Courtesy of Lifetime

April 10, 2024

Where is Wendy Williams? It’s None of Our Business.

Print More

Wendy Williams is a former daytime talk show host, infamous for being unabashedly controversial. Her show ran for almost 14 years before abruptly ending in June 2022 due to concerns about her health, leaving fans of the show with many questions about Wendy’s wellbeing, whereabouts and the future of her career. In February, Lifetime released a four-part docuseries called Where is Wendy Williams? which attempts to answer some of these questions.

Wendy seems to believe that the purpose of the documentary is to follow the journey of her return to TV. The docuseries shows her repeatedly struggle with memory, choices and impulse control to a degree that significantly impacts her life. Despite this, she is deeply in denial that her health is declining. She is in no state to return to television. These underlying truths are obvious, but they are tiptoed around and poorly disguised. Many around her encourage this false hope and play into the idea that she will make a comeback to TV.

The docuseries shows a side of Wendy Williams that dramatically contrasts her talk show persona. She is suffering physically, having lost a considerable amount of weight and unable to feel in her feet due to lymphedema. She’s extremely blunt and arguably abusive to her staff, which seems to be a result of her poor mental health. She is often incoherent and unable to clearly articulate her thoughts. In the first three episodes, her health is a topic of conversation, but it seems to be up for debate whether or not Wendy is acting any differently than she has in the past, despite her clearly uncharacteristic behavior. There is no mention of a mental health diagnosis until the final episode, when her son reveals that she has been diagnosed with alcohol-induced dementia.

There were many scenes that made me question whether I should be watching the show. It often seemed to encourage us to laugh at her; for example, the show featured a compilation of her yelling at her staff and making absurd requests such as: “Don’t talk to me, I’m famous!” There was one scene that was particularly hard to watch, showing Wendy with her driver and her assistant, Shawn, on a mission to find a vape. Wendy incoherently provides directions to a smoke shop and gets so upset when they’re unable to find the correct brand that they have to stop filming and go home. 

Another scene that made me question the ethics of watching was one showing Wendy in the mirror, crying because she’s overjoyed about her “thigh gap.” Her thinner body is a result of her poor health and the theme of her relationship to her body was never brought up again. I think such a scene was unnecessary and unhelpful to have included, and demonstrates a disregard for Wendy’s dignity.

The filming style resembled that of a reality show, following her daily life in a luxurious NYC apartment. We saw her struggles through getting out of bed, drinking liquor in excess, attending meetings with her numerous employees and reality TV-style interviews with her many visitors. Watching it felt like prying into something I wasn’t supposed to see: invasive footage of Wendy Williams’s fall from grace. This show felt like an icky blend of reality TV and documentary that revealed moments which should have been kept private, doing so under the guise of something helpful and educational. 

Wendy, shortly before the show started filming, against her wishes, was placed under a financial guardianship by a private, non-relative guardian. I suspect that the family agreed to this invasive documentary hoping that it will strengthen their case to take control of Wendy’s guardianship. The ethics of conservatorship are interesting and important to discuss, but I don’t think this docuseries succeeded at facilitating this conversation and I don’t think it should have been made at all.

There are two layers to Wendy’s being exploited. The first of those layers is those around her exploiting her for money. Some of her employees have it in their own best interest to tell Wendy what she wants to hear rather than attempt to preserve her health. It is sad to see people enable her alcoholism and encourage her delusions of a return to the screen so they can maintain a presumably high salary. 

The second layer of this exploitation is the documentary itself, which exposes this first layer but, in doing so, is airing out the private matters of Wendy, a person who is not necessarily in a mental place to be able to consent to this show. The documentary crew follows Wendy through extremely vulnerable, intimate moments. I don’t think the Wendy Williams of a few years ago would be happy to see these shots of herself being open to public viewing. 

In the final moments of the last episode, her sister Wanda tells us: “I hope people walk away from this seeing the challenges [Wendy’s] been through and realizing we all go through our challenges, and we all make choices in life, and she’s still a person.” Throughout watching the show I was confused about why it was created. I thought the documentary did a terrible job of masking the exploitative nature by making the central purpose very unclear. Was it to provide more information about the effects of dementia? If so, why did they reveal the diagnosis only at the very end of the show? Was it to keep her on TV, as she wanted? Was it simply to tell Wendy’s story? What does this say about what we are willing to consume purely out of nosiness?

Rachel Cannata is a junior in the Hotel School. She can be reached at [email protected]