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So What Do You Do, Wendy Williams, Host of The Wendy Williams Show?

Two decades into her broadcast career, Williams details her path to TV success

By Aliya S. King - May 19, 2010
When it comes to women of color in radio, the ranks are thin. Yet, over the course of a two-decade career, Wendy Williams established herself as a force to be reckoned with and was inducted into the Radio Hall Of Fame alongside legends like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Edward R. Murrow, and Dick Clark. While she attempted to make the transition to television several times throughout her career, her latest venture, The Wendy Williams Show, has showcased her talents in a way that has spelled immediate success with ratings high enough to extend her contract through 2012.

"When I got the news, I was elated," says Williams. "It's such a sign to me that I'm in the right game. I love my job and wouldn't have my career trajectory [go] any other way." Here, the self-professed "outsized personality" dishes on life, broadcasting, and, oh yeah, the wigs.


Name: Wendy Williams
Position: Host, The Wendy Williams Show
Resume: Landed a radio gig in the Virgin Islands after college; held stints at a number of New York radio stations, most notably at WQHT (Hot 97) and WBLS, where she reigned in ratings and was syndicated in a dozen cities. After several attempts at television productions, including the short-lived Wendy Williams Experience on VH1, she's now the host of her own eponymous daytime talk show seen in 18 of the top 20 markets throughout the country.
Birthdate: July 18th
Hometown: Ocean Township, New Jersey
Education: Northeastern University: BA Communications and Journalism
Marital status: Married with one son
First section of the Sunday Times: "I usually read the Daily News and head straight for the 'Radio' and 'TV' section. When I do read the Sunday Times, I go immediately to the 'Style' section. And I'm not going to deny that I read the National Enquirer, too."
Favorite TV show: Judge Judy, The People's Court. "I love all the court shows."
Guilty pleasure: "Whitefish! It's an acquired taste and many people don't like it. You have to eat it with your fingers -- that's part of the experience. You don't heat it up. Just open it and dig in."
Last book read: Poor Little Bitch Girl by Jackie Collins
Twitter handle: @wendyshow

Why transition from radio to television?
Who wouldn't? Name one person who wouldn't. Even if they had a fabulous career in another segment of the media. I was ready for the next step. I've been inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. I have inspired many women to get into radio, specifically girls in college. Radio was great. But once I got my first taste of television in 1993, I was sold: hook, line, and sinker. The Wendy Williams Show. By myself. On prime time. That became the dream.

"It takes more than good conversation to make good television."

During the sneak peek of The Wendy Williams Show, did you feel confident that the show would do well?
I felt confident in myself, but no, I didn't think, 'I've got this.' Every day I got better and better. I was confident that if this show didn't get picked up, I'd done it all to try to make it happen. It's been a learning experience, for sure. Ask me anything about radio, I know it. Television? I'm still learning. It takes more than good conversation to make good television.

What's the biggest difference between a radio audience and a live audience?
They can see me. That's it. Well, that and the fact that television is a one-hour show, not a five-hour show. The segments are seven minutes, so it's very fast-paced.

What do you miss about radio?
If I had to really think about, I think I might miss the intimacy of radio. How I had to describe things to my listeners. But honestly, there is not much I miss about radio after 23 years. I hugged it, said goodbye, and wished it well.

But on your last day on the air, you suggested that you could return to radio. Will you?
I don't know. I like it enough. I left a great career in radio. And now my television show has been renewed through 2012. I'll be here for a while.

Why does your traditional talk show work in a way that your other forays into television didn't?
This time, I was encouraged to be absolutely me. That wasn't always the case in the other shows. And this time, people who know me well surrounded me. If you're getting hired on my show, you know the essence of the topics. You just have to get it. And everyone on my show gets it. That's a major part of why I think it works.

Oprah's retiring next year. Tyra has recently decided to move on. Do you think they will resurface? How might that affect your show, if at all?
It's not like I have no competition. The playing field is still there. If it's not them, there will be someone else. There won't be a shortage of talk show hosts. Their exit only means that they have paved the way for me. I can only dream of having that kind of run. Give me five years, and I'm ecstatic.

