Advertisement

“Where Is Wendy Williams? ”Producers Say They Continued Filming Star amid Her Struggles 'Out of Concern' (Exclusive)

"We've often thought: 'What would've happened if we weren't there?'" executive producer Erica Hanson tells PEOPLE about the filming of the 'Where Is Wendy Williams?' documentary

<p>Manny Carabel/Getty</p> Wendy Williams in 2019

Manny Carabel/Getty

Wendy Williams in 2019

When Wendy Williams' primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia diagnosis was released by her care team on Feb. 22, the team behind the stirring new Lifetime documentary, Where Is Wendy Williams?, found out about it at the same time as the public.

"We were shocked, of course, and saddened, but I think looking back, we can all see that there were signs along the way," executive producer Mark Ford tells PEOPLE in a new interview. "We were asking along the way about a lot of these signs, but it's just devastating and heartbreaking."

Executive producer and showrunner Erica Hanson says she "felt the same way."

"I was surprised, and it was really very sad for me," she says. "It did make me think a lot looking back over those weeks that we were with Wendy."

Related: The Biggest Bombshells from Lifetime's Where Is Wendy Williams? Documentary Currently Under Litigation

Ford and Hanson say they haven't seen or spoken to Williams, 59, since they stopped filming in April 2023, the same month the star entered a facility to treat what her family members say they were told were cognitive issues.

In the documentary, Williams' 23-year-old son Kevin Hunter Jr. (whom she shares with ex Kevin Hunter) says his mom was given a diagnosis of "alcohol-induced dementia" by doctors she was seeing while staying with family in Florida during her hiatus from her Wendy Williams Show.

Williams' care team released the news about Williams' diagnosis two days before the premiere of Where Is Wendy Williams? on Feb. 24. According to their statement, Williams — who was appointed a legal guardian named Sabrina Morrissey in 2022 to oversee her finances and health decisions — received her diagnosis last year, and her care team said the conditions “have already presented significant hurdles in Wendy's life.”

<p>Calvin Gayle</p> Wendy Williams in 2022

Calvin Gayle

Wendy Williams in 2022

Hanson tells PEOPLE had they been told by Williams' care team about her diagnosis earlier, the news "absolutely" would have affected how the documentary played out.

"We had no idea that she had dementia when we started filming [in August 2022], or we wouldn't have filmed," she explains. "I think the documentary really illustrates our journey of trying to understand what was happening. It sheds light on that period of time in Wendy's life where she was under care of a guardianship and living a very isolated life in New York, in that apartment."

"We all really did have concerns for her," she continues. "We've often thought: 'What would've happened if we weren't there?' It's interesting to see the reaction from fans and viewers since the documentary aired, and especially understanding why we stayed. A lot of it was out of concern."

Related: Wendy Williams Struggled with Alcohol During Her Show: 'She Would Be Drunk on Air,' Says Source (Exclusive)

The documentary crew stopped filming after they found Williams (who was an executive producer on the project) in her apartment with her eyes rolled back into her head, and worked with Williams' manager Will Selby to urge the guardian to get her help.

"We never spoke to the guardian — I tried reaching out numerous times — but in the end, the guardian did put her in a place where she apparently is getting the right care," Hanson claims. "We really were concerned and would often talk about that with Will. In the end, she did end up in a place where she's safe and seemed to be getting the right care."

Adds Ford: "By the end of the documentary, the priority really became about Wendy's safety and her care. We left her when we knew she was in a safer place getting the care that she needed."

<p>Santiago Felipe/Getty</p> Wendy Williams visits SiriusXM Studios on September 6, 2018 in New York City.

Santiago Felipe/Getty

Wendy Williams visits SiriusXM Studios on September 6, 2018 in New York City.

An issue that Williams' family has with her current care is that they have limited access to her. While they say she can call them from a blocked number, they cannot reach out to her directly.

"The family is really happy that she's getting that care, they just wish they could know a little bit more," Ford says. "I can say that the family had no idea about that specific diagnosis and no one shared it with them prior to the statement going out. I think they would just like to have a little more transparency and a little bit of a say in how their mother, sister, aunt is being treated."

Ford also notes that he "didn't recognize any of the people" involved in the press release that went out about Williams' diagnosis. Morrissey has not responded to multiple requests from PEOPLE for comment.

Related: Everything to Know About Wendy Williams’ Guardianship

In the days since the documentary aired, Williams' fans have accused Selby of taking advantage of her. But Ford believes Selby, who is listed as an executive producer, has "her best interests at heart." (Selby has not commented on the documentary.)

"You could disagree or agree with some of his decisions, as well as those of her publicist [Shawn Zanotti], but I don't think anything was being done maliciously," Ford says. "I also think they were on their own journey of discovery with Wendy and not quite understanding the level of her cognitive issues."

"Also, those issues worsened dramatically over the period of time that we were with her. Will is not a therapist, he's not an addiction counselor," Ford continues. "There was a guardianship in place the entire time we were filming with Wendy that was court appointed to be overseeing her finances and her medical care, so I think the larger question here is about what can happen to someone under a legal guardianship if the family is separated from them and there isn't somebody there on a daily basis checking in on their well-being."

<p>Michael Tran/FilmMagic</p> Wendy Williams and son, Kevin Hunter Jr. attend the ceremony honoring Wendy Williams with a Star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame held on October 17, 2019.

Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Wendy Williams and son, Kevin Hunter Jr. attend the ceremony honoring Wendy Williams with a Star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame held on October 17, 2019.

Hanson echoes Ford's sentiments about Selby: "I don't think Will would ever have done anything to jeopardize Wendy's health or safety."

Like the people featured in the documentary, Ford and Hanson also went on their own journeys with Williams, as the film quickly departed from the comeback story they originally set out to make due to Williams' various health struggles and alcohol addiction.

"As Wendy's health worsened, our priorities shifted to getting her into a safer place and getting her back in touch with her family who she had been cut off from," Ford says. "Then, after that, it was about, 'Okay, let's tell the truth here. What is really going on in Wendy's life?' Wendy said from the beginning, 'There are no boundaries. You can ask me anything. We can go anywhere you want to go with this.' This was the truth of her life. The truth was no longer that she was going to resurrect her career in her podcast. The truth was she needed to get safe and she needed to get back in touch with her family. These issues needed to be raised and addressed, and people needed to be aware of the suffering that she and her family were going through."

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

"Of course, it was a challenging, emotional, complex, heart-wrenching film to make, as well as it is to watch," he continues. "But we hope that it's serving Wendy's well-being, her family's well-being, and serving a larger purpose in society, which is to call attention to these guardianships, and also just the complexities of taking care of someone with these cognitive deficiencies and how challenging it can be for everyone around."

<p>Roy Rochlin/WireImage</p> Wendy WIlliams in 2019

Roy Rochlin/WireImage

Wendy WIlliams in 2019

Hanson makes clear that "every step of the way in the field," the documentary crew talked to Williams "about what we were doing."

"She had opinions about it, if she wanted to do it, not do it," she says. "She was very involved, and [even] now looking back in retrospect, understanding the issues she was dealing with, she was very engaged the majority of the time. Sometimes there were challenges, but I would say overall she was very engaged in what we were doing and liked having company in that apartment."

Adds Ford: "Every day she welcomed the film crew, she wanted the film crew there. That doesn't mean we didn't take that responsibility very seriously, but she enjoyed as much as she could and grew very close with the crew members that were there. And those crew members were very close to her and still care very deeply about her and always will."

Related: Wendy Williams’ Family Members Say They Weren’t Told of Her New Dementia Diagnosis (Exclusive)

Hanson says it was "a small team" in the field on a daily basis.

"It was a very intimate team, and Wendy established a relationship with each of us that was, I think, very meaningful to her," she says. "I think all of us were deeply impacted by it. Some of us had had family members or friends who struggled with addiction or mental health issues, and it became truly a labor of love for each of us to tell Wendy's story sensitively and compassionately and honestly."

Ahead of the documentary's premiere, Hanson says she screened it with Williams' family.

"It was so important to me that they watched it all and felt supportive and felt good about it, that it was an honest portrayal," she says. "That means everything because we, as filmmakers, have a tremendous moral responsibility in telling someone's story, and I take that so seriously. Since we don't have contact with Wendy, and I don't know if she's seen it or what her thoughts are, that her family supported it and really liked it and felt it was accurate, meant everything to me."

Related: Wendy Williams’ Family Feared She Could Die and That They’d Get 'That Call' amid Star’s Alcohol Abuse (Exclusive)

As she looks to the future, Hanson has "hope" for the next chapter of Williams' story.

"My hope is that she can live the best life she can live in a healthy environment and get the help, treatment that she needs," she says. "I am optimistic for her."

"Wendy is beloved and will continue to be beloved," Ford adds. "She's a force and will continue to be a force. We just hope she's happy and in a safe place and can be with her family."

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.