In the past month, it’s become more apparent than ever that New Jerseyans are a resilient, outspoken bunch, and talk show host Wendy Williams is no exception.
When Hurricane Sandy swept over the East Coast in late October, Williams, who originally hails from Ocean Township, N.J., was forced to shut down The Wendy Williams Show for two days—a lifetime for the viewers who tune in daily to watch the host dish out “Hot Topics” or perform fan-chosen stunts for the show’s segment “Wendy Would You.”
“It’s one hardworking girl from Jersey and…200-plus people [that] rely on me every day to get there and make it happen,” Williams says.
Williams has always been one to “make it happen.” Beyond her talk show, which was renewed last year through 2014 and received an upgraded studio before its fourth season premiere in September, Williams recently teamed up with producer Suzanne de Passe (Sister, Sister) to create original programming for film and television via production company Wendy Williams Presents.
“We’re negotiating with some very big heavyweights,” Williams says. As a self-proclaimed “big reader,” Williams adds that some of the material will originate from books, such as Star Jones’ Satan’s Sisters, which is currently being developed for VH1.
Williams is more than just a voracious reader; she has penned numerous books, including The New York Times bestseller The Wendy Williams Experience and several novels. She is currently working on her sixth book.
Long before Williams earned the title “media personality,” she spent 23 years in radio. In the summer of 2008, she was “rescued by television,” Williams says, when her talk show received a six-week test run on Fox stations in the top 10 markets.
“I worked my behind off to make our six-week sneak peek work, because I knew I only had about 30 more seconds in radio,” she says. “In terms of choosing radio or TV, at that point, it wasn’t a choice.”
The test run was successful, and The Wendy Williams Show launched on Fox stations in July 2009. The program, produced and distributed by Debmar- Mercury, also airs on BET.
“She is real, she is engaging,” says Ira Bernstein, copresident of Debmar- Mercury, of Williams’ talk success. “And she is dishing about the things she loves.”
Williams inherited her work ethic from her university professor parents. Before graduating from Northeastern University, Williams had already secured a job with radio station WVIS in St. Croix, Virgin Islands.
“Most of the words in my acceptance letter were spelled wrong, and the punctuation was wrong. And this was supposed to be my future,” she says. Determined to make it work, Williams stayed for half a year before moving to a job in Washington, D.C., and later “monkey-barred” from one job to the next.
Williams’ personal brand may have exploded of late, but no amount of TV talk can compare to her proudest achievement.
“None of this would be the same if I did not have my son and the man I love who gave him to me,” she says of her family, husband and business partner Kevin Hunter and son Kevin Jr. “I need family and I need career.”
Although a family and career alone would send many into stress overdrive, Williams, says Mort Marcus, Debmar-Mercury copresident, “handles it extremely well. Aside from being a unique and relatable talk show host, she’s also a mom, wife, daughter, entrepreneur and author. Being in the public eye hasn’t changed her true self.”
Williams would also like to use her celebrity to spread awareness of causes that she holds dear.
“What’s the point in being a celebrity if you can’t loan more of yourself to causes?” she asks. While Williams has been an advocate for thyroid disease awareness—she suffers from the disease—the former Girl Scout would love to open a summer camp in which she could commit herself fully.
That will all come in time. For now, The Wendy Williams Show—back up and running, post-Sandy—is top of mind.
“Everything outside [that I do] is secondary to the show,” she says. “That’s where it all starts and ends.”
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