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Wendy Williams’ publicist slams documentary, says it ‘exploits’ TV star

Shawn Zanotti, a publicist who began working with Williams in 2021, said the former daytime talk show host would be “mortified” to see the two-part Lifetime docuseries.
/ Source: NBC News

Wendy Williams, the former daytime talk show host, is the focus of an explosive documentary that some critics are calling exploitative. 

In the new two-part Lifetime docuseries, “Where Is Wendy Williams,” the former host seems often disoriented and in one clip does not recognize her manager. In another scene, the same manager confronts her over empty liquor bottles found in her apartment. 

One of those people, Shawn Zanotti, who is featured in the docuseries, slammed the producers behind it in an exclusive interview with NBC News.

“I felt that [Williams] was being exploited,” said Zanotti, who began working as Williams’ publicist in 2021. “She thought we were focusing on the comeback of her career. ... She would be mortified. There’s no way you can convince me that she would be OK with looking and seeing herself in that way.”

Zanotti said she was first pitched the project by Creature Films and eOne Television in 2022. The same production company was behind another Lifetime documentary on the host’s life, “Wendy Williams: What a Mess!”

“When I mentioned [doing a documentary] to Wendy, she immediately said: ‘Yes, I would love to do it. I would love to be able to get my story out there,’” Zanotti said. 

But what aired is not what Zanotti said was agreed upon.

“That is not the project that [Williams] signed up for. That’s not the project [the producers] brought to me. That’s not what I told her this was going to be about,” Zanotti said. 

“There were a lot of good moments. None of those good moments were shown,” she added.

Just one day before the documentary aired, Williams’ management team announced in a statement that she is in a treatment facility, diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia. Zanotti, who has not spoken to Williams since she entered a treatment facility in April, said she is still employed as her publicist. 

In an interview with, the filmmakers said they were not aware of Williams’ diagnosis during production, though they acknowledged that, “Some days, Wendy was on and very Wendy. Other days, she wasn’t.”

They moved forward with the project because, according to showrunner Erica Hanson, “We all felt this was a complex and sensitive story to tell, and we all felt a great responsibility to do it with dignity and sensitivity.”

But Zanotti is not buying that. 

“I don’t think [the diagnosis] would have stopped them at all. The producers were asking questions throughout the entire time — would ask questions where she would somewhat seem confused, and I feel as though it was done to be intentional at that moment in time to make their storyline,” Zanotti said. “Again, this was presented as a documentary to her, but to me, it looked as though it was a reality show of a circus, a circus to her downfall.”

The producers and Lifetime did not respond to requests for further comment.

Zanotti said she even flagged her concerns to Williams’ guardian, Sabrina Morrissey, during production. 

“I did not agree with what was going on with this documentary,” she said. “I made it very clear to the guardian. The production company was aware of that. I didn’t — I didn’t agree with the way this was moving and shaking. And instead of them dealing with it with me, they decided to ignore me. They ignored me from that moment, and I never heard from them again.”

Morrissey did not respond to requests for comment.

The day Williams’ dementia diagnosis was announced, Morrissey filed a now-sealed lawsuit to prevent the series from airing. A judge dismissed the case, citing the First Amendment. 

Mark Ford, the executive producer of the docuseries, told that “Wendy was a partner, as well as her guardian, her manager, all our lawyers — everybody’s signed off and was aware all the ways through what we were filming.”

However, Zanotti said, she believes the series was all about creating a spectacle for money and ratings, not about showing Williams in the best light.

Zanotti said she also feels misrepresented in the series, taking specific exception to a scene in which Williams berates her on the couch. 

“Although you saw those horrific components of what she did in the way that she treated me, there were great, beautiful moments that happened after that,” Zanotti said. 

Speculation about Williams’ health began after she fainted live on the air in 2017.

Williams, who hosted “The Wendy Williams Show,” a ratings juggernaut, from 2008 to 2021, had been open about her struggles with addiction. 

In 2019, she told viewers she was living in a sober house after having sought treatment for drug use. Months later, she revealed she was taking time off because of Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder.

Williams was also absent from her show in 2021 and 2022 because of health reasons, Variety reported. Sherri Shepherd took over the time slot in 2022, before “The Wendy Williams Show” was eventually canceled. 

It was while Williams was off the air that her bank, Wells Fargo, petitioned to have her placed under a financial guardianship, claiming she was “incapacitated” and “a victim of undue influence and financial exploitation,” claims Williams later pushed back against.

Since then, Williams has remained largely out of the public eye, and Zanotti said the series is not how she would want fans to remember her.

“That is not the project that she signed up for,” Zanotti said. “My concern at this point is: What’s really going on? Who really does have her best interest at heart?”

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