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If one were to ask Wendy Williams how she’s doin’ at the end of 2019, the irrepressible talk show host might reply to her own famous catchphrase by confidently declaring, “I’m doin’ well!”
Such was the case when Williams recently sat down The Hollywood Reporter In Studio to reflect on 11 years of helming her eponymous daytime talker, The Wendy Williams Show. The Emmy-nominated series, which premiered in 2008, is currently in its 11th season, broadcasts in more than 50 countries and attracts over 1.6 million viewers daily. With a renewal through 2022, “doin’ well” sounds like an understatement.
“I was born to do this. I’m not a manufactured product,” Williams said of why she believes she’s maintained momentum in what can be a difficult corner of entertainment. “I come from a family of good communicators and so I’m a natural.”
Though this year has welcomed new talk show entries from big names like Kelly Clarkson and Tamron Hall — who have each received second season pickups — the syndicated space typically sees more failures than successes. (Kris Jenner and Bethenny Frankel’s talk shows only lasted one season in 2013 and 2014, respectively.)
“There sure have [been more failures than successes], including some very big names with bigger salaries than even I have in my 11th season, who have failed darling,” Williams agreed, evoking the irresistibly blunt attitude she proffers fans from her daytime throne. “And you know what? That makes me feel good. People are betting on horses who don’t even need to be in the same barn as me.”
As the self-proclaimed “Queen of All Media,” Williams has been sharing her distinctive take on pop culture for decades, starting a sensation on New York radio before going mainstream with her hit talk show. Her vivacious, tell-it-like-it-is delivery of celebrity news during her “Hot Topics” segment has become Wendy‘s tentpole, evolving from just eight minutes to a full 25 with no commercial breaks — meaning Williams, unlike any other host, talks to her audience with no interruptions and without any assistance from a guest or co-host for the majority of her show.
“That ended up being the most popular part of the show,” Williams said of the beloved segment, which includes lively breakdowns of the latest tabloid headlines. “But there was still this thing: ‘Oh, we gotta book celebrities, we gotta book celebrities.’ Look, I like celebrities. I like pop culture. [But] I prefer to talk about celebrities.”
Williams’ gift of gab has made her an icon. Her career has been immortalized several times, and in very substantial ways, especially over the last five years. In 2014, she became the first TV host to have items from her show put on display at the Smithsonian; she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this fall; and it was announced in November that Madame Tussauds New York will unveil a wax figure made in Williams’ image come 2020.
“It feels like I’m talking about somebody else, not me. I’m Wendy from Jersey. My family doesn’t treat me any different. The public treats me different, but I still don’t feel [it],” Williams said of the level of fame she has achieved at 55. “My staff doesn’t treat me any different. Many of us, we’ve been there since the first day of the six-week sneak peek [in 2008]. We’re like family, and I don’t want to be treated any different.”
Also like family are Williams’ viewers (affectionately called her “Wendy Watchers”) and her in-studio audience (her “co-hosts”), who have helped her overcome a trying year that has seen the star take hiatuses for health concerns, file for divorce from her husband and longtime manager, Kevin Hunter, and bravely reveal on her show that she temporarily lived in a sober home all while keeping up with her busy production schedule.
“I don’t mind being raw with my audience,” Williams said of the open dialogue she has established with them. “There’s no secret, what I’m going through right now as we sit here. And I have made it no secret, either.”
Now, Williams is ready to share even more about her life in a forthcoming biopic for Lifetime, which will be released in conjunction with a two-hour documentary. (The dual project, for which a premiere date has yet to be set, is part of Lifetime’s TV deal with Williams, who already served as an EP on the female-focused network’s 2014 biographical effort Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B.)
“It’s bosses who’ve fired me. It’s people who told me I’d never be big. It’s everything! I have been working so hard on this biopic,” she said. “Like everything that I do, I’m taking this very seriously and very personally. And to be on Lifetime, do you know how big that is for a girl? We grow up watching Lifetime movies. Oh my gosh, this is going to be a really good one. We’ve sourced out some really good people.”
However, when it comes to casting, Williams wants fresh faces. “I don’t want the depiction of who’s playing me or my son or my parents, I don’t want that to get in the way of the story,” she added. “We haven’t started casting yet, but we’ll start casting very soon.”
For more from Williams — including a recap of her day spent with the Kardashians this summer, and her perspective on some of Hollywood’s buzziest stories in 2019 — watch the video above.