Before Wendy Williams became a fixture on daytime television with her syndicated gossipy talker, she was airing out celebrities on the radio. She’s made plenty of enemies, but “telling it like it is” has proved good for business. The sixth season of her talk show opened with its highest ratings and is renewed through 2017 (it appears on channels 11 and 13 in Los Angeles). When she’s not dishing on Lindsay Lohan, the Kardashians or the Housewives, Williams, 50, keeps her plate full with myriad projects — books, stand-up comedy, producing. She spoke recently to The Los Angeles Times:
Your talk show has succeeded where others have failed. What’s your secret?
Being myself. Not paying attention when people say you’re great and not paying attention when people say you’re horrible. I just listen to myself — I’m my own worst critic. The person that’s on TV is the person you see in the grocery store, with of course the usual modifications of decorum. I’m a quick wit, straight to the point, no nonsense. If I don’t have time to say ‘Hi’ to you at the grocery store because my son is standing outside in the rain, I’m going to tell you that. But it’s the same kind of delivery that I’m going to give you on my talk show. Like, George Clooney got married, and I really don’t care, but you do so here’s the story.
Do you think your success has paved the way for opinionated talkers and diverse faces in daytime?
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I do believe in a way that our show has opened doors for others to be more forthright on TV. I don’t say “my show” because my whole staff is producing the girl they see in front of them. They aren’t trying to change me, they are just producing me with a little more taste than maybe I bring to the table. The landscape of daytime has changed. I’m not so sure people go to daytime TV for kumbaya moments anymore. I fit into that wheelhouse of people who are very busy all day long doing stuff and want an hour to escape. I’m doing the kind of show I’d watch as a 50-year-old woman. I don’t have time to keep up with Lindsay Lohan and all of them. Can I just turn on TV and have someone break it down as to why I should care or not.
You executive produced the Aaliyah biopic for Lifetime, but years ago your story was supposed to come to the screen. What happened?
My autobiography [2003’s Wendy’s Got the Heat] was the first book I wrote. My husband [Kevin Hunter, her manager] and I made the decision that we were going to turn it into a movie. Robin Givens played me. We funded it ourselves, which I would never wish on my worst enemy. We shot around Manhattan and told the story of a girl from Jersey, me, with a pretty big radio career and a lot of potholes. Being married, having a child, going through infidelity and miscarriage, heartache and drug abuse. A month after the movie wrapped in 2007 the phone rings and it was Debmar-Mercury. They had been streaming my radio show and were looking for the next big thing in daytime. Less than a year later I was on TV doing a six-week sneak peek in four cities. Our executive decision was to put [the biopic] on the shelf.
We hear you don’t like being interviewed.
I’m a quick wit, straight to the point, no nonsense. People sometimes expect a deeper answer than what I’m willing to give. Because I come from the place of interviewing I know how to answer a question giving you what you need to hear and not a minute more. I also have a habit of turning an interview into me interviewing you. It’s a very, very difficult habit to break. It’s not hard to break on my show because it’s only one hour … so I know what do there.