NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Is America ready to say, "How you doin'?" to New York-based radio-personality-cum-daytime-talk-show-host Wendy Williams? Debmar-Mercury, media buyers and veteran talk show producers are all betting that "The Wendy Williams Show" will strike a cord with audiences in between coasts when it makes its debut July 13 in national syndication on 20th Century Fox-owned and -operated stations.
The talk show, which will air live at 10 a.m. EST in major markets such as New York, comes with a built-in fan base after a six-week test airing in four cities last July. The show quickly found an audience in New York and Los Angeles, where it posted 333% and 29% ratings gains, respectively, among women 25 to 54 in its time slot after airing against repeats of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." It will also air on BET during same-day repeats at 11 p.m. EST.
Ms. Williams, 45, comes to TV as a 22-year veteran of radio, where her nationally syndicated "The Wendy Williams Experience" still airs daily on WBLS 107.5 in New York. On the radio, she built a reputation as a female, African-American Howard Stern of sorts, unafraid to perpetuate the latest celebrity rumor, dish candidly about sex or admit to her own plastic surgery.
So it may come as a surprise that executive producer Rob Dauber, a veteran producer of "The Martha Stewart Show," "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show," wants to market Ms. Williams as the girl next door. "As a wife, a mother and a daughter who has pretty much lived in the trenches her whole life, she's still a real consumer who does all her own shopping," he said.
It's that softer, relatable side that could keep "Wendy Williams" from meeting the same fate as all too many daytime talk shows before it. Of the more than half-dozen daytime-talk-show personalities to make their debuts in the past five years, only Rachael Ray and Tyra Banks have managed to find success, while many other high-profile launches, from Megan Mullally, Greg Behrendt and Fox's "The Morning Show With Mike & Juliet," have been canceled. But a mid-summer debut bodes well for "Wendy Williams," because the majority of daytime is in reruns and the fall season is still months from kicking off. Indeed, the July 2008 trial run performed so well in markets such as New York in part because it was up against repeats of "Oprah."
Bill Carroll, a syndicated programming analyst for Katz Television Group, said there is "reasonable but positive buzz" in the market for Ms. Williams show, but not quite the "next big thing" label that's already being attached to "Dr. Oz," an "Oprah Winfrey" spinoff from Sony that will launch this fall alongside another new chat show from Program Partners featuring Marie Osmond. Mr. Carroll predicted Ms. Williams will follow a path similar to that of "The Ricki Lake Show" more than a decade ago -- slowly finding its niche based on the host's outsize presence. "She's a unique personality who comes, as do the best of TV personalities, right through the screen. But the real question is: In mid-America, are they accepting of a larger-than-life personality?"
Debmar-Mercury, the show's production company, and 20th Century Fox are hoping Ms. Williams' existing fan base will be an easy sell to advertisers. "The testing was phenomenal ... so for anybody targeting women, it's a huge daytime opportunity that will go across the cross-section of the daytime viewing audience," said Ira Bernstein, co-president of Debmar-Mercury.
Liz Koman, Ms. Williams' exec VP-branded entertainment, said, "She's been doing live reads for 20 years on the radio, so she's very comfortable touting a product she likes."
Brian Terkelsen, president of Connectivetissue, MediaVest's branded-entertainment arm, said: "Wendy has a clear shot at being successful. She has a built-in following, a lovable personality, and she has a colorful past. The combination of those three are always conversation-worthy. To be clear, daytime is a funky real-estate ground -- there's certainly always the expected tenants, but the reality is she's kind of a refreshing change to daytime."
Ms. Williams, for her part, said she considers herself "an advertiser's dream. As a busy wife, mother and woman of a certain age, there is not a moisturizer or antibacterial I haven't tried, a car tire I have not rolled on, a Band-Aid I haven't used, a thing I haven't tried on QVC. I'm a product junkie."