How Exploitative is 'Where is Wendy Williams?' Very

The opening “warning” for any old cheesy Life Alert commercial (“I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up”) cautions viewers about the impending calamity with the statement, “The following is based on reality -- you might be offended.”

Would that the Lifetime special “Where is Wendy Williams?” came with a similar alert.

Words like sad, exploitative, unnerving just begin to explain this invasive piece of predation, a 4-hour docuseries on the former TV host’s despairing life since 2022.

Who thought this was a good idea?

 Ongoing Britney Spears-like battles between Wendy’s court-sanctioned guardian and her family members are all disclosed and add to the confusion. The fights continued right up until airtime.



That’s when Williams’ guardian requested a temporary restraining order to block the series’ release.  A judge turned down the request/

The guardian issue is a thorny one, never quite explained.  But after two years of careening downward (during COVID, after Williams had lost her mother, divorced her husband, and, suffered with undisclosed health and alcohol issues) she also lost her TV talk show, which had provided her a fat paycheck and pop cultural stardom for 13 years.

She was recovering in Florida with her son, Kevin Hunter Jr. and family members, and set her son up in a $2 million apartment.  That’s when her bank, Wells Fargo, determined that she was getting financially exploited. In June of 2022 she was forced to return to New York to live under a conservatorship with her accounts frozen. She could contact her family, but they couldn’t contact her.

It’s hard to determine when she inked the deal with Lifetime, as this documentary itself is chaotic and disorganized, but she and her son are listed as executive producers.

Apparently, the point was to highlight her “career comeback.”

Two days before release, the radio and TV host’s “care team” issued the news that the formerly quotable TV host, famous for asking ”How you doin’?” had been diagnosed with progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia, which affect the ability to form language, linguistic behavior and cognitive function.

That certainly sheds light on her radically sad appearance and erratic language and behavior, all documented in the series. None of it should have seen the light of day.

Unfortunately, we get a ton of footage showing her holed up in her lavish but disheveled downtown apartment, lying in bed, looking grim from Graves’ disease (which causes eye bulging, and hers is severe) lymphedema (resulting in loss of sensation in her swollen and misshapen feet, which she is eager to show the camera) and alcoholism. She’s scarily thin.

Many mornings, the documentary crew arrives, and the producer complains that she’s either drunk or sleeping, and her manager yells at her to get up. In an interview with her son, from whom she’s estranged part of the time, because he hates her drinking, he says that doctors had told him in Florida that she had “alcohol-related dementia.” But it’s never otherwise discussed.

Nonetheless, Wendy seems determined to get back on television or to start a podcast. Poignantly, she maintains, “I love being noticed. I love being famous.”

By the third episode, she’s shown being essentially kidnapped by her publicist, Shawn Zannoti, to go to LA to meet with NBC Universal producers about a new TV show. This move was not sanctioned by the guardian or Wendy’s manager. She’s shown standing on her star on the Walk of Fame, with the crew and random fans gathering around her. She tells everyone that she’s coming back and going to a meeting at Paramount.

She’s in such a sad haze about what’s real and what’s fantasy by this point that she reminds me of Norma Desmond, the Gloria Swanson character in that classic oldie “Sunset Boulevard.” When surrounded by camera lights because the police are at her mansion to arrest her for murder, Desmond announces, “I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille.”

This publicist should be sanctioned for her enabling behavior, but apparently, she’s still in the payroll. When asked about watching Wendy drink, she replies that she has never seen “my client impaired.” This is inexcusable. She spins something similar about Wendy problems with memory and speech.

They go through with the (imaginary?) meeting at Universal. Wendy says it went great, but she and her publicist never hear back.

During the four episodes, she’s sent off to rehab several times, but she comes back, clinging to the liquor. By episode four, her sister speaks, and says that Wendy is in an undisclosed facility and doing “much better.”   There’s a feeling that the family will regain guardianship.

The Lifetime network was established in 1984  and was one of the first to focus on women. But rather than getting into the documentary business, it soon favored dramas in the “women in jeopardy” vein, a formula that was manipulative, addictive, and revenue-producing.

But at least that was fiction.  The making and showing of “Where is Wendy Williams?” is far worse -- a true crime.

5 comments about "How Exploitative is 'Where is Wendy Williams?' Very".
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  1. Michael Giuseffi from American Media Inc, February 27, 2024 at 10:14 a.m.

    Indeed this was exploitative and at several points I asked out loud "why am I seeing this?".  The film leaves you with many questions.  You get the impression that a judge removed her from the care of her family because they were looting her bank account. Her manager, Will seems to have her best interest in mind but I noticed that he wore a different expensive designer outfit in each scene.  Her publicist, Shawn, should be charged with fraud and kidnapping.  Lastly, Wendy is now so unhinged, nasty and incoherent that she should have been involuntarily committed two years ago

  2. Barbara Lippert from, February 27, 2024 at 10:46 a.m.

    Thanks, Michael, and agree. About the designer outfits-- Louis Vuitton practically had free product placement-- Wendy has so many LV bags and is festooned with LV and Gucci clothing, and so is her manager, as you point out. 

  3. Dan Ciccone from STACKED Entertainment, February 27, 2024 at 12:46 p.m.

    "Who thought this was a good idea?"

    Based on an interview she gave a few years ago, Wendy did.  She discussed it with her family and they wanted to publicize what her condition is to spread awareness.

    Also - it's a TV show.  I don't diinish what's happening to her, but can we remember that it's TV and several examples you provided are likely staged for additional drama.

    Finally, dementia is something we often hear about, but it's an incredibly debilitating condition, oftentimes takes too long for people to be diagnosed, and friends and family have to struggle as much as the person who has dimentia trying to navigate medical, financial, and legal matters.

    It's not my kind of TV, but again, it's TV and based on interviews that I've seen with Wendy and her daughter, they decided as a family to publicly document her condition for people to see how dementia affects the person and the people around them. 

    Despite Michael Gliuseffi's remark, "involuntarily commitment" to a facility is incredibly difficult on many fronts and again illustrates the cloud of ignorance over this kind of condition.

  4. Michael Giuseffi from American Media Inc replied, February 27, 2024 at 1:30 p.m.

    I'm relatively sure that any decision that Wendy made regarding this documentary, based on what we see here, is meaningless. She has been compromised for years.  Further, any decsion by her family must be looked at with a jaundiced eye. Wells Fargo did not make the case to a judge to have her care transferred to a guardian lightly, and the judge agreed.  Why would that be?  Maybe the family was exploiting her funds? 

    Whether "involuntary commitment" is the correct term or not, Wendy Williams is a threat to herself and to others and whatever you want to call it she should not have been left to her own devises. 

  5. Barbara Lippert from replied, February 27, 2024 at 6:34 p.m.

    Dan-- Thanks for your comment.
    If the scenes with her PR person were setups-- and that's entirely possible--it's even more reprehensible.
    She doesn't have a daughter. That young woman is her niece. 
    So she and her family approved it to publicize awareness of what condition? Up until the release of the film, no one was copping to her diagnosis.of aphasia and dementia. She was compromised by Graves disease, but didn't seem keen on raising awareness of that.
    The idea that they could sit there and watch her to want to take off her bra and show her breasts in an interview, and laugh, was really unnerving. I found it cruel. I think Lifetime should have taken the hit and not shown it. 

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