The Wendy Williams Show, a new weekday chatfest, goes out live at 10 a.m. on the East Coast, but, like many other daytime shows, it’s syndicated, and its airtimes are various. I’m supposed to tell you to check your local listings, an advisory that seems slightly superfluous: If you are neither working during the day nor too busy trying to keep Junior from teething on a box of fabric softener, then you know damn well what is on television, probably better than the people who input the local listings.
Where I live, Wendy’s competition on ABC is Rachael Ray; yesterday, Rach had a “bootie-ologist” in for a colloquy about ass-enhancement. CBS airs Guiding Light; yesterday, per the listings, Remy stopped Christina from making a mistake, and Phillip disappointed Beth again. Many PBS stations are airing the confirmation hearings this week; yesterday, Sonia disappointed Orrin again. Very few media markets are fortunate enough to escape the fourth hour of Today, hosted by something named “Kathie Lee & Hoda,” which learned a cha-cha line dance at a wedding at the Plaza.
This is to say that the daytime market is wide open for radio’s Wendy Williams to dispense her tart pastel cocktail of gossip, confessionalism, celebrity, big-haired feminism, and finger-snapping advice. As Steve Fishman’s fine New York magazine profile once observed, Wendy is a woman with an urban sense of bling and a suburban set of values. Yesterday, she had on NeNe from The Real Housewives of Atlanta, an ideal guest. Wendy is a Real Housewives kind of gal, frequently celebrating her pride in being domestic (her method for keeping it real involves family barbecues and attending to her son’s keepsakes) and the joys of tacky self-improvement (she’s always going on about her wigs and her globular breast implants). She speaks of meeting friends for girl talk over pinot grigio and buffalo wings. This I had to get a look at.
On Monday, the show’s first day on-air after a 2008 test run, I trotted over to Williams’ Manhattan studio. Unsurprisingly, it is the kind of place where the receptionist uses pink file folders. The studio audience of 140 skewed heavily female, less heavily black. A plurality of the women showed up dressed as if heading to a low-key ladies’ night at a club off Route 1 in Rahway, N.J. It emerged that this was correct attire. The set involves disco balls. The crew warmed up the crowd by cranking Beyoncé and inviting them to come down onstage and shake what their mamas gave them. While I did not see any moves reminiscent of the cha-cha, the scene did faintly recall Soul Train dance lines of yore. Then the host hit the stage in a beige wrap dress that flattered her liposuctioned figure, swiveled her profile around to strike the first of many Jayne Mansfield poses, and got down to business.
In a segment called “Hot Topics,” Wendy introduced some gossip stories—Jon and Kate; Michael Jackson; yeah, yeah, yeah—and made some tart quips in their direction and then discussed related issues with members of the audience queued up at microphones in the aisles, as if this were an in-person version of a call-in talk show. “We’re going in depth,” one male viewer, at the mic with his partner, said of their joint disquisition on Jon Gosselin. They really were. It hurts my head too much to reconstruct any of the arguments, but Williams’ fans joined her in interpreting these tabloid items as morality tales, not without nuance.
The celebrity guest, who was Wendy’s pal Vanessa Williams, showed up, and the two chatted with genuine warmth. You could tell it was genuine because of the chemistry between them and also because any conversation that vapid has to be real. Major themes included catalog shopping and The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Dina is Vanessa’s favorite. I’m a Jacqueline man myself. Vanessa had warm words for Wendy upon her debut: “This is major!” Wendy’s response suggested a humility that can only endear her further to the audience: “In time, everybody will get a talk show, right?”