Wendy Williams brings her talk to daytime TV

July 10, 2009 1:44:51 PM PDT
If you want to get to know Wendy Williams, talk show glamazon, you don't exactly have to pry. "Coy" isn't part of Williams' repertoire.Just consider her office at the mid-Manhattan studio where she tapes her syndicated weekday "Wendy Williams Show," which starts Monday (check local listings; also airs on BET weeknights at 11 p.m. EDT).

She is nearly 6 feet tall, silkily bewigged, voluptuous and a big talker. She is also a high-rev reflection of her chosen surroundings: fuchsia color scheme, leopard-skin design and, for good measure, a sparkling chandelier.

Williams, who turns 45 on July 18, says she hasn't changed much from her childhood, when her schoolteacher parents used to caution her with the code "TMTLTF" (too much, too loud, too fast) - "but now, I'm doing something useful with it."

And how.

She's a veteran radio DJ and talk-show host whose "Wendy Williams Experience" is heard by some 12 million listeners nationwide. She has published several books, including a memoir and her latest novel, released in May.

Now, after a bygone fling on VH1, she's taking on TV, big-time.

On her new "Wendy Williams Show," she promises a party. Guests, celebrity and otherwise. ("Ugly Betty" star Vanessa Williams is Monday's guest.) Fashion and cooking segments. Gossip and other "Hot Topics." Lots of interaction with her studio audience.

"I like to entertain people, give them information, make them smile - and laugh!" she says. "This is not a heavyweight show. I'm not here to talk political, or split the atom."

She adds with certainty that her appeal stretches far beyond what, in the lingo of her industry, is termed "the urban audience."

Her show, says Williams, "is not a black thing. It's a THING thing! And it's a positive show. I'm not a shock jock, and I'm not a shocking person. 'Shock' to me goes along with nasty and mean-spirited. I'm a lovely woman from New Jersey," she says, without a trace of irony, "and I'm sensitive."

Viewers in a handful of cities got a sample last summer, during the show's six-week tryout.

Endearingly, Williams referred to the members of her studio audience as "co-hosts." Despite being able to draw on a rich store of life experiences (including weight and other self-esteem issues, cosmetic surgery and a drug-abusing, party-girl past) she offered this disarming disclaimer to her "Ask Wendy" segment: "I am not an expert. I'm just a woman with a microphone and a show, from New Jersey. We can work on it."

Even in that relatively brief run, there was at least one not-so-positive display: She and a guest, reality TV villain Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, clashed during a sequence that found the former "Apprentice" contestant ripping Williams' appearance while the host returned fire, calling Omarosa "a typical angry black woman."

It was a raucous reminder: Wendy Williams is no, um, shrinking violet.

"Woman my height are normally THIS big," says Williams, forming a ring with her thumb and forefinger to signify thinness. "They're called supermodels. No, I'm not a supermodel. But I do have a big personality and it's natural, which is why this show is going to be so easy."

Last summer, she passed the test and got a go-ahead for a full season. But in between was a yearlong hiatus.

"It was the longest, darkest, saddest winter of my life," says Williams, describing her impatience. "I knew things were waiting over here on 53rd Street, but I didn't have the key to come in!"

Of course, she had plenty to do in the meantime - and not only her daily radio show, which she will continue.

Beyond the Hudson River, she has a busy home life with her husband of 11 years, Kevin Hunter (who is also her manager), and their 8-year-old son, Kevin Jr.

The family spent what Williams calls "a preparing year" getting ready for the extra demands of a TV show, while Kevin Jr. navigated third grade.

"I like living in the suburbs," says Williams, "and I want to make a nice home. Omigosh, that sounds so corny! I am conservative! I am a girl from the Jersey shore. But I have more work to do."

What's next for the budding TV star? "I hope to be America's new sweetheart."