Long Live Wendy Williams

On Tuesday's episode of The Wendy Williams Show, Sherri Shepherd announced her own talk show, all but confirming the cancelation of Williams's.

Long Live Wendy Williams
Photo:Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic (Getty Images)

At last we have an answer to the question Wendy Williams asked her audiences repeatedly for the 12 years she hosted her talk show (and, prior to that, on the radio): “How you doin’?” She isn’t, in fact, doin’. For all intents and purposes, The Wendy Williams Show is apparently canceled.

On Tuesday’s episode of The Wendy Williams Show, guest host Sherri Shepherd announced what has been suspected for weeks now: She’ll be replacing Williams permanently. In September, the talk show Sherri will debut and, according to a report from Deadline, it will take over The Wendy Williams Show’s syndicated Fox time slots, be produced by Lionsgate’s Debmar-Mercury, and boast The Wendy Williams Show’s producing team.

Shepherd, who has subbed in regularly as a host during the current 13th season of The Wendy Williams Show during Williams’s season-long absence, was careful to refrain from claiming a total takeover. “No one can replace the queen, nobody,” she said. “And trust me, I am not trying to at all. It is Wendy’s place to share her story with you. But I do want to give the queen her props and her flowers, because Wendy had a legendary career in radio and this show was crafted specifically for her. No one can do this format but Wendy. Nobody can sit in a purple chair and sip the tea like Wendy Williams. Because when you talk about the greatest talk shows of all time—Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donahue, Ricki Lake, The View, Montel Williams—you have got to mention The Wendy Williams Show.”

Indeed, Williams is a maverick. On New York radio in the ‘80s, she pioneered hip hop gossip. Her Howard Stern-inspired interview style confronted celebrities who would rather have been coddled. Employing charm, a nearly perpetual refusal to be offended, and an openness about herself, Williams got away with asking stars about things like plastic surgery and their sexuality. So open was Williams, eventually, that she became her own Hot Topic. In 2019, after an absence not quite as extended as her current one, she talked about her health issues, and then her residence in a sober-living facility, and then her split from husband Kevin Hunter.

The title of the 2021 documentary about Williams’s life, What a Mess!, was as apt as it was tongue in cheek. As someone who understood the entertainment value of a good mess, and an entertainer herself, Williams wasn’t afraid to be messy. Sometimes this came in the form of tasteless jokes. Sometimes it was mispronounced words (“cornova”) and misspoken names (“Megan thee Trainor”). When Williams admitted on air in 2020 that she wasn’t perfect, in reference to some odd onscreen behavior, she was being redundant. Any Wendy watcher already knew it, and Williams’s overt perfection lacking—a counterpoint to the kind of poise and gravitas so often projected by television journalists—was a key reason why people tuned in. Clap if you’ll miss Williams and her mess.

Behind the scenes, it’s unclear what’s really going on with Williams, whose health issues (including Graves’ disease) have supposedly been preventing her from hosting her show all season. Radar reported that producers were “livid” that Williams had posted an update on her situation shot by her son on an Instagram account that is not related to her talk show. (“For months producers have been begging Wendy to record a short message addressing fans,” said one anonymously quoted source.) In the clip, posted February 16, Williams indicated she planned to return to her show.

B. Scott reported on February 20 that an anonymous Wendy Williams Show source said that, “The producers informed everyone that the [Wendy show] was being canceled at the end of June. Then in the next breath they hired everyone to work on the new Sherri show.” Deadline’s report notes: “While Sherri is positioned as a replacement, taking over Wendy’s time periods and inheriting that show’s producing team, Debmar-Mercury is leaving the door open to resuming her show if/when Williams fully recovers and wants to do it.”

Deadline reports that Shepherd’s weeks of subbing in for Williams have resulted in the season’s highest ratings. But without the specific circumstance at hand, Shepherd wouldn’t have gotten the chance to score those viewers. Her hard work notwithstanding, Shepherd seemed to chalk her new gig up to divine providence during her announcement on Tuesday’s episode. Through tears she said, “When you’re feeling like you have been forgotten, when you’re feeling like people say no, it may not be no. God may be saying, ‘It’s not time.’ And when God says, ‘Do you trust me?,’ he don’t need a lot of faith, just a little bit. And when God says it’s so, it will be.”

If that’s so, then one has to wonder: What did God say to Williams when he gave Shepherd her time slot?

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