“The show is immediate,” says Executive Producer David Perler. “She is talking about the same things we all are talking about that morning in the office. What makes our show so special is that Wendy can comment on something that happened that morning.”
Something incredible happened in 2012 when Wendy Williams expanded her Hot Topics on her syndicated talk show from a few minutes to 20 minutes. The live show produced and syndicated by Debmar-Mercury saw its ratings surge — a trend that has continued this season. Wendy Williams’ season premiere last week ranked No. 1 among women 25-54 with a 1.6 rating in local people meter markets.
In 2012-13, Wendy’s live-plus-seven-day rating among women 25-54 was a 0.9, up from a 0.8 each season since it premiered in 2009. Last season, Wendy’s rating went up again, to a 1.1, a 22% year-over-year increase.
The show’s executive producer, David Perler, says Hot Topics’ expansion has helped boost the show’s rating because the segment is about celebrity gossip, meaning it’s time sensitive. So, it works best on a live show like Wendy or Disney-ABC’s Live with Kelly & Michael or, years ago, Warner Bros.’ Rosie O’Donnell Show.
“The show is immediate,” Perler says. “She is talking about the same things we all are talking about that morning in the office. What makes our show so special is that Wendy can comment on something that happened that morning.”
In addition to the the expansion of Hot Topics, The Wendy Williams Show the past couple of years has changed Williams’ look to give her a more polished but still fun and sexy appearance. And the show has benefited from upgrades, like moving from an independent station in Charlotte, N.C. to Cox Media’s ABC affiliate WSOC.
The show has always had good energy, and Perler attributes that to its being live.
“One advantage of being live is the energy that it brings to TV,” he says. “I believe that a funny comment is only as good as the reaction it gets. I’ve worked on taped shows that were hilarious and well produced with brilliant hosts. But because it was taped, the material would sometimes play flat. A lot of times that isn’t about the episode or that the host had an off day. A lot of times it’s because the show’s missing that live energy.”
Doing a live show is something Williams was accustomed to long before 2008 when Wendy Williams got a summer test run on a handful of Fox Television Stations. Prior to that, she was a radio host for 23 years.
“As a radio host, you’re live, so you have to run a show like a traffic cop,” says Perler. “You have to know when the commercials are; you have to read a tease for the next segment; you have to cut your guests off. You also have to know how to run with it when things go wrong. On a live TV show, a host has to have that. Wendy has it because of being on radio.”
Behind the scenes, there isn’t much difference between producing a live daytime show and a taped daytime show. “Before the show, it’s surprisingly calm,” Perler says. “Wendy is in her dressing room getting briefed on last-minute things and picking out shoes. We’re in the control room changing clips and rewriting copy. It’s not chaotic. Like the show itself, there’s a good energy. I try to keep that going from rehearsals to morning meetings, all the way into the show.”
The difference between taped and live shows is noticeable by what viewers see on TV. And it’s noticeable in the way Williams and her guests act when they know there’s no post-tape editing to fix mistakes.
“If I’m working on a show and a guest almost trips, on a taped show, it’s an awkward moment that you edit out,” Perler says. “When it’s live, you can’t edit it out, so the host makes fun of it. It gets a great reaction and it turns into a running joke.”