More details about the end of “The Wendy Williams Show” are coming to light. In The Hollywood Reporter‘s latest cover story, the outlet details the final days of the long-running talk show, which came amid a series of health issues of its eponymous host. ET has reached out to Williams’ rep for comment on THR‘s story.
Once the decision was made in February 2022 to cancel “The Wendy Williams Show”, on which the host herself did not appear during the final season, Debmar-Mercury co-presidents Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein tell the outlet that they received a series of phone calls from Williams questioning the end of her show.
Those calls, Marcus and Bernstein claim, came after months of silence from Williams, during which time she was unreachable.
“I said, ‘We haven’t heard from you, and we had to make a decision.’ We should have made one in November, but we pushed it to January or February, and by then, it was like, ‘Make a decision or lose the time period,'” Bernstein says. “She said, ‘Well, what’s going to air at 10 o’clock?’ I told her, ‘Sherri’s going to air at 10 o’clock.’ ‘So, can I go on at 11?’ I said, ‘We’d love to work with you, and there are lots of ways and lots of buyers, but you need to come back, and we need to know that you’re OK. You can’t just call after nine months and say, ‘I’m ready.'”
Marcus agreed, recounting from his phone call with Williams, “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 okay. [Without that assurance,] no one’s going to risk money or finance things.'”
In an interview with ET, Lacey Rose, the Executive Editor of TV for The Hollywood Reporter who wrote the outlet’s cover story, further explains, “This is a woman who has been off the air for an entire year. They need to know she was okay. They needed a doctor’s diagnosis and a note to say she was capable of performing on a daily basis and that was something, according to all of my sources, that she was unable or unwilling to provide.”
Up until this point, Williams hasn’t presented an official diagnosis for symptoms including nonlinear speech, brain fog, memory loss, and hallucinations, though she has been open about her battles with Graves’ disease and lymphedema.
The show’s cancellation came after Marcus and Bernstein fought to keep it on-air amid Williams’ illnesses, which largely began in 2017 when she fainted on-air. Over the next few years, Williams spent time at a high-end rehab in Florida, stayed in a sober living facility, and went through a divorce.
“Everybody on that staff and crew witnessed all kinds of things,” one show source tells the outlet, with another adding, that staffers would “find bottles [of alcohol] up in the ceiling tiles and other weird places in the office.”
“It has been no secret that Wendy has battled with addiction over the years but at this time Wendy is on the road to recovery and healing herself from her chronic illnesses and her grievances of the past,” Williams spokesperson, Shawn Zanotti, tells THR. “What we do know is that Wendy has a history of chronic illness that she has publicly spoken about.”
Still, Bernie Young, Williams’ then-manager, was optimistic that, with help from a doctor, his client would be able to return to her show. Soon after, though, Williams missed a promo shoot and came down with COVID-19, causing the season premiere of the show to be pushed. It was later postponed again.
Then, during a September 2021 meeting, which Williams attended via Zoom, one insider tells the outlet that the host “started not to be coherent” as she went off-script from her planned speech that was meant to calm her show’s staffers.
“It lasted two and a half, three minutes, and it was not pretty,” Lonnie Burstein, Debmar-Mercury’s Executive VP Programming, says. “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.”
Rose, meanwhile, tells ET that the meeting “did exactly the opposite of what it was supposed to do, which was calm the fears of the staff.”
After the ill-fated meeting, guest hosts were enlisted to keep the show alive. “For the first four, five, six, eight weeks, we think we’re putting a Band-Aid on it and Wendy’s coming back,” Burstein tells THR.
It was in November 2021 that “things got really fuzzy,” according to Young, who lost contact with Williams at that time. “Her family wanted to take over and do the things that they wanted to do for her and with her,” he says, “and it’s like, ‘All right, OK. Look, I don’t agree, look at the progress …'”
Then, the show was cancelled and those phone calls from Williams were made. Around that time, Young read in the press that he was fired. While he was never told so in person, Williams’ camp tells THR that Young was indeed let go. William Selby has served as Williams’ manager ever since.
When Williams saw a promo for the series finale, she made yet another phone call. “She called me, like, ‘Wait a minute, what do you mean it’s canceled? What are you talking about?'” Marcus recalls.
“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,'” Selby says of Williams’ phone call to Marcus. “So, it kind of happened all of a sudden for her, even though it was unraveling before her eyes.”
Rose, meanwhile, tells ET that the repeated reminders Williams got about her show’s cancellation was “one of the most heartbreaking things” that came to light amid her reporting.
Later, Williams’ show’s YouTube channel and its social accounts were deleted, which Debmar-Mercury Senior VP Marketing Adam Lewis tells THR was due to a “rights and clearance issue.”
Selby is currently helping Williams launch a restaurant and a podcast. Amid Selby’s employment, though, Williams has given a series of bizarre interviews, which he admits were “a little shaky.”
“I think sort of her behaviour on a lot of these shows did come off as worrisome to a lot of people who cared deeply about her,” Rose tells ET.
As for the current questions about Williams’ marital status — she said she married an NYPD officer, which Selby continuously denied, despite his client’s insistence — Selby is sticking to his version of events.
“She’s an adult. I can’t lock her up in a house and say, ‘Don’t move, don’t even look out the window.’ This isn’t prison,” he tells THR. “In going through so many things, she’s going to have off [moments]. Doesn’t mean she’s about to die, doesn’t mean she’s going crazy, it just means maybe she’s not feeling well today.”
Given how everything went down, Rose believes that “there’s no one involved with ‘The Wendy Williams Show’ that was happy about the way it ended.”
“This was a show that had been on the air for 13 years, there was a love for Wendy herself, and so it was distressing to see her not be in a condition to be there,” Rose told ET, adding that, even now, “the concerns about [Williams’] health are vast.”
MORE FROM ET: