No, Eboni K. Williams Hasn’t Watched the New ‘RHONY’ Yet — She’s Too Busy Being a Judge on Her Own Court Show

If there’s one thing Eboni K. Williams knows how to do, it’s finding the best ways to balance the good, the bad and the messy. As the “Real Housewives” alum embarks on her latest endeavor as the head of her own courtroom TV show — “Equal Justice With Judge Eboni K. Williams,” which premieres in syndication on Sept. 11 — she explores why America needs her unfiltered legal opinions.

Williams, a former public defender turned political pundit and reality star, previously made history as the first Black cast member to join “The Real Housewives of New York City” in Season 13, a season that lives on in infamy. Now 40, Williams becomes the youngest judge in the daytime syndicated TV space — and, while the space is its own beast, it’s one she’s excited to conquer.

But make no mistake, Williams, who also hosts the “Holding Court” podcast, hasn’t completely walked away from her reality TV roots. In conversation with Variety, Williams not only discusses her new show, but also answers why she hasn’t watched “The Real Housewives of New York City” reboot, and reflects on the “Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip: RHONY Legacy” casting announcement, which did not include her. She also shares her opinions on some of her fellow “RHONY” alum, and answers whether she would ever return to Bravo after her complicated exit.

Your fans have become so familiar with your personality from your time on TV, but what inspired you to offer this new iteration of yourself as Judge Eboni?

This is a very organic evolution of all of my previous iterations. You know talk radio host, which is where I started my career; me as a podcaster, which I love, and I’m so proud of “Holding Court With Eboni K. Williams,” which is pre-“Judge Eboni” — my most pure form of content, because it has been my most unfiltered format. I created that show. I hand picked Dustin Ross to co-host that show with me, and I know for anybody who’s ever listened to an episode of “Holding Court,” I would say that they probably know me better than anybody else.

It allows me to be the nerdy side of me, the legal geek. It allows me to be your funny Auntie with sage advice at the ripe old age of 40. It allows me to be funny and have humor, be nostalgic and go back in the kind of legacy of Black culture. So what I think “Judge Eboni” will do is build on that. It will build on me as a journalist all the way from Fox News to my days at CNN, and now obviously hosting “State of the Culture” at Revolt, which really allowed me to show my chops as it relates to hip-hop, pop culture and Blackness in that music, arts, fashion, cultural space. And you’re going to see all of that when you watch “Judge Eboni.”

I do want to talk about your joke about being at the “ripe old age of 40.” You are the youngest judge to be in this space. Why does this genre need a new and younger voice to it?

The genre is a classic for a reason. The genre works; Americans love it. One could argue that court television and television court dramas, they are the original reality television. This is one of the first genres in which we see real people and real cases playing out right before our very eyes, and we get a beginning, a middle and normally a real spicy conclusion.

What I’m bringing as the youngest judge ever to be on daytime syndicated court TV is an ability to connect to culture in a very unadulterated, firsthand way. I don’t have to know how to speak to millennials — I am a millennial, and I’ll be the only one [in daytime courtroom TV]. I don’t have to work really hard to understand Gen Z’s finger on the pulse, because I’m right there with them in that way. So it’s really an issue of just letting my strengths in this space work for me.

I’m also not going to try to emulate the greats who have come before me. Historically, there can be a temptation to try to be “Judge Judy,” who is legendary, or try to be Judge Mathis, who is now my label mate. I revere those giants of industry and what they have done for the genre, and yet I don’t have any desire or need to duplicate it. We don’t need another Judge Mathis. We don’t need another Judge Judy — those judges are still in play. What America needs is Judge Eboni, and that’s what America is gonna get.

There’s also a good tradition of Black TV judges that you now get to join. How does it feel to be among those other names?

It feels – pardon the pun – like an honor, because you make an excellent point. The reality is there is no Judge Eboni without Judge Mablean, without Judge Glenda Hatchett, without Judge Lynn Toler, and there’s many others. So that is a beautiful, important legacy, including Judge Faith and Judge Lauren Lake, as well as my more youthful contemporaries.

Let’s talk about the profession of law. Black people only make up around 5% of the entire legal profession. Starting when we attend our first day of law school, all of us as Black women are entering into a pre-select sorority of women in the law. So to graduate to this level — a Black woman judge in the court TV space — is a humble and benevolent privilege.

As a former public defender and family attorney, how does that influence how you view equal justice?

