As Debmar-Mercury’s The Wendy Williams Show prepares for its national launch on July 13, the program’s policy seems to be, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“We were really happy with the success of last summer’s test,” says Rob Dauber, the show’s executive producer. “The show that America will see this summer will be virtually the same, with a few little tweaks here and there to make it better.”
Wendy Williams premiered last summer in a six-week test on Fox-owned TV stations in four markets: New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and Dallas. The show knocked it out of the park on WNYW New York, Williams’ home market, where it grew 167% from its lead-in and 129% from its year-ago time period average.
In other markets, the show opened smaller but showed promise. “In Dallas, Wendy started off doing what the time period had always done, but by the end of the six weeks, the show had doubled the time-period average,” says Ira Bernstein, co-president of Debmar-Mercury.
The show’s producers believe Williams’ outsized personality will drive the program’s success. “I’ve been a TV producer for about 25 years, and the last three hosts I worked with were Rosie O’Donnell, Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey—three powerhouses of this industry,” Dauber says. “I think Wendy has a different voice than they do, but she has that same spark.”
“The best thing to do with Wendy is to have people watch her,” Bernstein adds. “They just need to see her connect with someone while she’s doing an interview or talking to the audience. That’s really where she shines.”
Williams herself says her new talk show is the realization of a 25-year-old dream. “I think I was born media-ready. I come from that kind of family,” says the longtime Manhattan radio DJ, who speaks openly about her wigs and plastic surgery. “I try to always be authentic. The public knows a phony.”
Williams can be outrageous, but says her television show will appeal to all audiences. “Human decency and respect come innately with maturity,” says Williams, 45. “The more I’ve matured, the more important those things have become to me. The Wendy Williams Show will be a place to come and promote your product to one of the smartest, savviest consuming audiences in the world. It’s a place where everyone will be respected.”
The show’s day-in-day-out format focuses on three regular segments: Williams’ opening “Hot Topics” monologue in which the outspoken host takes on that day’s news; a celebrity interview; and the very popular “Ask Wendy” segment at the end, in which Williams takes questions from the audience.
“Wendy doesn’t have co-hosts,” Dauber says. “The audience is her co-host.”
But don’t look for Williams, who’s 6 feet tall but loves her stilettos, to run around her set a la Phil Donahue. As Dauber says: “Donahue wasn’t wearing five-inch heels.”
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