You were already well-known from your radio show. Do you have a different demographic recognizing you now?
Absolutely! I have all kinds of people who are just now discovering me through television. I hear all the time: 'I didn't know about your radio show, but I love you on television.' They talk about my interviews with Toni Braxton and Fran Drescher -- and then they talk about how I tilt my wig and how the show is so colorful and full of personality. I love it. I feel like I'm really giving people what they want, and that's a great feeling. Especially when you can be yourself while you're doing it. Television of course has a much bigger range than radio, and I have to say this is the first time I've felt like an actual celebrity. I've always been known in the New York radio market. But folks in Tallahassee didn't know me from the radio. Now they do.

"My motto is, 'I'm a mess, you're a mess.' Let's have fun with it anyway. It makes me relatable to my audience."

Television is a beast. It is not an easy job. And the level of visibility doesn't always make me comfortable as a mother. My son and I are being recognized in the street now. I still live my life. I still run errands on the weekends with my son. So now, I have a pair of sunglasses for him to put on if necessary. I just want to protect him as much as I can from too much exposure. And for myself, the Wendy Williams that you see on television is very different than who you might run into at Target on a Saturday morning. I don't wear makeup in the street. I try to be as plain Jane as possible.

Your husband was always very involved in all of your projects when you were on the radio. Is he still a major part of your business team?
Of course. My husband is one of the executive producers of the show, and it's wonderful working together. I can count on him to keep it ultra real with me at all times. He's not the one who is going to be front and center at events. He's the mack in the back. He doesn't want to be photographed on the red carpet. Sometimes, I'll tell him to just stand on the other side of the red carpet so I can see him. He'll give me non-verbal cues on how my hair and makeup look, how to adjust my dress. All that stuff. He's a comfort, and he's always there for me.

You were known for being very straightforward and frank during your radio interviews. How have you had to adapt that interviewing style for TV?
I'm just as straightforward now as I was in radio. Asking questions is nothing for me. If you're going to work in this business, you should be able to have a conversation with anyone. And I'm equal opportunity with my openness. I'm just as open as I expect my guests to be. In television, traditionally, you don't tell your age. You're conscious of fat angles and weight. You don't let it all hang out. I'm just the opposite. I let it all hang out. I don't walk like a supermodel; I'm teetering in my heels. My motto is, 'I'm a mess, you're a mess.' Let's have fun with it anyway. It makes me relatable to my audience. That kind of openness comes with maturity and growth. Twenty years ago, I would have been wearing two-inch heels so that I didn't look too tall. Now, I wear what I like, I project what I like. I'm fully myself on camera.

You showcase your outfits and share other tidbits on Twitter and your website. How have you found the experience of social media to be helpful?
I Tweet. But it's not my favorite thing. I think many forms of social media are responsible for a lot of miscommunication. I'm speaking from the field of communication. There is something to be said for looking someone in the eye when you're communicating. And that's what worked for me throughout my career -- I always talked my way into everything. The idea of talking -- not just emailing -- is something I feel very passionate about. I'm on Twitter because I have a show and social media is a way to promote my show. I get that. But I have reservations, too.

You've endured several setbacks in your career, including your exit from Hot 97 and your previous TV shows that didn't survive. Taking from those experiences, what advice would you give another media professional who is laid off or has been recently fired?
I hope you saved your money. When push comes to shove, you may have to sell Estee Lauder at Macy's. It may not match your tax bracket. But you'll have to do what's necessary. I have to say I've been very blessed in that area. I've had my share of scrapes and bruises. But I've never been unemployed for more than two weeks, and that was back in 1991. I went from Hot 103.9, and two weeks later I was at WPLJ.

Radio has changed so much since when you first started. What advice would you give to someone who is looking to break into the business now?
Make sure you have a Plan B. A very solid plan B.


Aliya S. King is an author of two works of nonfiction and an upcoming novel. She also blogs at www.aliyasking.com and Tweets even more @aliyasking.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2010. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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