When America collectively received our very first Black woman to serve in the United States Supreme Court in Ketanji Brown Jackson last year, she made history in a few ways. She’s the first Black woman to be on the U.S. Supreme Court, and that’s incredible. Also, she is the first person, period, to come to the Supreme Court with a background as a public defender. Ketanji Brown Jackson was a Federal Public Defender in the early part of her career. Most Supreme Court Judges come from a prosecutor’s background, and that’s what we are used to and accustomed to seeing, but when you come from that defense side of the law, and you can understand that aspect of advocacy, I do believe it can offer a more holistic approach to the way we approach justice and things like burdens of proof.

Switching gears now. I have to assume you’ve been watching “The Real Housewives of New York City” reboot. What do you think of this new season?

I have not seen a single episode. I am familiar with the new cast, meaning I know the ladies’ names. I will start by saying I am extremely happy that there is a rebooted cast that looks like the New York I live in. I think that’s very important. I think it’s very important in 2023. In an era post the murder of brother George Floyd, when everybody and their mama put up their black squares and said they were all going to do better by black people specifically, and Americans of color generally. I think it’s an important first step to have a reboot in “Real Housewives of New York City” that represents a — I would say much broader, but the reality is is the original iteration had no broadness at all. This is showing us a preliminary step towards fuller representation of women of various cultural, racial and ethnic backgrounds in New York City, and that’s how “New York” should have always been.

I have had an opportunity to socialize individually with Jessel [Taank], one of the ladies on the show, who for me was lovely. I was able to hopefully be a good ear for her to share, sadly. Because here’s the thing about being a housewife, whether you are one season or 17 seasons, it’s a sorority, a very unique experience, and only another housewife can truly understand the lived experience of being in that machine.

I do suspect one day I will be able to sit down and maybe binge watch it, because I do view the reboot as my personal legacy. I feel proudly responsible for being the impetus, the catalyst for the network recognizing a need to cleanse the palate and start over and construct something from the ground up that better honors the diversity of New York women. I know that was a direct result of all the ruckus I created all Season 13.

Focusing on another new “RHONY” cast member, Variety previously covered Erin Lichy’s donations to the Trump campaign made after the 2020 election. Were you at all surprised by Erin’s actions?

People forget I used to cover politics for a living. I’m not a casual bitch off the street, OK? I was paid a handsome sum to look at the American political landscape, and call it like I see it. So the reality is, there is a healthy segment of Americans, no matter if you’re in Florida, New York, California, Wisconsin, you pick it, that supported the 45th president. That is a reality. So when I see a wealthy white-presenting Jewish woman in America in New York City supporting that president, that does not greatly surprise me.

To me, it doesn’t mean that she’s the devil. If I were to engage with her, I would be curious as to her why. Let’s talk about why one would support this particular president. At this point, we know he’s four times indicted, likely going to be convicted — probably federally and at the state level — but even after 2020, we already knew at that point, this is a man who has such flagrant disrespect for the United States Constitution. So, forget your politics, right? Forget your partisanship. This is not about red, blue, right, left, Republican, Democrat. This is talking about the patriotism of our nation. This is about choosing America over anything, and I would have a conversation with Erin about her value system. Let’s get to that.

And I say this part to be to be messy, but also keep it really real. I don’t want to go to the Hamptons and eat no fucking barbecue with you, bitch, if we are not starting from a foundational place of aligned values. And I think that is where people get it fucked up and twisted watching these shows. We’re not actresses — although some of the these women be trying to act, but they’re not very good at it. So the reality is, I understand that viewers want to see a good time. Who doesn’t want to have a good time, right? But before we can get to the Champs and the caviar and the Turtle Time and any of this, we’ve got to at least start from a basic premise of aligned human values.

Did you want to join the cast for Season 14? What was Bravo’s response?

I absolutely threw my hat in the ring — and the network went in another direction, which is their prerogative. But I did desire to continue on the journey of sharing my life, my motherhood journey, my flourishing career, and my home-buying experience, which was fantastic and profiled in the New York Times. That’s why I did throw my hat in the ring.

The reason that I have not been able to watch Season 14 yet is because, frankly, I am still processing just how things went down — mostly behind the scenes, but just from all vantage points. And by the time I sit down and watch Season 14 — because those women deserve a pure observation — I want to have really processed and done away with any and all kind of remnants of what happened.

