This year saw the end of two long-running daytime talk shows: Ellen and The Wendy Williams Show. While Ellen’s reasons for ending after 19 seasons arrived in dutifully packaged reports on the toxicity behind the scenes which left little room for conjectures, the end of The Wendy Williams Show came accompanied by long weeks of silence, guest hosts, and a myriad of rumors on the controversial host’s wellbeing. Now, a new report from The Hollywood Reporter tries to piece together the final months and days of the meme queen’s 13-season reign.
The windup to the end of The Wendy Williams Show happened over the course of years, starting in 2017 when the host collapsed while shooting the season’s Halloween episode. The interviews paint a picture of chaos, with Williams enduring ongoing health struggles with Graves’ disease and lymphedema, as well as her own battles with addiction. These weren’t necessarily private proceedings, as Williams developed the habit of divulging personal details on camera in between spilling the secrets of high-profile celebrities, but they still increasingly became a cause for concern.
Come September 2021, the veteran cast and crew needed to hear some comforting words from their fearless leader in the form of a Zoom meeting ahead of season 13, which they did not receive.
“It lasted two and a half, three minutes, and it was not pretty,” says Lonnie Burstein, Debmar-Mercury’s Executive VP of Programming. “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.”
From there, Williams continuously teased her return to the show, while clamming up on details about her mental and physical condition. Only to be outdone by Jeopardy!, The Wendy Williams Show brought on 16 non-Wendy Williams to buoy the final season of the show as guest hosts. Meanwhile, there was little to no news on Williams’ condition and when—or if—she could feasibly host once more.
Eventually, Debmar-Mercury executives made the decision to cancel the show, much to Williams’ reported surprise. Up until the end, it seems she always intended to return to her purple throne to tell it like it is and spout off her catchphrase, “How you doin’?”
“No matter how many people could have told her—you could have told her, I could have told her—she’s thinking, ‘I’ll be ready in a week and I’m coming to shoot,’” says Williams’ manager William Selby. “So, it kind of happened all of a sudden for her, even though it was unraveling before her eyes.”
Ultimately, Williams’ time on the air ended with not a bang, but a flop. The series’ host was not even present for the filming of the final episode and remained at home while the baton was officially passed to The View’s Sherri Shepherd, who is now slated to take over Williams’ time slot.
“I’ve been working in daytime for over 30 years, and lightning in a bottle like Wendy Williams doesn’t come through very often,” says Debmar-Mercury executive Alexandra Jewett. “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.”
Williams, of course, has her own impressions on the eponymous show’s end. “[Debmar-Mercury] didn’t ask me to do that, so I didn’t,” she told the New York Post following the series finale airing. “I sat in my apartment and I watched it. And [I was] like, ‘Eek!’”
Even now, Williams continues to promise her return, now in the form of a podcast called The Wendy Experience. In a since-deleted promo, Williams affirmed, “Co-hosts, I’m famous, and I’ll be back, trust me.” You will always be famous Wendy Williams!