Monday, August 11, 2008

The TV Set: Weekdays with Wendy

There once was a genre called morning talk, where the voices all sounded the same. The must-have accessory was an oversized coffee mug and its seventh circle was presided over by a relic. She is like a Medusa, sporting a cacophonous crown of co-hosts writhing to express their View. But then, from the far away land of urban drivetime radio, a voice, asks quite simply "How you doin'?"

The voice belongs to Wendy Williams, whose eponymous talk show debuted last week to impressive ratings. Williams' "how you doin'" is less Joey Tribiani and more fabulous drag queen. Regular listeners of her popular nationally syndicated radio show, "The Wendy Williams Experience", know it well as it is regularly employed there not only as greeting, but to playfully indicate when she finds something or someone to be a little—or a lot—homosexual. In watching "The Wendy Williams Show" (Weekdays, 10am, Fox) "how you doin'" gets lots of play throughout the hour by members of her enthusiastic studio audience, who after sharing their name and city, clearly get a thrill out of taking a shot at this signature Wendyism.

It's a slightly cheesy, party atmosphere, as indicated by the disco ball in her title graphics and the girls-in-the-club "oooo oooo" shouted by the audience going in and out of break. The show's look is not expensive. The dishes of colorful, fruity candy like Skittles that are on the table for her celebrity guests completes the low budget vibe lest you forget you're watching Fox. But I'm willing to forgive the show its cheesiness because it's such a good time. This is not the morning talk show we've gotten used to and it's delicious diving in, like drinking champagne for breakfast. Immerse yourself in the over-the-topness that is Wendy Williams, from her well over six foot frame (thanks to her size 12, 4 inch heels), to her wigalicious blonde tresses and surgically enhanced attributes.

At forty-four years old Wendy is the hip hop generation's Cindy Adams and Dear Abbey rolled into one. Most of the hour allows her to showcase these strengths. The first segment is dedicated to "Hot Topics" a blatant and acknowledged rip off of the aforementioned relic's "The View" in which Williams discusses the latest celebrity "oh no, they didn't's". Unlike "The View's" Hot Topics which can get loud and political, Williams says plenty without saying much—a well-timed mischievous look here, a pursed lip there. Wendy knows how to get her point across.

Her weakest segments have been the "celebrity" interviews with C and D list names like Brooke Hogan and Kim Kardashian. Wendy's all warm and fuzzy here, missing the edge that made her celebrity interviews such ear candy on the radio. Some of that naughtier Wendy did come through during her much buzzed about interview with "Apprentice" villain, Omarosa. Things went from bad to worse as the two traded thinly-veiled insults through clenched, teeth-flashing smiles and loud audience reaction. This is not the kind of thing you see on "Rachael Ray". What a nice change of pace.

All that aside, the real fun is to be had during the advice segments that are sprinkled throughout the hour. This is Williams at her most comfortable, letting loose with the Wendy wisdom. She is refreshingly pragmatic without crossing the line into Dr. Phil territory (see preachy and self-righteous buffoonery). Despite her silly, ostensibly superfluous demeanor it becomes abundantly clear that Wendy believes just as strongly in personal responsibility as she does in the cult of celebrity.

This brings me to a final Wendyism—the "Friend In My Head"—someone, usually a celebrity, you know you'd be best friends with if not for the minor complication that they don't know you exist. It's so nice when someone puts a label on your psychosis. Guess who's got a new FIMH BFF?