Were you given any feedback as to why they chose to go in another direction?

I was given no direct feedback whatsoever. I can imagine there was an argument that said if we’re going to start fresh, let’s totally start fresh in every way — and let’s not bring anything from 13 to 14. But I think my counterpoint to that argument would have been: I hear that, but also anybody that watched Season 13 and had a visceral reaction to me, they’re not going to watch a diverse cast on 14. Regardless of whether I’m there or not there, that viewer is not watching a “RHONY” reboot. But who would be watching a “RHONY” reboot are the viewers who did watch me on Season 13 and were intrigued or inspired.

I think that there was some seeds planted in Season 13 that, given the opportunity to expand on the platform in a rebooted 14th season, could have been really beautiful and special. It could have been a bridge to the two seasons that could have made the viewership not feel maybe so disjointed with entirely new faces and entirely new people. But that was kind of my take. For every viewer I might have turned off in Season 13, I certainly turned many, many, many many viewers on.

Seeing as Ramona Singer was included among the “Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip: RHONY Legacy” cast, what was your response to not being included with the rest of the women?

I thought it was a slap in the face. I thought it felt retaliatory. I also peeped game that my other classmate Leah McSweeney was included in the third season of “Ultimate Girls Trip.” So that would mean that every single one of my cast mates from Season 13 has been invited to participate in “Ultimate Girls Trip” except for me. I don’t know any other way to interpret that, except as retaliation for me standing in my truth.

Should Bravo approach you to do a future season of “Ultimate Girls Trip,” would you be interested in hearing from them?

I will absolutely have the conversation. I’m a businesswoman, and there’s always a conversation to be had to see if we can get to a meeting of the minds and then see where the facts take us.

What are you making of Bethenny Frankel’s “reality reckoning?

I think it’s never too late to do the right thing — whatever that right thing is for you. I think when you attempt to lead a movement, an organized effort, a few things really need to be in place. Credibility being first and foremost, consistency being another. As someone who has no direct personal relationship with Bethenny Frankel whatsoever, I have questions around her credibility and consistency on these issues.

I also think the indictments being offered up towards the network and the franchise in general are multifaceted, and I think, again, when you have the audacity to lead a movement and an organized effort, of righteousness, I think you need to be intellectually and morally honest enough to make the space for the various points of distinction in the different wrongdoings whether it relates to wage disparity, whether it relates to homophobia, racism, irresponsible management of alcohol and drug use.

Because when you don’t do the service of honoring those distinct allegations and experiences of individuals, and then you attempt to be the face and voice of those varying like egregious, horrific, traumatic wrongdoings, I think you undermine the effort.

Did you ever experience anything or witness anything to what Bethenny is accusing them of?

What I would never do is undermine my own power and positioning by making any claims that I may or may not have towards Bravo for the network in any other way than directly.

Now that you’re hosting your own court show, you mentioned you might still one day be back in reality TV. Do you ever regret doing it?

Never, never. I write about this in my latest book, “Bet on Black: The Good News about Being Black in America Today.” In Chapter 3, I go into great detail about the “RHONY” experience, and I could never regret an experience that. Before it, I likely would have never found out who my biological father is, and people forget that part because people got so caught up in the Ramona of it all, the Luann, and I get it. That was all nice and spicy, but for me as a person, as a woman, to go your entire life up to 38 years old and not even know the name of your whole paternal identity. To go on this journey with the help of a genetic investigator and find out through science. I mean, we live in such a remarkable time because I didn’t know a name. I didn’t know a date. I didn’t know a location. I knew nothing, and through science, I was able to identify who my whole daddy is. That alone was enough reason for me to always be grateful for doing “Real Housewives of New York City.”

On top of that, nothing in my whole career has ever amplified me and my work to the level of being a Housewife — that is just an unbeatable visibility platform. Period. Undisputed — not even being on “The View, being on “The Breakfast Club,” being on Fox News compares to the global reach of “Housewives.” That is an undisputed fact and nobody else can tell you that because nobody else has been on all those platforms but me. I speak from a very unique lens and I can honestly tell you, there is no other mechanism in this whole industry that could do more for me and has done more for me by way of doing the thing that I know I was born to do, which is be visible in my work. And my work is to be a living, breathing example of how whiteness— and whiteness is not white people — whiteness does not have a stronghold on beauty, intelligence, work ethic, confidence, femininity and power.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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