NEW YORK – Billy Bush will not be returning to the “Today” show.
Bush, 44, who was suspended indefinitely Sunday after he was heard in a leaked 2005 video engaging in lewd, sexist conversation with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, is in negotiations to exit NBC News, according to people familiar with the discussions.
An NBC News representative declined to comment.
In the tape, made while Bush was co-host of NBC’s syndicated news magazine “Access Hollywood,” Trump obscenely boasts about his ability to grope women with impunity because he is a celebrity. Bush is heard chuckling and encouraging Trump even as the reality show star crudely talked about how he tried to have sex with then “Access” co-host Nancy O’Dell.
Bush, 44, issued an apology for his behavior, saying he was “younger, less mature and acted foolishly in playing along.”
Some female producers and personalities who work on the show have made it known that they do not want to work with Bush, according to one person close to the program who is not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and requested anonymity.
There was also an outcry on social media from female “Today” fans, many of whom threatened to boycott the show if he returned.
NBC News said Bush was off the air pending “further review.” The company was said to be looking into his past behavior as an NBC employee. He joined “Access Hollywood,” which is part of NBC’s syndication arm, in 2001. Bush is the nephew of former President George H.W. Bush and the cousin of former President George W. Bush and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
The decision to remove Bush happened swiftly, demonstrating an effort to get past the controversy that broke when the tape was revealed by the Washington Post last Friday.
Bush only joined NBC News in August as co-host of the 9 a.m. hour of “Today” with Al Roker and Tamron Hall, and the fact that he is fairly new to the tightknit staff did not work in his favor.
“He doesn’t have enough time there to warrant anyone of substance going out of their way to help him,” said another person inside NBC who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The relationship between viewers and morning show hosts are among the most intimate in television. Although some members of NBC News management were willing to forgive Bush, there was concern he would be rejected by some audience members appalled by his behavior with Trump.
Angry viewers can result in declining ratings and revenue for “Today,” an unacceptable scenario for the most profitable franchise on NBC.
Bush’s offense risked alienating the female viewers who make up 68 percent of the audience who watch the 9 a.m. hour of the “Today” show, which is more conversational and entertainment-oriented than the two-hour flagship that precedes it.
The 9 a.m. hour is also an incubator for the higher-profile anchor chairs. Savannah Guthrie was part of the 9 a.m. team before she was asked to replace Ann Curry in 2012.
Bush’s arrival led to speculation that he was being groomed to eventually succeed Matt Lauer, who has been in the 7 to 9 a.m. co-anchor chair since 1997. NBC News executives likely will not want Bush to occupy the 9 a.m. seat if he has no future on the program.
Bush has long wanted to be a part of the “Today” family. After 12 years as co-host of “Access Hollywood,” he was finally given the chance by Noah Oppenheim, the executive in charge of “Today.”
He got off to a rough start during NBC’s coverage of the Olympic Games in Rio. Bush had the first interview with Ryan Lochte after the gold medal-winning swimmer and three of his teammates falsely claimed they were robbed at gunpoint. Lochte perpetuated his story during the interview with Bush.
After it was determined that Lochte was lying, Bush tried to excuse the swimmer’s actions, which prompted co-host Al Roker to chastise him on the air. The exchange went viral.
But that was nothing compared to the airtime and web traffic for the raunchy bus ride conversation with Trump, which appears to have brought an abrupt end to Bush’s morning-show ambitions.
It’s the second time in recent weeks that “Today” has suffered collateral damage from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Lauer recently found himself in the crosshairs of critics and Hillary Clinton supporters after his performance as moderator of NBC’s “Commander in Chief Forum.” The popular morning show co-anchor was criticized for failing to correct Trump for saying he was opposed to the Iraq War and was perceived as being far tougher in his questioning of Clinton.
While pundits and editorial writers had harsh words for Lauer, the controversy was related to his interviewing skills and not his personality. Though Lauer and NBC News executives were taken aback by the vitriolic reaction, the forum had no bearing on the “Today” ratings in the following weeks. “Today” is in first place in the morning among viewers in the 25-to-54 age group coveted by advertisers who buy commercial time on TV news shows.
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