How Wendy Williams took over Oprah's daytime TV throne

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Few television experts pegged Wendy Williams as heir apparent to Oprah’s vacant daytime television throne but Williams never doubted what she was working with. Long before television cameras began rolling, Wendy Williams was carving a niche and compiling a faithful fan base that has followed her from the radio into television.

Before it became posh to discuss the private lives of urban celebrities, Wendy Williams was on it. In the early days of hip-hop’s ascension to pop culture dominance, it was hard to find gossip on Puff Daddy, Mary J. Blige and Lil Kim, unless you tuned into Wendy.

Back then, black radio jocks really didn’t dish dirt on the celebrities they encountered. Music industry parties and events thrived on an unofficial “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” policy but Wendy Williams ignored that unspoken rule.

If she saw celebs getting too close, especially if they had a ring on their finger, she blasted it on her New York radio shows first on KISS FM and then on the influential HOT 97, one of hip-hop music’s earliest partners. And she wasn’t scared of biting the hand that fed her either, as no one, even her HOT 97 colleague Angie Martinez whom she outed as dating Q-Tip in 1998, was off limits.

She became so popular that she even appeared on Martin as herself in 1992 and, when she was rumored to be blackballed in New York as retaliation from Sean “Puffy” Combs for circulating gay rumors about him, and exiled to Philly’s WUSL, her career still couldn’t be stopped.

Eventually, she landed back in New York at the legendary WBLS for The Wendy Williams Experience, which became a must-listen for those even outside New York that had to use the Internet. It became such a guilty pleasure VH1 taped the show and aired it, making Williams an early experiment for the urban format that largely drives its high ratings today.

So Wendy Williams is not putting on; she has always been more akin to a mixture of Jerry Springer sans the fights, Maury Povich and Page Six than Oprah and it has served her well. On the radio, she took her cues from Howard Stern and won legions of fans by shying away from cutesy interviews and asking the questions they really wanted answers to and she did it in a brash, in-your-face, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, sort of way.

While Anderson Cooper and soon Katie Couric vie to fill Oprah’s shoes, Wendy Williams has kept close to the style that brought her to the dance. Other shows may thrive on guests, but at The Wendy Williams Show, Wendy Williams’ larger-than-life, proud Jersey persona, fake boobs, endless wigs and all, is the show. Frankly, her willingness to get messy is why her fans love her.