Several people working at The Wendy Williams Show, including Lonnie Burnstein, Debmar-Mercury’s executive vice president of programming and Williams‘ former manager Bernie Young, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about witnessing Williams’ deteriorating health. According to the article, Debmar-Mercury co-presidents Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein initially tried to tamp down the staff’s fears of Williams’ health, but when the staff prepared to hear from Williams via Zoom, they soon realized that Williams’ health was much more serious than the expected.
"It lasted two and a half, three minutes, and it was not pretty," said Burnstein to the outlet. "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."
The full article details that staff had seen Williams revert back to bad habits, including addiction. Her sobriety was allegedly questioned numerous times and, allegedly, staffers had found alcohol bottles in various places in her office.
Williams’ spokesperson Shawn Zanotti told the outlet in an email, “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.”
As tabloid photos showed Williams wearing blue hospital booties and reports of her being admitted for a psychiatric evaluation, the team realized their initial plans for the 13th season would have to be pushed back.
The second time the staff tried to go forward with the season was derailed by the Zoom call, when people realized that Williams was sicker than they initially thought. But the two delays led to stations putting pressure on the show to start putting out episodes. As Burnstein said, “For the first four, five, six, eight weeks, we think we’re putting a Band-Aid on it and Wendy’s coming back.”
This led to a series of co-hosts to come in, with Sherri Shepherd becoming the most popular of the list. “We were battling for the life of the show,” said Burnstein, who talked about how much the show was trying to keep stations happy in spite of Williams’ absence. Burnstein also admitted that for the entirety of the show, the staff had trouble securing guests because of Williams’ interview approach. That same reason is why, as Burnstein said, the staff had trouble finding people to co-host in Williams’ stead.
The decision to end the show in its 13th season came as 2021 rolled around to the winter season, in which stations begin to finalize their fall 2022 lineups. The idea of Williams possibly not returning obviously wasn't a selling point to stations.
Frank Cicha, the executive vice president of programming for the Fox TV stations, said, “At a certain point, you can’t really play what-if. You do have to have an answer.”
Williams herself asked Bernstein and Marcus about the future of her show.
“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 nd by then, it was like, make a decision or lose the time period,'” said Bernstein. “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.'”
Bernstein and Marcus say that a version of this conversation happened multiple times, and each time, Williams seemingly acted like it was the first time.
ght her best moments from the show. Having her do a video message or guest on the show was shot down, since, as a producer who spoke under anonymity said, it wouldn’t serve Williams, and not to mention, executives felt it wasn’t great to put her on television in her condition. However, Williams and her ex/former manager, Kevin Hunter, lambasted the idea in later reports.
The team also didn’t want to make things awkward for Shepherd, but she ended up getting bad press herself by being blamed by Williams supporters as taking Williams’ show.
"It honestly wouldn't have mattered who we chose," said Marcus, "because it isn't actually about Sherri, except now she's taking the brunt and she shouldn't."
It is alleged that Williams didn’t fully register that her show was gone until she watched a promo on Fox, leading Marcus to once again tell her the situation. But the apparent denial continues to paint the picture of Williams’ overall health.