single episode of the 14th season. Still, she told GMA that she planned to return. “Give me about three months,” she said in a phone interview. “There are private things that I have to deal with and then I’ll be ready to come back and be free and ready to do my thing.”

June 2022: “The Wendy Williams Show” airs its final episode — without Wendy Williams

After nearly 13 years of national syndication, “The Wendy Williams Show” aired its final episode on June 17. Ahead of the credits, the crew gathered to recite Williams’s trademark “how you doin'” catchphrase one last time.